‘Every Good Story Needs a Finale’

Photo: Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Vin Diesel sent the entertainment-news cycle into overdrive last week with his revelation that the next two installments of the Fast and Furious franchise — let’s call them Fas10 and Furious 11 — will pull the emergency brake once and for all on the 20-year-old, $5.4-billion-grossing hot-rod saga. Moreover, according to longtime F&F director Justin Lin, Diesel himself was actually the one behind the decision to shut it all down.

This, of course, won’t be the first time the 53-year-old action hero, born Mark Vincent Sinclair, will have walked away from the series. After The Fast and the Furious became a surprise global blockbuster in 2001, Diesel declined a $25-million payday to reprise his role as lead-footed outlaw wheelman Dom Toretto in 2003’s 2 Fast 2 Furious because the script “wasn’t right.” But he horse-traded an uncredited cameo in The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift for a chance to reboot the franchise for Universal as a producer in 2006, ultimately pulling a 180 on IP that had been headed straight to video.

Which brings us to today.

With the last franchise off-ramp approaching quickly, the long-gestated F9 takes Fast’s core fixation with family — a word that Vulture’s David Edelstein once noted is uttered “approximately 682 times” in Fast and Furious 6 — in radical new directions. Jakob, a heretofore unknown brother of Dom (played by John Cena), emerges from the underworld ether to attempt to commandeer a fearsome weapon capable of redrawing the global balance of power. The Fast family, as opposed to, say, the CIA or Interpol, must burn rubber across several continents to stop him. That the character also happens to be a deadly assassin/master thief/high-performance driver — and bears no racial resemblance to Diesel whatsoever — only complicates matters.

In flashback, the latest installment (which rolled out internationally on May 19 and reaches North American theaters June 25) also introduces viewers to young Dom (Vinnie Bennett), young Jakob (Finn Cole), and their father (J.D. Pardo). In a June Zoom conversation with Vulture, Diesel revealed that a Toretto spinoff remains a possibility — whether as a solo shot for himself or as a prequel. Further, the actor outlined how the remaining two installments will delve further into Toretto family history, fleshing out the background of both the character’s father and his mother. And on the heels of Diesel’s surprisingly infectious September EDM single “Feel Like I Do,” the multi-hyphenate discussed his musical output, which has included recording with Steve Aoki and a mysterious artist he refers to as “Nicki M”: “I would love to do an album,” Diesel says.

When the announcement came that it was your idea to make Fast 11 the last Fast and Furious movie, it made me wonder, Is Vin bored of playing Dom Toretto? In 2009, you talked to me about working with Sidney Lumet in Find Me Guilty and how you really got a lot out of that experience in terms of shattering your typecast. So I started wondering if you were interested in wrapping up the franchise so you could show more diversity in the type of roles you take on.

Fair question. No. I love the fact that I get to play Dom Toretto. The finale comes because every good story needs a finale; because every book that you’ve read has a last chapter; because that’s the nature of storytelling. I’m sure that there are people that would love for Fast to continue on and on and on and on. The universe, the Fast Universe, will do that, clearly, and there’ll be different iterations of stories and different story lines that are played out within the future. But in terms of this mythology, I think we owe it to the fans — even though I suspect it’ll feel bittersweet to a lot of people — to give them the finale.

From what I understand, this film largely came about because you called Justin out of the blue to discuss Dom’s evolution as a character. And that ended up bringing Justin back to the franchise after being away for a couple of films. I was hoping you could talk about how Dom has changed over the years, from street-racer Dom to Dom, who is a family man who saves the world again and again.

Well, I don’t think Dom had much faith in the world. Obviously, he was a stoic that didn’t feel confident about bringing life into the world and probably didn’t have a lot of confidence in society overall, which is why he maintained his tribe and was very much about his family and didn’t branch out away from that. Clearly, when you become a father, you’re making a statement that you do believe in the future and you do believe in mankind and you do have faith — or, at least, you’re willing to fight for it. Therein lies the gigantic difference between Toretto of today and Toretto of the past.

