'Hobbs & Shaw' Director David Leitch On How Superhero Movies Influenced His Spin-Off [Interview]

The days of boosting cars and racing for pinks is long gone in the Fast & Furious world. The earliest installments in the series continue to look comically quaint in comparison to the likes of Hobbs & Shaw, although the mega movie does tip its hat to the old days of the franchise once or twice. In addition to all the globe-trotting and saving the world business expected from Fast brand, Hobbs & Shaw now brings a touch of sci-fi to the franchise. And director David Leitch seems to be having a blast with it.

The spinoff still has the tone, sensibility, and taste for the ridiculousness of a Fast & Furious movie, but more than anything else, it plays like a comic book movie. The co-founder of 87Eleven and filmmaker behind Atomic Blonde and Deadpool 2 could've put superhero costumes on Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham in this movie, and they wouldn't have looked out of place. