By Derek Lawrence
December 19, 2018 at 12:00 PM EST
Daniel Smith/Universal

“You are going to f‑‑‑ing love this movie.”

That’s the confident declaration Dwayne Johnson makes about his upcoming film Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw upon learning that he’s talking to a Fast super-fan. “I’m sharing this with you now because I know you’re such a big fan,” Johnson says to yours truly, who has seen Fast Five approximately 100 times. “There’s going to be some big, ‘Oh, holy sh‑‑, I did not see that coming’ moments.”

The existence of Hobbs & Shaw itself is not a “holy sh‑‑, I did not see that coming” moment. Since Johnson made his Fast debut in 2011’s Fast Five, there has been talk of a spin-off centered on his indestructible government agent, Luke Hobbs, and now, after 18 years, eight movies, and more than $5 billion at the worldwide box office, Hollywood’s most unexpected franchise is expanding. But Johnson isn’t riding solo — he’s joined in the film (and title) by Jason Statham, who, as Deckard Shaw, showed winning chemistry with Johnson in last year’s The Fate of the Furious.

To debut an exclusive first look at the duo in Hobbs & Shaw (seen above), EW chatted with Johnson about why Statham had to be his partner, going to battle against Idris Elba, and instilling the Fast family values in their new film.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You guys are still in the midst of filming, so how’s it been going?
DWAYNE JOHNSON: It’s been going great. We’ve been out here in London for about eight weeks now, and we’re wrapping up the London portion of the shoot. With things like this, you put your best foot forward, you put your best team together, and you hope that things work out, but you never know, as with any production, how it works out, especially on location and when it has so many different variables involved with something of this size and magnitude. We’re going to wrap this portion up in about a week, take the holiday down, and then we’re going to move the entire production to Hawaii, and that’s where we will close out the movie.

It has to feel surreal to finally be making this, because this has always kind of been the plan, dating all the way back to your first appearance in Fast Five, right? 
Yes, absolutely. It’s very exciting and it’s also very motivating. Again, this has been, as you said, a long time coming. We started talking about the potential of a spin-off really after Fast Five. And then when Fast 6 came around, that’s when we started having real talks about it, but then the challenge was just finding out what the creative could be and how we cracked that. I’m really happy that we were not only be able to crack the creative and really lean into the relationship and chemistry — the biting chemistry between myself and Jason Statham — but I think that also you find out that it’s something the fans have been wanting for some time now.

When you have a franchise that is as successful as the Fast & Furious franchise, the goal, certainly my goal, was always to try and create a scenario where we have as much longevity as we possibly can have. And in that spirit, you have to evolve and you have to spin off and you have to create new characters and new stories, especially when you’re coming off Fast 8, where you have an eight at the end of your title. [Laughs.] And while that one was wildly successful as well, we all collectively felt, myself, Jason Statham, the studio, all right, now’s the time, let’s make our move. So it’s been pretty surreal, but it’s also been a lot of fun and pretty exciting.

At what point did you start to think it had to be you and Jason? Was it after your great chemistry in Fast 8, or was that dynamic set up there in hopes of leading to this?
With Fast Five the discussion was, we have a character in Hobbs that the audience had really enjoyed, and is there a version of this where we start to think of a spin-off? And we started that early dialogue, but then we thought it’s probably best to continue to evolve the character of Hobbs. Let’s have him creatively woven into the Fast & Furious tapestry even more with Fast 6. Then when Furious 7 came along, it was after Furious 7 that we were going to do the spin-off, but then, of course, with the passing of Paul [Walker] and the incredible amount of heartache that that had caused not only his family but certainly the world and us, we felt like, let’s put that on hold and let’s put all of our focus and attention on Fast 8.

And it was in Fast 8, to get you an answer, it was finding it in Fast 8 that when Jason and I sat down early, before we started shooting, we thought, what if we had an opportunity here where we created two characters that were biting, yet would do it a winking way, that they actually enjoyed talking sh‑‑ to each other and in a really weird way enjoyed beating the sh‑‑ out of each other as well. [Laughs.] And then afterwards, hey, let’s sit down and have a drink. And we recognized very quickly that we had this cool and unique bond. I’ve known Jason for a very long time, and we felt like, hey, let’s give this a shot. Let’s lean into the chemistry and let’s lean into some comedy and see where it goes. And it was after Fast 8 came out that, as with everything, I rely on the audience’s feedback, and the audience feedback came back across the board that they loved the characters, they loved the chemistry. And in the wake of that, we sat down with Universal and said, “Okay, this is the right opportunity and this feels like the right creative inroad. Now let’s go make a great movie that the world will enjoy.”

