Director Louis Leterrier has been making action movies since the start of his career, working his way up to Second Assistant Director before landing his first big break as the co-director of the hit Jason Statham movie The Transporter. Since then, Leterrier has frequently changed gears within the world of action, from making a Marvel superhero movie (The Incredible Hulk) and an epic fantasy film (Clash of the Titans) to making a comedic heist movie (Now You See Me) and even a streaming series starring puppets (The Dark Crystal: The Age of Resistance). He has flirted with the Fast and Furious franchise several times, only to lose out on the coveted gig, but it was perhaps inevitable that he would one day take the wheel and steer the series into its next chapter.
In Fast X, Vin Diesel‘s family man Dominic Toretto, wife Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) and their crew (Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Sung Kang, and Nathalie Emmanuel) take on a flamboyant new threat in Jason Momoa‘s Dante Reyes, a menacing man out to avenge the death of his father, who was killed in the high-speed chase in Rio from 2011’s Fast Five, which is where Fast X begins. The sequel sees Reyes, who is unlike any other Fast villain, unleash a giant bomb that rolls through the streets of Rome as it makes its way toward the Vatican, and naturally, our heroes are blamed for the chaos.
Not only did Leterrier have to service the original Fast cast while introducing a number of new characters, including those played by Daniela Melchior and Oscar winners Brie Larson and Rita Moreno, but the director also had to ingratiate himself to the cast and crew in the middle of the process, as he replaced Justin Lin, who departed, citing a need to focus on his mental health. Lin had directed five previous Fast and Furious movies, including 2021’s F9. Leterrier will also direct the next Fast movie, though it remains to be seen whether he’ll return for the 12th and “final” film.
Above the Line hopped on Zoom with Leterrier a few weeks back to talk about various aspects of the Fast X production and what was involved with coming onto a movie after its previous director left.
Our interview began with a bit of kibbitzing that can only come with familiarity, but we’ll start with one of the filmmaker’s responses (which wasn’t necessarily answering a specific question):
Louis Leterrier: You know my thing. If you look at my resumé at the end of my career, it will be like, “Oh, that guy had no career plan.”
ATL: I literally think you told me those exact words the very first time I interviewed you.
Leterrier: But it’s actually that, I remember, because it really is my thing. I do stuff that I love, and I’m lucky. I guess it shows, and people know that, and they call me when there are great opportunities like this one.
ATL: I’ve known you for so long, and you’ve always started these franchises like The Transporter, Now You See Me, and Clash of the Titans. I think this is the first time you’ve come on midway into a project and are finishing a franchise. What was your impulse to do that? Were you a fan of these movies heading into Fast X?
Leterrier: A huge fan. I don’t know if I told you, but I’d been in the mix for a couple of these movies before, just because there are like 20 directors that they like to do those [type of] movies, and then never got those. Because I was on that list, Universal called me when there was an opportunity, and frankly, the script was great, and the time was right. I was thrilled. Anxious, but thrilled. It was really something that I wanted to do for a long, long, long time.
ATL: You’ve been doing action going back to The Transporter with racing and cars and fighting, so was that something you wanted to get back to from what you’ve been doing lately?
Leterrier: It’s funny, on every action movie I do, I’m like, “…and that’s the last car chase I’ll ever direct,” and the car chases get bigger and bigger and bigger. I told you that story that I was the 2nd AD on Transporter and the director never showed up. I wasn’t expecting to do action or love action, because it was not expected. I love action, but I didn’t think it would be my… especially coming from France, where it’s not historically action cinema-oriented. As a fan, I loved it, but it’s like a muscle — it’s fun.
It’s the best job in the world to direct action movies. You get all the toys. You get to shoot all around the world in amazing, beautiful locations. Also, the reaction is instantaneous with the audience. There’s a gasp and there’s excitement. That’s kind of why cinema originally was created, just to give you thrills. You go back to that, and you can really experience this with Fast, and we get to work on this giant scope, and frankly, also on this giant scope [in terms] of shooting for massive large format [like] IMAX [and] Dolby Vision.