You famously left Fast after the first film and I know that you were brought back into the franchise fold by Universal offering you quite an extraordinary deal. But [longtime Fast and Furious producer] Neal Moritz told me there was also a competing idea to get rid of the other characters and just do a Toretto movie. Why did the solo movie never materialize?

The second I was a producer, I didn’t waste a second and called Paul [Walker] and said, “You’ve got to be in Fast Four.” He said, “I walked away from the franchise.” I said, “I’m producing.” And he says, “I’m in.” I think the Toretto story line that they’ve wanted to do can always exist in the future. It’s not something that is completely off the table.

So there could be a Toretto spinoff? Or maybe you are talking about even doing a prequel because now we’ve met young Dom?

I will say that there is nothing that is off the table, Chris.

Your production company is called One Race. You have never specifically addressed what ethnicity Dom is. And in this film, it turns out his dad is ethnically ambiguous, too. As a fellow ethnically ambiguous person, I really enjoyed that. Meanwhile, Dom’s brother Jakob presents as white. Could you talk a bit about why it was time to address that racial dynamic that has existed all the way through the past eight films but has gone unspoken until this point?

That was in the service of having to cast a brother. As you know, when you’re ethnically ambiguous and when you’re multicultural, that means anyone in the world could be your brother. I think you, as the audience, are going to learn more as the story continues — just about the specifics of the past, primarily with my father. I think there is an inevitable moment when you are going to meet my father’s mother.

Wow.

And there will be some more insight to that past. As you know, this film, this chapter, is about fatherhood. As fathers, we reflect on our fathers. We had thought that when Dom told Brian that he had a love-hate relationship with that car in the garage in the first one, we thought it was only related to the loss of his father. What we learned here is, it’s also related to the loss of his brother. It represents a broken brotherhood, a brotherhood of blood that could not be sustained because of the loss of the father.

I want to switch gears to ask you about your music. A lot of people were shocked by how much they liked your song “Feel Like I Do.” What’s going on with your music going forward? I remember reading you had done some stuff with Steve Aoki?

I have done stuff with Steve Aoki. I’ve done stuff with a lot of people. That was one of the positives to the pandemic preventing me from being on-set. There needed to be another positive creative outlet. And as you know, I’ve always fantasized about the idea of making music. I’ve been doing covers on Facebook for the last decade. And when this lockdown and the quarantine happened, my creative outlet was music. I was grateful to have that to rely on for my sanity.

Did it ever hurt your feelings to go online? That people were like, “This is actually good”? Did it ever take you aback that people reacted that way?

Chris, the first time I had ever done a cover was, I believe, 2013. I remember Tyrese [Gibson] asking me to go to something called the Grammys. Nothing I knew about, right? He said, “I got nominated and I really need some backup. Can you come with me to the Grammys?” I went to the Grammys. I maybe lasted 15 minutes. I had all these musicians looking at me and I’m like, out of here. But while I was there, I saw Rihanna and Mikky Ekko perform a song called “Stay.” And I remember my daughter was 5 at the time and we were going to get a Valentine’s Day present for her mother — my queen — and we went and got a microphone and a little speaker. And I sang that song and I posted it as a Valentine’s Day video.

And I remember people going, “That’s crazy! That’s so dangerous. Don’t ever do that.” Everybody made me feel like, “Why did you …” Everyone was like, “You’re crazy to ever sing and expose yourself. The fact that you’re not a professionally trained singer.” And I remember being in London and I told Paul Walker that everyone really freaked out at me for singing the song and posting it. And he said, “Pfft. Don’t listen to that. You know you’re a singer.” So my point is, he encouraged me to sing. That led to Kygo wanting me to sing. Steve Aoki wanting me to sing. Nicki M. wanting me to sing. And I eventually got the confidence to step out of my comfort zone and went for it.

Can we expect an album anytime soon? Or are you just going to do it song by song?

I would love to do an album. Chris, I think something that you alluded to in the beginning conversation speaks … You talked about, “Do you want to do other things?” What you’re implying is what’s real. And that is, I do go deeply into stuff to the point of being myopic at times. And that’s the only thing that could prevent me from having an album out: the beautiful pressure to deliver [Fast] 10 for 2023 or 2024.