By Darren Franich
March 09, 2017 at 10:24 AM EST

When F. Gary Gray agreed to direct The Fate of the Furious, the eighth film in the ongoing saga about fast cars and the furious people who drive them, he knew that he had a mission. “You look to top yourself,” explains the director, who scored a critical and commercial hit in 2015 with Straight Outta Compton. “And also, to top the previous movies. When you have a car that flies from building to building, that’s very hard to top. When you have the team jumping out of an airplane with a bunch of cars, that’s very hard to top. A submarine is the answer, you know?” With the new, extremely submarine-y trailer for The Fate of the Furious arriving online Thursday, Gray spoke to EW exclusively about the challenges of filming in New York City — and how Fate alters the franchise forever.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: There’s a moment in the new trailer when Charlize Theron takes over seemingly every car in New York City, and they almost seem to move in a wave pattern. What was it like filming that scene?
F. GARY GRAY: It was extremely fun working with my writer, Chris Morgan, and the team to put this whole sequence together. At first they said it was impossible, because there’s no way you’re gonna shoot a car chase, an action sequence of this magnitude in New York City. Impossible! So, of course, when I get a no…we fought really hard for a yes.

Charlize’s character, Cipher, is what you would describe as a master hacker, with the ability to hack into anything. She takes control over a thousand cars in Manhattan, and uses them as weapons. There are some people behind the wheel, and she takes cars parked in parking lots. We shot a lot of different places. We were able to shoot in Times Square, and a couple secret locations.

When I sat down with Vin in the beginning to talk about where I would set this movie, New York was something he really, really wanted to fight for. You just would never expect to see the team racing through New York City. You can barely get permits to do anything above 25 miles per hour.

Without spoiling anything, can you talk a bit about the decision to pit Dom against his family in the new film?
It’s definitely a transformative moment for the franchise. It’s very surprising. I was very, very conscious of: “Why would you go see the eighth installment in a franchise?” You have to give them something new, not a trivial, arbitrary storyline. Dom going rogue, going against the family, I thought that was an amazing idea, and I wanted to be responsible for that.

It’s just a different storyline. I don’t think the cast found it easy to play against Dom, you know? It’s normally a family affair, and you have a lot of [actors] who are genuinely friends, who spend time with each other off-campus. To have to deliver performances that go against their every nature, that was quite a challenge.

You’ve directed action movies before and filmed some complex car chases in The Italian Job, but what were some of the unique challenges of working on a film in this franchise?
I love action movies. With The Italian Job, I was able to step out a little bit and have some fun with MINI Coopers. Now I’m able to take tens of millions dollars’ worth of cars, from Lamborghinis to Bentleys to Mercedes-Benzes, and throw them all over the world [laughs] and crash them up, destroy them, race them, do everything you want to do. It’s like being a kid in a toy shop! I had quite a bit of drama in my last movie, Straight Outta Compton, and so it was really time to step out and have some fun. That’s how I looked at this movie.

What was it like bringing Charlize Theron, and someone with her star power, into this franchise?
When you ground a movie like this with an antagonist like Cipher, it takes the storytelling, the franchise, to a whole other level. You really have to show up with your A-game. She is amazing, a phenomenal actress. With this, it’s just a different type of bad guy. She scares the s— out of people! It’s something that isn’t forced. She’s very calculated. She makes the hair on the back of your neck raise.

That moment in the first trailer, when she kisses Dom, is a really surprising moment.
It was something that we knew would shake things up in ways that you would never expect. I remember being in Times Square when we released the trailer. It was snowing, and there were thousands of people watching all of the screens, and enjoying the action. When the kiss happened, Times Square stood still! All you could hear was this gasp of “Holy s—, what am I watching?” I’ve been doing this for 25 years or so, and you can get a little jaded sometimes, but that is something I’ve never seen or experienced before. I can’t wait for the fans, and for people who may come to this for the first time, to experience that moment [in the movie].

There’s been some talk that The Fate of the Furious is the beginning of a new trilogy in the saga, with a couple of sequels already planned in the next few years. Would you want to come back to direct another Furious film?
They’ve mentioned other films. How I approach each movie is: Just one movie at a time. I don’t know if it’s the best approach!

The Fate of the Furious

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