I was doing an IMAX thing yesterday, which is massive. You really are like, ‘Okay, that’s why I’m making movies.’ It’s actually quite nice after having done a few years on Netflix, which I [also] love. It’s a different experience, but to go back to this gigantic canvas, I’m like, ‘Oh, yeah!’
ATL: Have you seen the new John Wick movie yet? You mentioned that France isn’t known for action, but when I spoke to the director of that movie, Chad Stahelski, he told me that when he set the last act in France, he wanted to use all those French stunt performers, many of whom who came out of that same school you did.
Leterrier: Chad and I are great friends. He was my second unit director, and I know him so well. When he was in France and stuck during COVID, I rescued him and fed him and all that stuff. We’re really great fine. Chad is the greatest and frankly, John Wick is amazing.
France, yeah… it’s funny. It’s the Luc Besson school. We all grew up with Luc, doing all these movies, so he taught us how to do that. We literally all work together, and actually, Olivier Schneider, who is one of [Luc’s] main stuntmen, became my fight coordinator on Fast X. Not “became.” He actually was Justin’s [stunt coordinator], and I didn’t change, because he was there. He has done all the James Bond [movies]. He’s amazing…
ATL: What was your first meeting with Vin like? Obviously, he must have played a key factor in giving you the thumbs up to direct.
Leterrier: Amazing. The first meeting was on Zoom, because I still had to go through the different producers to be accepted as a director, and then, my last meeting was with Vin and the Zoom was great. We were speaking the same language, but more [than that, we were] finishing each other’s sentences, and I was saying stuff like, ‘I’ve been wanting this in the franchise for 10 years.’ I was saying stuff that instinctively I thought was right, and he was like, ‘Yes, this is it.’
That was on Zoom, and I [had] never met the man, and then I arrived in London, and we were having — and we still are having — four-hour conversations a day, really in-depth conversations about characters and everything. Vin is amazing because he will talk about everyone before he will talk about himself or Dom Toretto. He was talking about Aimes and Tess and the new character, and this and that. After a while, I was like, ‘What about Dom?’
He’s such an altruist that he will think about everybody else before thinking about himself. He’s a really lovely man, and this whole cast, they’ve been together for a quarter of a century. They know their idiosyncrasies so well [that] they can write each other’s dialogue. They finish each other’s thoughts. It’s great to be part of [it], but you have to click with them. Eventually, it becomes your show. I was really accepted as a director, but you have to show your worth a little bit.
ATL: It is a big cast and this movie has a ton of characters, so is it hard, even when you get to post, to make sure they all have their time and you’re not losing track of certain characters? Did the script really have that taken care of?
Leterrier: It was in the script. The script was very good, I must say. I’m a better film director now that I’ve done TV. Doing TV has really taught me a lot about storytelling, because the canvas, it’s not so much bigger, but it’s longer, at least.
Dark Crystal, for example, is 10 hours of really hardcore storytelling and technical stuff, and also stuff I’m co-showrunning. When I came on, it was all instinct. What you saw in Fast X is exactly my vision, but it’s an instinctive vision. It’s not like second-guessing and getting notes. I got zero notes, because there was no time, so what you saw is me. Because I had such a short runway, I mini-showran. I took the script, broke it down, did the old Post-Its thing, [and] looked at it. I do what I call a “whammy board” where I look at the movie and I look [at] where the beats are and the emotions. That’s why the movie really feels like a ride.
I did that, and I was like, ‘Oh, I only have two Post-Its for Aimes, and I have 50 PostIts for Roman.” I tweaked the stuff around, and I compressed beats and enhanced other ones, [and] added beats. I did stuff like the Momoa scene, painting the nails of the dead guys, just to get a little bit more texture. I knew I wanted it to be an adrenaline rush, kind of [like] a ride, but I didn’t want to go and have a single color for the whole thing. I wanted to travel the world, and color is given by characters.
ATL: When you mention colorful characters, we have to talk about Jason Momoa’s flamboyant bad guy Dante, because every time he’s on-screen, you go, “Now that’s a villain!” Can you talk about how you worked with Jason on how far he should take Dante? Was a lot of that in the script as well?
