The day was June 22, 2001. George W. Bush was midway through the first year of his presidency. TNT had just reinvented itself with the slogan “We Know Drama.” Annoying suburban children across this country were thrilling to the pop-punk sounds of Blink-182’s latest album Take Off Your Pants and Jacket. And a movie called The Fast and the Furious was hitting theaters, opening the same weekend as Dr. Dolittle 2. It was teen-dreamboat Paul Walker’s first starring role. It more or less invented the idea of Vin Diesel, Action Star. And it launched one of the most surprising and durable franchises in modern Hollywood — which looks poised to have its biggest moment yet with Fast & Furious 6, opening Memorial Day.

In this week’s issue of Entertainment Weekly, we explore how, over the course of six films that initially seemed only tenuously linked together, Fast built up one of the most diverse casts around. (From the very first film, says Walker, “We had the Asian guys, the Latino club. We had Vin: What is he?”) But if the franchise’s casting has been progressive, its thrills have been cheerfully old-school: In a sea of superheroes fighting digital monsters using digital superpowers on digital backlots, the Fast series is a proudly retrograde action movie. Director Justin Lin, who’s steered the franchise since Tokyo Drift, prefers practical effects whenever possible: “The best visual effects are the ones where you can’t tell, where nobody knows that they exist.”

Lin was key in navigating Fast toward its current VIP spot on the summer movie calendar. On the set of Tokyo Drift, he talked to Diesel about turning the franchise into a saga. (Lin cites an unlikely inspiration for the Fast series’ sprawling mythology. Hint: Thank you for being a friend.) Diesel came on as a producer with the cast-reunion episode Fast & Furious, and he’s already looking ahead to a third Fast & Furious trilogy. When asked about Fast 6, he says, “When this film comes out, quite frankly, there’s gonna be some real Oscar watch.” You heard it here first, Breznican!

For more on Fast & Furious, including a complete guide to all six films, pick up this week’s issue of Entertainment Weekly, on stands Friday, May 10th.

Fast and Furious 6
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