When they announced plans to make Furious Seven (then just called The Fast and the Furious 7) immediately after the sixth film and have it released the following year, a lot of us worried they were rushing it. I’m sure James Wan could have completed the film on that schedule, but now I realize it was a gift. If they had waited any time to make Furious Seven, Walker would not have been in the film at all. Either way, the film as planned was never meant to be. Had they waited and lost Walker before filming, they would have had to rewrite the film not to include Brian O’Conner, but the circumstances make it a tribute to Walker and his last film performance.
I got to speak with Furious Seven director James Wan by phone, as he happened to be en route to Vin Diesel’s hand and footprint ceremony at Grauman’s Chinese theater. Wan has been open about discussing Walker and finishing the movie without him, and we were also able to discuss the visual style Wan brought to the franchise, and his upcoming sequel The Conjuring 2. It’s been over a decade since I first met Wan at the press junket for Saw and I’m grateful we’ve gotten to catch up for most of the film’s he’s made in between. Furious Seven (as the on screen title spells it) is in theaters Friday.
Nuke the Fridge: I’m glad I can finally tell you in person, there won’t be a faster, more furious movie this year.
James Wan: [Laughs] I saw your tweet. I know your feeling.
Nuke: Is there any chance you can get Universal to use that as the quote?
James Wan: I think that would be amazing if they put it on the poster, right?
Nuke: That’s my goal. That’s why I keep putting it out there.
James Wan: For sure, bro.
Nuke: Did I notice an actual Fast and the Furious 6 billboard in the downtown sequence of Furious 7?
James Wan: In the actual movie? No. Not to my knowledge. You might have picked something up that I did not see. By the time we were shooting this film, it was well past. Furious 6 had been and gone already. I don’t know if it was a leftover billboard or poster for the DVD.
Nuke: I think it was just what I wanted to see. I thought if you had maybe shot that sequence first during the summer of 2013, that might have snuck in there. It was so quick, I just subconsciously put it in there.
Nuke: I’m glad you’ve been talking about Paul in your interviews and I think the movie really wears it on its sleeve that this is for Paul. When they first announced they were going to go right into a seventh movie, some of us worried it was a rush. I’m sure you would have been up to the task of completing it on that schedule, but in a way did it become a gift that you got to shoot with Paul? If you had waited any longer, this might have come after we lost him.
James Wan: Well, listen, man. That’s a hard one to say. You can never guess what the universe is going to do to us or for us, but I do agree that I feel very fortunate to have worked with Paul, that’s for sure. That’s probably one of the biggest things I get to take away from making this film, when you have a chance to meet such a great guy and get to know him while he was still on this earth.
Nuke: In a way it speaks to the way no movie ends up exactly the movie they set out to make. They’re always altered by circumstance somewhat. There’s never been something this catastrophic but does it speak to the nature of film, that what it was ultimately meant to be was the tribute to Paul?
James Wan: I do think that we are more fortunate in these times that we live in that when tragedy like this happened, we have the technology to actually get around it and use it. But having said that, we were right on the edge of things that worked and didn’t work. The process was very complicated and I’ve always said it’s a small miracle that this movie actually got made. I think there was a period there where we all felt that this movie was never going to happen. That would have been sad, not because there wouldn’t be another Fast and Furious film, but because people wouldn’t get to see Paul one last time.
Nuke: Were there any great scenes he did shoot that just didn’t work in the revised cut?
James Wan: Stuff that I had shot with Paul? Let me put it this way. I shot an amount, a handful of scenes with him and I did a bunch of stuff with him that we never got around to filming. Let me just say this. Every single frame that I have of Paul was extremely precious because we had to cull archive footage from past movies. So whatever we had shot with him already on this movie, on number seven, was so, so precious and so important. I wanted to use every single thing with him. Pretty much everything that was shot with him is in the film.
Nuke: I’ll go back to some more general filmmaking questions now. I did notice a credit for Lead Fur Groomer. Can you tell us about that person’s job?
James Wan: What do you mean, what’s that?
Nuke: Oh, that’s a credit in the movie. I was going to ask you what his job was.
James Wan: I have no idea what you’re talking about. Is this in the visual effects credits?
