Dwayne Johnson has arrived on the set of Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw with an arsenal of ways to insult Jason Statham. It’s January, and the pair are both speckled in mud and fake blood, perched on a sunny cliff above the Pacific Ocean in Kauai, Hawaii. They’re about to shoot a rare scene where nothing gets blown up, punched, or run over. The script already calls for Johnson’s Luke Hobbs to declare that he sees Statham’s Deckard Shaw as his diminutive sidekick: the Robin to his Batman, the Mini-Me to his Dr. Evil.
But when the Rock hops out of his truck — he prefers to drive himself to set, listening to chill Hawaiian radio on the way — the first thing he does is run over to Statham and start suggesting fresh one-liners they can hurl at each other (including one impressive Of Mice and Men reference). Huddling under a shady tree, the two soon work out a new bad-mouthing rhythm with writer-producer Chris Morgan, and when the cameras roll, they lay into each other with quips about their characters’ height, strength, appearance, intelligence, and lack of friends. Finally, when Shaw grumbles, “I’ll sidekick you right in the mouth,” director David Leitch calls “Cut!” and Johnson and Statham immediately abandon their scowls for grins.
“Jason loves to come to set extremely prepared, lines locked in,” Johnson, 47, says later, driving his black pickup back to base camp (and slamming on the brakes to avoid the occasional wild pig by the side of the road). “I do too, but then I also come [as] a massive pain-in-the-ass headache for Jason because I’m like, ‘Okay, I’ve got this other idea! Take what you learned and throw it out the window! So how about we do this…’ ”
“I think me and Dwayne share a very similar sense of humor,” Statham, 51, adds later by phone. “The only difference in us is the amount of weight he pushes when he’s doing a bench press.”
The first Fast & Furious spin-off has been a long time coming. Ever since the original sped into theaters in 2001, the eight-part franchise has evolved from street-racing saga to explosive, globe-trotting spectacle, led by Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto and his merry band of car-loving misfits. The plotlines have gone from successfully stealing VHS players to taking down international terrorists, with the films raking in more than $5 billion worldwide combined and becoming Universal’s highest-grossing franchise of all time.
The crew has amassed new allies and enemies along the way, with Johnson signing on as Hobbs — first an enemy, later an ally — in 2011’s Fast Five. As the near-invincible DSS agent, Johnson has been thrown through glass windows, survived fiery car crashes, and gone toe-to-toe with psychopathic assassins, always pulling through to pummel another henchman and deliver some more quips. (In a squad of memorable characters, Hobbs is perhaps the most quotable.)
There were discussions of spinning off the character as early as 2011, but plans didn’t shift into gear until after the introduction of Statham’s rogue British agent Shaw in 2013’s Fast & Furious 6. Shaw joined the Fast narrative as a vengeful villain, before teaming up with Hobbs to stop a nuclear attack in 2017’s The Fate of the Furious. Yes, he incurred fans’ wrath when he killed beloved racer Han (Sung Kang), but he sort of redeemed himself by hijacking a plane to rescue Dom’s kidnapped baby (as one does).
“I think Shaw was sort of misunderstood when he first came on to the screen in the early Fast & Furiouses, and as we start to unravel what he’s all about, we come to understand that he really isn’t a villain,” Statham says. “But you don’t need to get on the wrong side of him. He’s very resourceful, and he’s quite an intense character.”
Over the course of multiple movies, Hobbs and Shaw evolved from nemeses to begrudgingly tolerant colleagues, becoming fan favorites in the process. (It turns out people really like watching Statham and the Rock beat up bad guys — and each other.) So, the studio gave the green light for a stand-alone Hobbs-and-Shaw movie in 2017, eventually bringing aboard longtime Fast writer Morgan and Deadpool 2 director David Leitch. Hobbs & Shaw forces the two characters to join forces in order to stop a looming biological threat, journeying from Shaw’s native London to Hobbs’ homeland of Samoa.
“The other movies were great, and I loved creating the character of Hobbs,” Johnson says. “Eventually, for me personally, I needed more juice. I needed to sink my teeth into something that allowed the character to grow and expand and showcase more layers.”
Hobbs & Shaw is the first Fast to turn off the main road, and the filmmakers say their biggest challenge was creating a movie that felt true to the franchise while still injecting fresh elements. “What we wanted to do was still be able to lean into the spectacle and the action that you’re used to with that universe,” producer Hiram Garcia explains. “But we wanted to turn up a little bit of the humor, the banter, the buddy-cop dynamic that sometimes we can’t get in Fast because there’s so many characters in play.” The real test is whether audiences will be willing to follow them down that track.
Seeing as both Hobbs and Shaw have filled the antagonist role in past Fast & Furious films, this outing needed a foe who was big enough, bad enough, and threatening enough to unite these two frenemies. Enter Idris Elba’s Brixton, a cyber-engineered baddie who’s eager to get his hands on a globe-threatening virus.
“I’ve been a fan of the Fast & Furious franchise, as is everyone,” Elba tells EW in his trailer, where he’s clad in an all-black, all-leather costume, trying to cool off between scenes. “It’s sort of the ultimate escapism. And I love cars. I’m a bit of a motorhead. And then, of course, I get to play this really complex bad guy.”