Leterrier: There was some of it in the script, but most of it came from our relationship. We fell in love. He’s the greatest, biggest party ever, and he’s just one man. He comes on set with an entourage of his friends and cousins. They all look the same, as handsome and beautiful as he is, and he has an electric bass, and he plays slap. There’s always music — sometimes it’s hip hop. You know he’s coming because you hear [does an impression of a house four-on-the-floor kick drum]. ‘Where’s Jason? Oh, he’s 30 seconds away,’ because he arrives like a giant boombox, and he pumps himself and the whole crew up, and he’s amazing. That stuff wasn’t improvised, but he and I tweaked [it], and we [went] back and forth, talking to each other. We are really great friends, and I was on the Jason Momoa train all along.
ATL: The movie starts in Rio with one of the big action pieces from Fast Five, and then you go back to Rio later in Fast X. How hard was it to recreate that scene and then go back to a location 11 years after Justin previously shot there? I assume you used some of the footage from Fast Five as part of that opening scene, yes?
Leterrier: Completely. It’s the same thing. Both sequences were shot by Spiro Razatos, our second unit, so I had the same 2nd Unit Director. I “Rashomon-ed” that chase, but through the eyes of the bad guy, as you can see. I had all the dailies. Universal, they have all the files, so you have access to all the dailies for every Fast and the Furious. I looked at stuff, and I was like, ‘Okay, can we retell that story through the eyes of the bad guys?’
We shot some stuff and put Momoa, and frankly, Joaquim de Almeida, now in the cars on the bridge that were shot [back] then using motion control. We shot on 35mm, same cameras, same stock, everything. We aged it all, and we made them younger. It was really fun to retcon that and just go back to go, frankly, one of the greatest moments in action cinema and make it part of this movie.
ATL: It’s good they still had that footage, because I remember there was a big fire at Universal in 2008, but I guess that was before Fast Five.
Leterrier: There’s a guy. His name is Bill Paxton, like the actor, and he takes care of all the archives at Universal, and the guy’s amazing. It’s two guys. It’s Robert Vaughn and Bill Paxton, like the actors. These two guys are amazing, and they have all the archives from all the [Fast and Furious movies], and luckily, in that fire, all the Fast stuff was saved.
[NOTE: At this point, there may be a few slight spoilers about the end of Fast X, although no specifics.]
ATL: It must have been amazing to shoot in Rome, but I’m also intrigued by the locations in Portugal in the last act, and whether those were real places — the elevated highway and the dam at the end?
Leterrier: As I was on the plane going to London, we lost a location, which was supposed to be Montenegro for the big final set piece. We sent scouts all around Europe and then very quickly that week, somebody said, ‘Portugal looks amazing. We should look at that.’ I couldn’t go there, so I did all my scouting on Apple Maps, going 3D. ‘Oh, there’s a bridge there. Oh, there are two tiers. Let’s come up with…” I came up with everything at the end, just literally on Apple Maps, and then I found a dam.
I always had this fantasy, since I was a kid, of driving a car down a dam, because they look like a ski jump, and I found this dam [the Aldeadávila Dam where] one side is Portugal, the other side is Spain, [and] that river is in the middle. That’s where they shot a scene in Dr. Zhivago. That dam is amazing, so beautiful, but we could only shoot one day there.
[So] we shot at a different dam, and comped it all together, but you know that my thing is practical effects, so there’s a lot of stuff — obviously, we never drove a car with a driver down the dam — but we shot a lot of that car driving and the explosions and all that stuff, and then we comped it all together.’
ATL: I know we want to avoid spoilers, but was the movie’s cliffhanger always in Justin’s script? Did he write a cliffhanger and leave you to figure out how to get out of it in the next movie?
Leterrier: Yes, the cliffhanger was different. There was a cliffhanger, but it was completely different. We added a lot. What we did is, we realized where we wanted the franchise to end, so we went backward and dropped seeds that we’ll end up harvesting lots of places in the movie, and this cliffhanger was there. We knew there were going to be some tears, but I tuned it up and raised it to 11.
Fast X is now playing in theaters across the world courtesy of Universal Pictures.