EW tracked down Johnny Strong to get insight on his character's past and future
“I don’t have friends, I got family.”
We’ve learned a lot of things through seven (soon-to-be eight) Fast & Furious films, whether it’s that cars can fly or that Ja Rule cost himself a lot of money. Yet, the biggest lesson is that there’s nothing more important than family. But what happens when a member of the family disappears and is never heard from again?
“I get asked on a weekly basis by fans of my work and fans of Fast & Furious, ‘What happened to Leon?'” says Johnny Strong. “If you watch the film and you understand the characters, it would be understandable that he would disappear and move on, just as he showed up.”
As the franchise has gone on, Dom’s motley crew has been beefed up, adding players like Roman Pearce (Tyrese), Tej Parker (Ludacris), and Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson). In the beginning, though, there was the original five, consisting of Dom (Vin Diesel), Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), Vince (Matt Schulze), Jesse (Chad Lindberg), and Leon (Strong). Just two of them remain, with Dom and Letty still anchoring the team, as Jesse was killed in The Fast and the Furious, while Vince returned for redemption in Fast Five, only to also die. And Leon, well, no one really knows what happened to him — not even his portrayer.
If you aren’t a diehard Fast & Furious fan, you might be asking, “Who is Leon?” Even Strong had that question, describing the character as a “lost loner type.” Leon’s sole appearance didn’t shed much light on him, beyond his penchant for wearing generic basketball jerseys and yelling at pizza boys. In fact, it wasn’t until Strong saw the film that he learned a hint of his character’s background, when Mia (Jordana Brewster) tells Brian (Paul Walker) that Leon “just showed up one night and never ever left.”
Well, by the end of the movie, he had left. After their big final heist backfired, one that Strong notes Leon was hesitant to go through with, the character was last seen driving Dom, Mia, and an injured Letty away. Right before the death of Jesse, Dom told Brian that Leon and Letty are “long gone.” While Rodriguez sat out 2 Fast 2 Furious and Tokyo Drift, she eventually returned, notwithstanding a presumed death along the way. Seven movies later, Leon is still nowhere to be found.
“As the film progresses, towards the end, there’s a scene where Leon kind of voices his disapproval and he’s shut down by Dom, which showed at this point, Leon is doubting his leader and Dom is losing control over his gang and mission,” theorizes Strong. “After that, Jesse is killed, Letty and Vince almost die, so I think it’s understood that Leon had had enough of that situation. The heat had become too risky and he didn’t want anything more to do with the gang.”
Before Fast & Furious was a billion-dollar phenomenon, it was a street racing film named Redline. Fresh off working with Sylvester Stallone on Get Carter, Strong landed the part of Leon, originally written as a darker version of the character who made it to screen. “One of the things I liked is that it was this kind of small, gritty movie about these underground racers pulling these heists in the middle of the night,” shares Strong. “I look back and nobody knew what it was going to turn into, if they say they did, they’re lying to you.”
While his fellow original cast members like Diesel and Rodriguez have tied their careers to the series, Strong’s Fast relationship was basically over the minute he finished shooting The Fast and the Furious. Missing the premiere as he was in Morocco for Black Hawk Down, he finally saw it once he returned to the U.S., marking the only time he would see any of the films in the franchise.
As audiences have embraced the transformation through the series from street racing in L.A. to cars jumping through buildings in Abu Dhabi, Strong yearns for the initial film’s more realistic and plausible stakes. “By the looks of the new trailers of the movies, where you’ve got a guy who is grabbing a torpedo that is being fired from a submarine… For me, it’s kind of jumped the shark a bit,” he opines.
Over the years, Strong has focused on his music career and being more involved in the behind-the-scenes filmmaking process, which often includes scoring the projects he acts in, including the recent post-apocalyptic thriller Daylight’s End. And while he says he hasn’t had the time to revisit the Fast franchise, Strong would be onboard to make a return, albeit with a big caveat.
“It would have be the right situation and it would have to make sense character and story-wise,” says Strong, suggesting Leon could either serve as an adversary for his old friends or show up to save them when all appears lost. “I would hope if I was involved that it would go back to the gritty beginnings of the franchise. They might not be open to it, but if it’s just something for me to collect a big check and do it just to do it, then I’m not really interested.”
Seemingly comfortable with the prospect of never reviving Leon, Strong believes the character’s mysterious whereabouts add to the intrigue and fascination, comparing it to the cult following for Star Wars‘ Boba Fett.
“I love knowing that Leon is out there in that Fast & Furious universe somewhere,” he says. “Because there’s no resolution to him, that’s what keeps the spirit alive. I think it’s awesome that fans still talk about a character who was probably in the movie for a total of five minutes.”