By the time she made The Fast and the Furious, Jordana Brewster had already spent a few years acting on As the World Turns and costarring in the culty teen-horror flick The Faculty. But taking a lead role in a film about high-speed chases and operatic automotive calamity was a bit of a departure for the young performer. “I was a New Yorker,” she admits. “I didn’t really drive.” She actually only got her driver’s license to work on the film. A good thing, too: Brewster wound up reprising the part of Mia Toretto years later, in steadily-more-successful Fast films.
With Universal preparing to re-release The Fast and the Furious in time for the 15th anniversary next month, Brewster got on the phone with EW to remember some key moments with her costars Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, and the late Paul Walker.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did you decide to take the part in The Fast and the Furious?
I was at Yale. It was like a summer job. Initially it was called Redline, and it was a movie about cars. I thought, “Okay, cool, I’ll go to L.A. and film this.” And then it went over, so I had to take a semester off from school. Obviously it was the most worthwhile thing I ever did.
What was it like developing the part of Mia in that first film?
[Director] Rob Cohn was like, “You have to go watch Anna Magnani movies.” He perceived me as this prep school girl. “This girl is earthy. Think of her barefoot.” I tried to get her to be as grounded as I possibly could. I remember having to work on that. It’s become this theme throughout the films, she’s this grounding force throughout the films who’s so strong, always standing behind these guys and pushing them.
So much of the main cast on this film were still early in their careers. What was that like?
It’s more fun. Everyone’s on the same level. Michelle was right off of Girlfight, and she wasn’t really standing for anything when it came to Letty being the girlfriend. I learned a lot from her. If something was stereotypical, or belittling as far as playing the girlfriend, she was like, “Uh-uh! Let’s make this interesting!” And she absolutely did. She hasn’t changed, and she’s very courageous that way.
You’ve played Vin Diesel’s sister in several movies now. What was that working relationship like initially?
I remember being very intimidated, initially. Now, my fondest memories are the memories we have from off set. I’m a mom. He’s a dad. We go to each other’s kids’ birthday parties. It’s so strange how our relationship has evolved.
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Have you re-watched the first film recently?
The last time I saw it was when I was doing research for Fast Five. I Went back and watched all of them. I was surprised by how dated it is. There are no flat-screens in it. We really do look like babies!
Has it gotten harder to watch the older films, after losing Paul Walker?
I saw Furious 7, once, before the premiere, to sort of prepare myself. And then at the premiere. And I haven’t been able to watch it since. It’s bittersweet now, watching them. I got really close to Paul, especially after the fourth film. We both grew up so much. We were such babies in the first one. I sort of saw this surfer dude guy, and we didn’t interact as much. I got really close to him after that. He was not someone to be underestimated, man. He did so much, as is evidenced by how deeply people felt his loss. It’s almost like people knew what a f—ing good, genuine, authentic guy he was.
When you finished working on the first film, did you have any sense that there would be a sequel, much less a franchise?
None. I don’t think any of us knew that it had so much potential. It was definitely worth missing a semester at Yale.