THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS, (aka FAST & FURIOUS 8), Jason Statham (right), 2017. ph: Matt Kennedy.
Credit: Everett Collection

The Fast & Furious crew has dropped cars from the sky, jumped from building to building, and raced a submarine. But perhaps the franchise’s most entertaining sequence involved no cars, no original stars, and a baby named Carlos. Here, The Fate of the Furious director F. Gary Gray goes inside his film’s “frightening” climactic scene.

Forget Three Men and a Baby — all The Fate of the Furious needed to create one of the year’s most crowd-pleasing scenes was one man and a baby. Oh, and an airplane, too.

The latest installment of the billion-dollar franchise did the impossible and turned Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) against his family. Well, of course the answer to why he betrayed his family would be to save his family. Cyber terrorist Cipher (Charlize Theron) kidnapped both Elena (Elsa Pataky) and Dom’s son, whose existence had been unknown to him and us. With Elena soon killed and Dom sent to Russia to hijack a submarine (yes, you read that right), how would Name TBD Toretto (he’d later be called Brian as a tribute to Paul Walker) be saved?

The unexpected answer: villain-turned-presumed-dead-ally Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham). Earlier in the film, Dom appeared to gun down Shaw in the streets of New York City, but yet, here he is, sneaking onto Cipher’s plane with his previously comatose brother Owen (Luke Evans). “Let’s go Scarface, these assholes aren’t going to kill themselves,” says Deckard, who, while his fellow former bad guy brother infiltrates the cockpit, heads to grab baby Toretto.

Finding Brian was the easy part, as the exit strategy proved to be a tad more strenuous. With the baby in tow and rocking headphones, which were playing “The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late),” Deckard fought his way past Cipher’s goons. The fight scene featured great action, adorable reactions from the baby, and amazing one-liners from Statham. “You were going to shoot a baby? You sick bastard,” Deckard tells one of his victims before turning to Brian and saying, “You’re not gonna want to see this,” and proceeding to repeatedly smash the henchman’s head on a table.

For EW’s Best of 2017 (Behind the Scenes) collection, Gray shared the challenges behind the sequence and why he refers to the young actor as “The Miracle Baby.”

Coming off Straight Outta Compton, his commercially and critically successful N.W.A. biopic, The Italian Job filmmaker returned to the world of cars for Fate. Upon diving into longtime Fast writer Chris Morgan’s script, the airplane scene immediately caught Gray’s attention.

“I was a little nervous at first,” admits Gray. “Putting Jason in a scene with a baby reads one way, but it’s very easy to get it wrong. It’s not a slam dunk situation. Certain scenes you read and you’re like, ‘Okay, I know this is going to work.’ Other scenes you read and you’re like, ‘Okay, you really have it get it right or otherwise it could come off as corny.’ I worked really hard with my stunt coordinator J.J. Perry, who did an amazing job choreographing, making sure that it would satisfying, but that it also wouldn’t challenge the tone of the movie too much and work not only as a sequence but in contrast with the entire film and story. There was a little more drama in Fast 8 than probably most of the Fast & Furious franchise up until that point, and so I wanted to counter the drama with lighter moments and this sequence fit in that category. Then, the conversations not only with Jason, but with J.J. were, ‘How do we survive the balancing act of making this feel fun, but also making sure it’s not too reckless?’ [Laughs].”

Each film has its own unique challenges, but directing a complex fight scene that involved a baby was a new one for everyone involved.

“It’s just the unknown,” shares Gray. “You can roll the cameras, but the baby’s gonna do what the baby’s gonna do, regardless of what you say. I think the biggest challenge is when you have someone really going full-tilt martial arts and crazy gymnastics, and then the baby does the wrong thing after several takes. We don’t want to burn your actors and stuntmen out and burn a million takes on this acrobatic shootout. It’s the unpredictability of what the baby would do. Then, also making sure it felt unique and not like every other action scene in the film. The fact that it’s not just another action sequence, it’s part of the payoff of, ‘How would Dom get his baby?’ So it doesn’t feel too gratuitous. The movie doesn’t work without this story point — and it was a fun story point. It did what it’s supposed to do and gives the audience that boost of adrenaline, so I think that’s the reason why it’s cool and stood out. It’s one of my favorite scenes in the movie for sure.”

Despite the concerns that come with hinging such a pivotal scene on the reaction and temperament of a baby, Carlos, a.k.a. “The Miracle Baby,” nailed his big debut.

“When you’re directing kids, that’s frightening, you just don’t know what they’re going to do and they’re not predictable,” says Gray. “But Carlos, who we called ‘The Miracle Baby’ because of his performance, delivered on every level, and that’s not to be expected. I just love the chemistry between him and Jason. The interaction and interplay between both of the actors became just as entertaining as the actions and the stunts. And so anytime you can combine great character moments with great action, you have a great sequence. Those are the things that I was concerned with most as a director: Tonally, is this going to work at this point of the movie, what am I going to get out of this baby, and how’s this going to work with Jason? Like I said, it read one way, but ultimately, Jason and Carlos pulled it off with flying colors.”

After playing the main antagonist in Furious 7, Statham joins the core team in Fate and his winning chemistry with Dwayne Johnson has already earned them their own spin-off (a Carlos cameo is a must). But it’s this sequence that Gray deemed Statham’s “movie star moment.”

“A lot of people consider him the kick-ass guy, but he’s a really funny and witty guy,” says the director. “As much as he kicks ass, there’s a lot there in terms of being able to bring a smile to people’s faces. We had so many movie stars in that movie and every star needed their moment. And that was a great moment for him. We talk about that: How can we make it great? How can we make it better? We know what the words are on the page, but how can we push the envelope? And, again, I think he delivered, Carlos delivered, and our stunt coordinator J.J. Perry definitely delivered.”

The Fast & Furious franchise is no stranger to memorable music moments, like “See You Again,” Charlie Puth and Wiz Khalifa’s send-off to Paul Walker). But here, Gray went in a much more animated direction to keep baby Carlos preoccupied.

“A couple people made some suggestions and I just remember as a kid how funny the Chipmunks sounded, so I was just like, ‘Why don’t we try the Chipmunks?'” recalls Gray. “My editor Chris Wagner kind of gave me this crazy look, like, ‘What?!’ Because what was written by Chris Morgan was this really mellow classical song to keep the baby calm. And I said, ‘Let’s just go for it.’ Because with the Chipmunks, you’re going to immediately recognize it and you’re going to laugh your ass off. It was a Hail Mary for me; I wanted to challenge what was on the page and I got lucky.”

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