STACK has a chat with John Wick, Atomic Blonde and Deadpool 2 director David Leitch about his latest action extravaganza, Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw.
You’ve spent many years both performing and coordinating stunts. What was it that gave you the impetus to step up into full-on directing alongside Chad Stahelski on John Wick? Did you have an “I’m getting too old for this sh-t” moment?
[Laughs] I think what made me want to step up to the directing chair is that I love the process of making movies and I love the process of telling stories. It felt like a natural progression – you know, we’d moved up the chain from being fight coordinators, and we moved into the secondary director chair where you tell a story through bigger action set-pieces. So, it was like a natural progression for me – like, ‘How can I take my storytelling to the next level?’ and ultimately John Wick gave me that opportunity.
Which action movie or movies inspired you the most as a kid – and professionally since?
Wow! A lot of the classics from the ‘80s and ‘90s, so the buddy cop movies were really influential on me, like Lethal Weapon, 48 Hours – those ones that had a sense of comedy, but were also great action movies for their time. Since then it’s really been films that I’ve also been involved in as a performer, like The Matrix, working with the Wachowskis, 300 with Zach Snyder, Fight Club with David Fincher… These helped inspire me to do my own thing.
Despite it being a spinoff, Hobbs & Shaw is still a part of the Fast & Furious universe. The importance of family from the franchise comes through loud and clear, but were there any sort of restrictions in place as to what you could and couldn’t do?
There really wasn’t, the only real mandate from the producers and the studio was like, ‘Make it big!’. It was just to make sure the set-pieces are great and are created in the style that works for me as a director, but also fit into pushing the boundaries of the universe. The family element is a natural extension of that, and I think it’s really important in movies like this that you have another tangible theme to hang your hat on besides a world-ending virus. That virus is the construct to basically resolve our characters’ estrangement from their families, and I think that’s the emotional part that people can relate to.
“…the only real mandate from the producers and the studio was like, ‘Make it big!’.”
You got to play with two of the world’s most popular action stars in Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham. Was there anything in particular that you wanted to bring to the buddy cop genre with them at your disposal?
What I really wanted to showcase was both of their comedic abilities, and tonally I wanted to stretch the movie comedically outside of the Fast universe, and that was one of my creative mandates. Letting those guys really flex their comedic muscle and giving them opportunities to add these sort-of Odd Couple moments was important to me.
We adore how Hobbs & Shaw is knowingly cheesy – it almost winks at the viewer at times. With something so gloriously over the top stunt-wise, how do you up the ante from here?
[Laughs] I still tried to take an approach where I could ground some of it, in terms of combining physical effects but with real practical action and things like that. The helicopter at the end in Samoa, that’s all real Black Hawk helicopter shot with real cars on the ground, and we were trying to merge the two so you could really keep the illusion alive. Obviously, the illusion may get a little broken when the cars are suspended underneath it and all of it is hanging over the edge, but you’re getting the best of both worlds. I think you’re getting to see some of the grounded practical stunts that I’m known for, but then you get the spectacle of a big Fast movie. It’s sort of a perfect blend, I’m really proud of how we landed that tonally, action-wise.
Having a character like Idris Elba’s Brixton, who’s pretty much superhuman, did you and your team just go “Oh yeah!” at the stunt possibilities?
Yeah, we got excited about it, and the idea of somebody augmented like that is a little far out there for a grounded movie, but in the Fast universe it’s totally acceptable. So, we leaned into it, and we had fun creating this someone with super-strength and super-speed, and he’s got a bulletproof suit and he can take a lot of punishment because he’s been completely augmented by this company – it was fun.
He’s almost like a superhero, except he’s a supervillain…
I think that the success of superhero movies played a big part in me feeling confident with the tone we struck for Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw when we started. It’s like we’re elevating this beyond physics and it’s all super-heightened. But people go to the cinema for escape, and you sort of figure, ‘Why can’t we make the Fast universe sort of glide over that superhero way?’.
Did you get to play around in the McLaren at all?
I actually didn’t – I didn’t! I was too busy, but the stunt team had a blast and I’m a little jealous that I wasn’t back playing with those guys at that time.
So, would a McLaren really fit under a semitrailer?
I think… uh… under some version of a semitrailer!
What is it about fighting in the rain?!
I just think it’s cinematic [laughs]. I think that as a choreographer and a filmmaker you want to put your characters up against not only the bad guys, but also up against the elements – you feel more through them when they’re cold and they’re beaten and they’re broken and they have to overcome the odds, and rain is just metaphorical for that. I think it’s great, I love it. When I look back there’s rain or weather at the end of every one of my movies – some sort of element is bearing down on our hero.
Can you see yourself returning to the Fast & Furious universe?
I really am proud of what we created, and of course anything is possible, like if they were willing to entertain another one then I would be willing to entertain it. It’s a fun universe and it was really a blast to make and yeah, I think we could have a lot of fun doing it again.
Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw is available on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and DVD from November 13. Order now at JB Hi-Fi.