CS Interview: Director David Leitch Talks Hobbs & Shaw
Universal Pictures invited ComingSoon.net to speak 1:1 with ace director David Leitch (John Wick, Atomic Blonde) about this weekend’s big budget spinoff Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw. Check out the interview below!
Directed by Deadpool 2‘s David Leitch, the film will follow Dwayne Johnson’s Diplomatic Security Service agent Luke Hobbs and Jason Statham’s assassin Deckard Shaw. The spin-off features a script from Chris Morgan, who has worked on the franchise since Tokyo Drift in 2006.
Ever since hulking lawman Hobbs (Johnson), a loyal agent of America’s Diplomatic Security Service, and lawless outcast Shaw (Statham), a former British military elite operative, first faced off in 2015’s Furious 7, the duo have swapped smack talk and body blows as they’ve tried to take each other down. But when cyber-genetically enhanced anarchist Brixton (Idris Elba) gains control of an insidious bio-threat that could alter humanity forever — and bests a brilliant and fearless rogue MI6 agent (The Crown’s Vanessa Kirby), who just happens to be Shaw’s sister — these two sworn enemies will have to partner up to bring down the only guy who might be badder than themselves.
Hobbs & Shaw blasts open a new door in the Fast universe as it hurtles action across the globe, from Los Angeles to London and from the toxic wasteland of Chernobyl to the lush beauty of Samoa.
Johnson produces alongside Dany Garcia and Hiram Garcia through Seven Bucks Productions. Statham, Neal H. Moritz for Original Film and Chris Morgan for his eponymous production company also produce, with executive producers Kelly McCormick, Steve Chasman, Amanda Lewis, Ainsley Davies and Ethan Smith.
CS: What’s it like doing your first real PG-13, I guess if we don’t count “Once Upon a Deadpool”?
Leitch: Look, it had its challenges, but it also had its upside. I say that the PG-13 box worked really well for the story we were trying to tell. I mean, obviously, we wanted to make a movie that could reach a wide audience, and that you could bring maybe older kids to. It does have family themes and it’s about these two guys that are estranged from their family and trying to reconnect. It obviously shouldn’t take the fate of the world to bring you back to the people that you care about most. But sometimes, it does. PG-13 allowed us to temper the action in a way and make something that was a little bit more on point for the story. For example, the Hobbs character disarming the guns in the third act allowed us to have a great fight scene that’s in the PG-13 box, but also helped show Roman Reigns and Dwayne Johnson’s characters coming together. I think those opportunities made it worthwhile.
CS: For me, the movie evokes that feeling of a seven year old taking out their action figures and Hot Wheels and just going to town. Was that part of the tone you were going for?
Leitch: It was. We approached it with one thing in mind, and that was to have fun and take people on a ride. Obviously, there were three things we were trying to get across. One is the crazy physics-defying spectacle that “Fast” is known for. Two was the family element and delivering a real emotional core with Jason Statham and Vanessa Kirby’s estrangement, and Dwayne Johnson and Cliff Curtis’ estrangement. The last was to have fun and add an element of comedy that the characters have been doing so well in the previous incarnations of the film. So with those three goals in mind, we wanted to take the audience on a ride and let you escape for a few hours.
CS: What sort of elements of The Rock and Statham’s relationship off screen bleeds into their characters on screen?
Leitch: I think they’re playing close to their characters in real life. Hobbs is a larger than life personality, as is Dwayne. He is really big and fun and lovable and charismatic and all of those things. Jason is smooth and calculated and a lot like Shaw. They’re not Method acting or anything, but they’re playing something that’s close to home for sure.
CS: The “Fast” franchise has had elements like the God’s Eye or remotely hijacking 100 cars. This spinoff has the most sort of overt sci-fi elements with the body modification and the secret techno order. Do you think you were able to juggle far out elements like that and still retain some grounding as a “Fast” movie? Or was that something you just kind of threw out the window?
Leitch: I didn’t think we did. I don’t think we’re any more crazy than trying to outrun a nuclear sub, and The Rock redirecting a tomahawk missile from the car. So I think what’s been great about the “Fast” audience is that they’ve allowed the reinvention and the escalation of the craziness of the stunts. By the success of the films, we’ve seen that they’ve embraced it. We were pretty confident going in that we could be creative and have fun and swing for the fences when it came to some of those ideas. In terms of human augmentation and the bigger theme of technology maybe being the demise of all of us, I don’t think those are sci-fi themes anymore. I think people are concerned about AI. They’re worried about machines over man. As heightened as Idris’ powers are, I’m not sure if we’re that far off in what we’re doing to augment our realities and our physicalities.
CS: Idris’ aim in the movie is a very apocalyptic mission. In so many of these big tentpole movies there’s a motif of trying to outrun the apocalypse. It almost feels like there is this innate thing in human nature where we secretly want to bring the apocalypse. Are you more cynical about human nature? Do you think that there’s a part of us that wants to just blow it all up?