Where does that relationship between the characters stand going into Hobbs & Shaw? Because they were enemies in Furious 7 and then forced to team up in Fate, but despite the hilarious dynamic, I wouldn’t say they were BFFs by the end. I can’t imagine Hobbs is going to easily forget about Shaw forcing him to fall out a window in the beginning of Furious 7.
Going in to Hobbs & Shaw, they still have a very biting chemistry, and they are polar opposites of each other in every sense of the word: from where they’re from, how they talk, what their likes are, what their philosophies are, what their fundamental core values are. But yet, they still have this magnetic attraction that happens between them that the universe brings them together, certainly against their will. And I guess a good way to describe it is you have two guys who don’t really like each other, love to slap each other around, always think that they’re right, and will always have each other’s back — but they will never admit it.

Universal Pictures

I can’t tell you how excited I was when Idris Elba was cast as the bad guy. What was it about Idris and his character, Brixton, that made him the perfect Hobbs & Shaw villain?
If you have Hobbs and Shaw, two beloved characters within the Fast & Furious world, how do we create a villain who is formidable, viable, better, stronger, and more diabolical? How do we create that? I feel like we created that on the page, but then who is the actor who can actually bring that weight? And I’ve known Idris for some time now, and we felt like he was the perfect guy to come in and be our main villain.

Our goal with Idris to make him the baddest villain the franchise has ever seen. Coming in, he is undefeated. And for a guy who is undefeated, three men enter and either one man leaves or two leave. And I say that respectfully because there have been so many bad guys who we’ve had over the years. But Idris is the perfect guy. Obviously, he’s a phenomenal actor, really brings a great weight and quality to the role — and a viability. He’s a big man and he’s a legitimate badass and a legitimate martial artist. I’ll tell you this, the past 10 days have been the finale; we’ve been shooting the big main event between us and Brixton. We’ve been fighting and it’s been pretty badass and painful, but great.

No franchise does stunts like Fast & Furious, so what kind of next-level things can we expect? Do you go in thinking you have top what has previously been done? You have to be running out of things to do with cars!
We’ve done so much in the Fast & Furious franchise in terms of big-scale action set pieces and fight sequences, the goal is always to best the last one. But it’s hard to say, “Oh, we’re going to best it,” because it’s like saying if you had children, which one is your favorite? The main thing that we can do and focus on is how can we evolve, how can we make it different, how can we make it cool, how can we make it badass and entertaining to the fans? So instead of thinking of whatever the biggest explosions are with the biggest vehicles and let’s drop them from the moon, this is where finding the perfect director comes in with a very unique point of view and perspective, and someone who understands not only action but understands stylistic action mixed in with story and character.

And then enters David Leitch. He just did the new Deadpool and John Wick and Atomic Blonde, so you can see the stylistic approach that David has, and he really just stepped up to the plate and took great ownership of this spin-off. Immediately, our goals were aligned. I met David almost two years ago and we were sitting down and talking about this and his goal was to evolve the franchise. Still have the spirit of Fast & Furious, but how can it be different? And how can we also make something for the fans stylistically that they’ve never seen, but also really root it in character? He’s really been delivering, and if his past movies are an example of what he’s been doing, wait until you see this one. And we are hopefully, fingers crossed, creating characters in this movie where they can all at some point in the future spin off. That’s the goal.

Obviously this film is connected to the franchise by the presence of you and Jason, but should we expect there to be other elements — or people — linking the film to the greater Fast universe?
If the goal is to deliver something that is evolved, entertaining, and creates some “holy sh‑‑” moments, I think we’ve delivered as it relates to your question. Let me back up, because I think it’s a great question and such an important one. As excited as we all are about shooting this franchise and creating something that is awesome for the fans, it was also imperative — not only to me, but to Jason, David, the entire cast — that we still maintained the core values of what has made Fast & Furious such a beloved franchise. And those core values are a code of honor, a ride-or-die spirit, and above all else, family comes before anything. So I do think we delivered on that. Again, it was very, very important to us. Because this is now four Fast movies that I’ve done, so I understand the power of that, because it’s ingrained in my DNA.

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw opens Aug. 2.

To read more on 2019’s most anticipated TV shows and movies, pick up the new issue of Entertainment Weekly on stands Friday, or buy it here now. Don’t forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.

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Dwayne Johnson's Hobbs and Jason Statham's Shaw get their own "Fast & Furious" spin-off.
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