Nuke: It was towards the end. I’m sure it was just someone on set.
James Wan: I don’t know, man. Fur groomer, was there a pet monkey on set? Was there a dog? I don’t remember a dog in the movie.
Nuke: When you shot in Abu Dhabi, how were you able to shoot the scene with the whole gang, including the women all dressed up, given the restrictions they have on what women wear in that country?
James Wan: Well, we were very careful about all of that. That was my biggest concern. The studio knew. They all wanted to live up to the Fast and Furious aesthetic of scantily clad girls and that was a scene to have it. I remember asking, “Are we not going to get in trouble doing stuff like this here?” They were like no, because the production worked very closely with a middle eastern group over there in that part of the country to sign off on everything. Everything you see in the movie had to be signed off by someone over there. The film commission over there, I think, were fine with it. We had permission.
Nuke: As far as the style of the movie goes, you had a very acrobatic camera. Was that something you wanted to bring to the already established aesthetic?
James Wan: Yeah, that’s kind of what I do, right? That’s my love. I’m a big fan of telling my story through the camerawork. I think it’s important that I keep that tradition I started in my horror/thriller films. I find it to be the best way to bring the audience along into the action sequences and let them be a part of the craziness and the pyrotechnics of the stunt sequences, and give it a slightly different flavor to how the previous filmmakers in the series had shot their films. That’s definitely my style and that was one area that I can put a little bit more of my imprint into it. I won’t lie, it’s definitely a movie that is not my baby, it’s not my franchise. So obviously I have to play in a world that is pretty much established already in its look and it’s feel and it’s vibe. So whatever I can do to put a bit of my stamp on it, I try to do it.
Nuke: Were you also able to find some darker, more shadowy lighting setups even within the bright Fast and Furious palette?
James Wan: I did. Remember when Statham visits Hobbs’ office. I wanted it to be a really cool, dark, almost film noir approach to it. I look back at pictures of the cemetery sequence where Letty goes back to visit her grave at night and the background is fog bound. I almost feel like a little bit of my horror aesthetic would sneak through every now and then without freaking the producers and the studio out too much.
Nuke: Did you have anything to do with the new Fast and Furious themed IMAX countdown?
James Wan: No, I didn’t even know this existed. What is it?
Nuke: Oh, it opens the IMAX version of the movie. It’s all engine noises and Fast and the Furious sounds.
James Wan: Oh, that’s awesome. I can’t wait to see it.
Nuke: Were you reluctant to come back and direct The Conjuring 2?
James Wan: Well, let me tell you, after Furious Seven, I actually look forward to The Conjuring 2. The idea to go back and do something more intimate sounds very pleasant to me right now. It’s going to feel like a break after this movie. It’s going to feel like a holiday vacation after this one.
Nuke: It wasn’t always the plan for you to direct it though, right?
James Wan: It wasn’t very early on. Remember, I kind of stood my ground and said I didn’t really want to do another one. But in the course of making Furious Seven, I started appreciating what I had with my horror films, my thrillers. You just have that creative freedom to make the movie exactly how I want to make it. No one tells me how to make a horror film. The idea of just having that freedom meant a lot to me. Ultimately, that was one of the big incentives for me to go back to Conjuring 2. And also, ultimately, I started reading the script and I actually started loving the direction of what we were doing. I was still helping them out with the script even when I was giving it up as a director early on and I really love the continuing saga of Ed and Lorraine Warren. This next one takes place in England so I was very excited for the different flavor that it was going to bring to it. If there wasn’t anything new to it, I would not have gone back to do it, but there’s something new and different and I feel like ultimately doing Furious Seven made me realize how much I do miss that slow, brooding world of filmmaking. Furious Seven definitely isn’t that kind of a movie. It’s very fast paced, very energetic, so in your face pretty much the whole time, which is a style of filmmaking that I love as well. But the opportunity and chance to rotate between the two, to go back and forth, is what was exciting for me.
Nuke: I hope there are still some action movies in your future.
James Wan: Oh, believe me, man. Let me say that I have definitely been bitten by the big budget, sci-fi action bug so I definitely want to do a big movie of The Conjuring 2.