It’s a gig that would have tempted any filmmaker: directing the highly anticipated seventh film in the Fast & Furious franchise. James Wan jumped at it, even though it meant abandoning the MacGyver reboot he was very passionate about, and proceeded to start filming Furious 7, in which Jason Statham returned to menace the cast of heroes audiences have come to love over the past half a dozen films.
Then, the unthinkable happened, and Furious 7 star Paul Walker died in a tragic car accident halfway through filming. As you can imagine, the ramifications for the film were enormous, resulting in an all-new ending. We sat down with James Wan to talk about the production of Furious 7, that original ending, the film’s unexpected use of Jason Statham’s character, and his plans for MacGyver, more Insidious movies and possibly – just possibly – a return to the blockbuster Saw franchise.
CraveOnline: I can’t believe you have this much energy after all the junketing you’re doing. How are you doing that?
James Wan: I’m actually still wrecked from the movie! This film beat the crap out of me. Two and a half years out of my life.
You probably could not have predicted how difficult it would be to get to the end of this thing, could you?
Not at all. At the time I was just wrapping up Insidious 2, which could could not be a more different process than this particular film. But here we are.
Well, I’m glad you’re here. I think you directed some amazing stuff in this movie. But it’s interesting that you had so much handed to you, even just at the beginning. It has to be about Jason Statham, it has to have all these elements…
It came with a lot of baggage, yes.
How did you confront that? What was something they told you absolutely must be in the film, and what could you affect creatively?
Okay, listen, coming in on a number seven of anything [laughs] meant that this world is very established, and it really is such a well oiled engine, a machine to a big degree. So I had no delusion that I was going to change anything too much. But what I tried to do was focus on the things I could put my stamp on, right?
So for example, with Statham’s character. I talked to Jason early on, I go, “Hey man, you and I are both new kids on the block to this franchise.” So it was cool. That way I could build his character with him from the ground up, which I couldn’t really do so much with the other guys because those guys were already established. So just little things like that, and designing the action. I could come in and do my thing with it, and how I shot the film, I could do my thing with it.
Let’s talk about Jason Statham. I was very surprised by how you handled his character. You start off with the best villain intro I’ve ever seen in a movie, and then there’s a great big fight with Dwayne Johnson, and then the team gets sidelined by Djimon Hounsou…
And Jason Statham keeps coming in like a Terminator, popping back in like, “Still here!”
Tell me about that, how that came together and why it was the way to go.
Well, okay, so this is probably more a Chris Morgan [screenwriter] question, but basically the concept really was… I mean, that’s how Chris pitched me Statham’s character at the start. “He’s kind of like the Terminator.” He just keeps charging in during moments when you least expect of him. One of the things very early on that Jason and I talked about is that, even though his character is the antagonist to our heroes, he’s not necessarily a “bad guy.” So in a lot of ways he, Jason Statham, wanted to play the character definitely more as an anti-hero which I freakin’ love, right? That classic sort of Clint Eastwood cowboy or western guy…
Well, he’s been wronged.
Yeah, he’s been wronged! In his eyes, from his perspective, exactly. From his perspective he’s not the bad guy. You messed with his family and now he’s going to come after the rest of you that did that to him. So that was really cool. Because of that angle, we also obviously need someone who’s evil, and bad. Hence Djimon Hounsou’s character was designed in a lot of ways. But that just meant that it was kind of tricky from a mechanical standpoint, from a writing standpoint, it’s really only one person that Jason is, whereas Djimon afforded us a team of military that the rest of our heroes can go up against. So there’s that mechanical plotting standpoint.