Brixton is a former British agent who’s been cut open and stitched back together with Terminator-esque technology, making him nearly indestructible. (The tech in the Fast & Furious world has come a long way since the first movie.) In a franchise about machines, Brixton is part machine himself — basically the Six Million Dollar Man, if Lee Majors’ Steve Austin was a homicidal British terrorist with a shape-shifting motorcycle he could summon on command.
“You kind of almost want to like him, but he’s on the wrong side of the law all the time,” says Elba, no stranger to playing sympathetic criminals, like his breakout role as The Wire’s Stringer Bell. “For me, the most complex [character] to play is someone that’s hideous and violent but has qualities that make you go, ‘Oh! He could be a nice guy if only he wouldn’t shoot so many people!'”
To bring down Brixton, Hobbs and Shaw turn to what Johnson calls “the F-word” of the Fast franchise: family. Even though there are no Torettos on hand to offer platitudes about how “you don’t turn your back on family,” Hobbs & Shaw is still big on hereditary ties. “It’s become kind of a joke that every time someone [in a Fast movie] says ‘family,’ there’s a drinking game and you drink,” Morgan says with a laugh. “We’re aware of it.”
Hobbs & Shaw introduces a few new relatives: On the Shaw side, The Crown’s Vanessa Kirby joins as Deckard’s sister, Hattie. Meanwhile, Helen Mirren returns as the elegant Shaw family matriarch. (“She played the Queen once, so it’s a weird relationship,” Kirby jokes.) Hattie is an elite MI6 agent who’s been tracking Brixton and is just as deadly as her brother — joining a long line of badass Fast women that includes Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, and Gal Gadot.
“She’s an amazing fighter,” says Kirby, who previously starred in Mission: Impossible — Fallout. “I just feel like it’s really important nowadays for these kinds of movies to make sure the women are as capable as the men. Often the men are saving the women or doing the fights while the women watch on, or they’re at home. A film like this is a responsibility to kind of subvert that, really, and make sure that Hattie doesn’t get saved by the guys.”
The battle against Brixton also brings Hobbs and Shaw to Samoa, where Hobbs reunites with his mother and four brothers, who run an illegal chop shop–turned–legitimate family business. For Johnson, who is half black and half Samoan, exploring Hobbs’ heritage was a chance to introduce audiences to his own; he’s particularly proud of a scene where Hobbs leads a pre-battle performance of the Siva Tau, a Samoan war dance. “On a personal level, it’s just so gratifying,” he says, “because for the first time ever in the history of Hollywood, we’re showcasing my culture. So there’s a tremendous amount of pride.”
Hobbs & Shaw also adds a new Fast family member behind the camera: David Leitch. After making his directorial debut with Chad Stahelski on John Wick, the former stuntman helmed Atomic Blonde and Deadpool 2. (He also has a long history with Statham: They grappled on screen in 2011’s The Mechanic, ending with the British actor chucking Leitch through a bus window.) For Hobbs, Leitch’s goal was to add even wilder stunts to a franchise that’s already raced submarines and dropped cars from an airplane. That meant amping up the hand-to-hand combat: One scene follows Hobbs and Shaw as they search for information on Brixton, each taking out a separate room of disposable bad guys, with Shaw nimbly outfoxing his opponents as Hobbs just clobbers them upside the head. “Shaw’s like a precision driver, and he’s very purposeful, [with] minimal movements,” Leitch explains. “He’s a guy with a forward-thinking plan. And then you have Dwayne’s character, Hobbs, who’s a man of brute force and muscle.”
For the actors, that meant brushing up on their fight choreography. “It’s been more fights than I’ve ever done,” says Elba, whose previous action track record includes Pacific Rim and the Thor films. “I come from a martial-arts background, so it’s great to be able to do all this. Brixton is extremely strong, so I get to do all these incredible fight sequences and just take out, like, 12 men by myself.”
Adds Kirby: “I’ve learned so much. If I was to go and do another Mission or something, I know that I’d be able to bring what I’ve learned from Dave and carry it on. Do not approach me in the street!”
But it’s not all punches and kicks. No Fast movie is complete without some high-speed car chases and bonkers road maneuvers, and Hobbs & Shaw contains several — including one sequence where our heroes use a truck to lasso a helicopter out of the sky. And when EW visited the set, Leitch and his team shot a scene where the Hobbs family holds off Brixton’s advancing mercenaries by rigging a perimeter of old junker cars to explode. (There are a lot of explosions in this movie.) “We’re grounded in the way that Fast is grounded, but I think as the movies progressed, they were allowed to have a little bit more fun with themselves, in terms of this heightened world,” Leitch says.
It’s a world that just keeps growing in all directions. The main Fast & Furious franchise has a ninth and 10th film in the works, while Fast & Furious: Spy Racers, an animated TV show about Dominic Toretto’s cousin, is coming to Netflix this year. There’s also been talk of another spin-off movie, this one focusing on the women of Fast. “If I’m looking down the road, the roads always connect,” Morgan teases.
In the meantime, Hobbs and Shaw have a world to save — and some insults to exchange. Says Statham with a laugh: “Anything fast and smelling of petrol seems to flick the switch.”
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