Leitch: What I wanted to get out of this movie is that you can see Hobbs giving the message at the end that we saw these two guys that are polar opposites, and if they can come together to save the world, can’t we all? Can’t we all come and save the world? It was kind of a lofty theme for a “Fast” movie, but it was genuine. Idris asking the big question of is humanity worth surviving? I think I’m cynical enough to sometimes ask that question in these times. When he says, “the more machine I become, the more humane I am.” That character is speaking truth. I liked having these bigger themes roll around and ask these big questions inside of this popcorn movie. People don’t want to attach their mind to those themes and explore them and think about them, great. If there are people that just want to enjoy the ride, they can enjoy the ride.
CS: This movie has some enormous set pieces right out of the gate, and then doesn’t stop. As an action designer, how do you graph these set pieces so that you don’t exhaust the audience and you leave room for more?
Leitch: It’s a challenge. I think you can suffer action fatigue and you can beat up an audience with action. You have to be creative. I think the action sequences have to feel diverse and not repetitive. But most importantly, they need to tell a story, and that’s sort of my career from “John Wick” and even from before, when we were just action directors. If you have a great story within the middle of the action, what are you learning about your character from beginning to end? Hopefully you’re not exhausting them with something that’s just spectacle. There’s actually a narrative that’s moving everything forward. We did a really good job in terms of having moments of storytelling within these set pieces, like the Chernobyl scene and how Hattie and Shaw are reuniting, and how we see another buildup of Hattie and Hobbs’ relationship, when he pulls her from the truck. Then at the end, the brothers all coming together and telling that story is the action scene as a metaphor for the family reuniting. That’s how you beat the exhaustion of it all.
CS: Because you’re developing character through the action.
Leitch: Yeah, in the short. I should have just said that. (laughs)
CS: Was the speed-ramped fight in the rain at the end a bit of a nod to your work on “Matrix Revolutions”?
Leitch: Ah. You’re the first one to bring that up. Yes. It’s a bit of an homage. Look, I’m a huge fan of the Wachowskis, and my time spent with them and the incredible amount of filmmaking knowledge they extended upon me during those formidable years. So part of it, yes, was an homage, and we tried to do our own spin on it, but yeah, it’s a little bit of that for sure.
CS: How much does it ache to have not yet put Helen Mirren behind the wheel of a car?
Leitch: (laughs) It aches. It’s painful. And I think she feels it, too, because she keeps bringing it up, and we do hear her and that’s coming. It’s coming soon to a theater near you.
CS: On this film you’re in the 9th movie of a major franchise. Even though it’s a spinoff and they clearly gave you license to goof with the tone, how do you diplomatically filter all of the different voices that come with the 9th movie on a major franchise?
Leitch: I think we had to setup the boundaries in the beginning of the movie. I was in a place in my career where I am a filmmaker. I have a voice. I wanted to make sure that the studio and the other producers and Jason and Dwayne wanted to make the movie that I wanted to make so we could all go forward together. And I think having that conversation and just setting the rules upfront, everyone was on board to make the same movie. That was key, communicating.
CS: I am embarrassed to say this. I’m still having those stupid anxiety dreams where I wake up and I’m still in high school or college and it’s the day of the final exam and I’ve been blowing off the class all semester, those kind of classic dreams. Do you ever have director-focused anxiety dreams? Like “Oh man, I’m still making ‘John Wick’ and I haven’t choreographed any fights?”
Leitch: (laughs) You know, honestly, this movie “Hobbs and Shaw” was logistically the hardest movie I’ve ever done. There were moments, not so much in physical production -you’d be surprised with all of the crazy stuff we did- but in post, because it was such a short post, 22 weeks of post, 1,600 visual effects shots. There were a couple of nights where I’d wake up at one in the morning and go, “Oh, we were sent that shot in the pipeline and it’s not the right shot. We’ve got to take another take.” I never had that panic in other films because there was a little bit more window of time to be reflective. So we made this movie at a “Fast and Furious” pace. I apologize. That was really bad, but that is the truth. From start to finish, we did this in a short amount of time for a big summer movie.
CS: With Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” opening, it has me thinking a lot about Hal Needham. Can you talk a little bit about his legacy and how he might have influenced you and your career, both in stunts and behind the camera?
Leitch: He’s obviously a pioneer in stunts, and also then the stunt man turned director. I think that there’s not a stunt man in Hollywood that doesn’t pray at the altar of “Hooper.” And again, I’m not saying that the smokestack falling and the car out-racing it was an homage to “Hooper,” but maybe.
CS: I definitely thought about that scene from “Hooper” when I was watching it.
Leitch: Yeah. Again, we just did it in a very CG way in that respect, and I think back to then, there wasn’t the visual effects element. The stunt world has changed so much. I mean, back then it was like, “We’re going to outrun a smokestack.” So yeah, it’s pretty great to have that sort of legend pave the way, and I think that it’d be an honor to even just be mentioned in the same breath as him some day, so that’s really cool. I’m excited to see Quentin’s movie. Obviously, I worked with Brad Pitt on several films and I did do stunts for him. So I’m just curious what character he’s actually portraying.
(Photo Credit: Getty Images)