Chris Morgan talks to EW about crafting the new film, bringing Charlize Theron into the fold, and how the xenomorph from 'Alien' explains the storytelling of the franchise
This is FATE week on EW.com. Every day, we’ll be debuting a new behind-the-scenes look at The Fate of the Furious, the latest film in the ongoing saga of Dominic Toretto’s globetrotting family of car-action superstars.
The Fast & Furious series grew gradually into a billion-dollar Hollywood franchise. The first three films in the series are relatively modest street-racing thrillers, with little hint of the globetrotting exploits that have become the franchise’s trademark. This evolution becomes apparent in The Fate of the Furious when the crew goes to the “Toy Shop,” a garage of dream cars — a neon Lamborghini here, a high-speed tank there. Check out the exclusive video above, where the cast and crew welcome you to the Toy Shop.
Screenwriter Chris Morgan has been a key artifact in the franchise’s evolution. A fan of the original film, he wrote the screenplay for The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, which unexpectedly kickstarted the reinvention of the series. Morgan talked to EW about crafting the new film, bringing Charlize Theron into the fold, and how the xenomorph from Alien explains the storytelling of the franchise.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: The budgets have clearly gotten bigger on these films since you wrote Tokyo Drift. How does your job change when you can write a tank into a scene?
CHRIS MORGAN: The challenge hasn’t really changed. I started in this franchise as a fan. I went to the see the first movie at a late night screening, fell in love with the characters. When I came on in Tokyo Drift and then moving forward, the guiding principle really is to keep that fan mentality. If I was the audience sitting there, what would I enjoy? What would I want to see? Does this enhance the characters, enhance the action?
One of the first images we had for this film, when we were talking about it was a scene — I went into pitch it to Vin and the studio — there’s just ice, as far as the eye can see. And then we hear the engine, a car engine, it’s going like a bat out of hell, so loud. Then you hear someone’s voice going, “Dude, you gotta go faster, you gotta go faster!” And now we cut inside [the car], we’re with our characters. We look behind them. There’s nobody chasing them? And then BOOM, the giant submarine comes right up behind them, and tries to run them down. The second we said that, everyone started laughing, and they got excited. “We’re gonna put our efforts into that kind of sequence. We’ve got something that feels Fast & Furious there.”
In terms of enhancing the characters, how did you guys come up with the idea to set Dom against his family in Fate?
I think that is a direct result of the last film. With Furious 7, everything that everyone had to go through considering the tragedy with Paul [Walker], and the real question during production — Do we shut down? Do we continue without him? What would that look like? Is there a way to do it that would give a good tribute to him? We all linked arms and came up with what I think is a really good end of the film that let people have a cathartic moment. We shared that all together.
That movie came out, did really well, and technically could have been the end of the franchise. We all agreed that we weren’t going to continue it unless there was a story that was so different, and really felt right for our characters. For seven films, Dom and the crew worked together and solved a big problem, and they stayed together as family. We all started thinking, if we’re gonna do something really different, let’s take that and turn it on its head. What Dom has been preaching for seven films — family, family, family, that’s the code you stick to it, no matter what — what happens if your father figure, your brother, the guy who has been giving you your moral compass for your entire life suddenly breaks his? It comes down to a question of faith. Do you hold close to that code anyway? Do you abandon it? I think that was what was most intriguing for us.
Just in terms of a bad guy for our team to go up against, we’ve seen them go after all sorts of bad guys. What happens if you have to go up against Dom?
Can you talk about the development of Cipher, the villainous character played by Charlize Theron? How did that character evolve with her involvement?
She’s incredible to work with, incredible. We were pursuing her for a couple of films now, for the last couple. We would go to her and go, “Listen, we’re thinking about this, what do you think, can we do a character?” She was always interested, but we never found the right thing, it never worked out because of schedule, it didn’t click because of this or that.
This time when we came to her, we had originally – and this speaks to the collaboration with her – we had a villain that was very different. It was more of a personal backstory that we presented her, with Dom. We walked [Charlize] through it, and she was really attracted to the idea of someone who was rapacious, someone who was really logical, really thought out, a chess player who thinks 20 moves ahead and removes all emotion from the equation. What she wanted to play was someone who sets out to break Dom with the thing that is his greatest strength.
Along with Charlize Theron, Fate of the Furious brings back Kurt Russell, Jason Statham, and Nathalie Emmanuel from Furious 7. What are the challenges of expanding the ensemble and the scope with each film?
I wanted to make sure that it was a big world, and that in every outing we go on with the team, we learn more about them. This is a little bit of a non sequitur, but one of my favorite things in movies comes from Alien and Aliens. As someone sitting there watching these films, the biology of the xenomorph I thought was so fascinating as a viewer. You meet it as a thing in an egg. Now it’s a facehugger. Then a chestburster. Then it grows up into the xenomorph. You’re learning about this thing as you go. Then in the next film, you ask the question: “What lays the eggs?” We try to do [that] on a smaller scale with our characters. In every one of these movies, you learn a little bit more about their backstory, their families. Being able to expand with Helen Mirren, and being able to grow and push what we know about the characters is the most exciting thing for me.
What else are you working on coming up?
We’re doing all the Monster films over at Universal. The Mummy is coming out in June, that’s gonna be big and fun. Beyond that, we’re developing Bride of Frankenstein, Van Helsing, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Wolfman. We have another project at Universal, with Dan Trachtenberg as the director, called Crime of the Century, which I’m so excited about. It is one of the coolest big summer fun action franchise ideas I’ve ever heard. We’re finishing up a polish on that. I think that’s gonna be a really big franchise for the studio.
Have there been any updates on The Legend of Conan, the sequel to the original 1982 Conan the Barbarian? I know you were working on that at one point.
Not so much. That’s kind of a longer story. At the end of the day, the studio decided that they weren’t gonna make that. I gotta say, it’s honestly a heartbreak. I love that first movie so much, so much, it’s one of my favorite movies. We had Will Beall do a draft on [the Legend of Conan script]. He killed it. Our take was Conan, 30 years later, a story like the Clint Eastwood Unforgiven. It was so awesome. Ultimately, the budget was big, the studio was not really sure of the title, and the relevance in the marketplace. They ended up letting it go. I think they’re gonna look to do a TV show or something with it. But just to be associated with it, pitch it to Arnold, have him get so excited, there was a moment of magic for me, personally [laughs]. You never know, down the road we may revisit!
The Fate of the Furious hits theaters April 14. Come back to EW.com every day this week for a closer look at the film’s wild filming, including interviews with cast and crew.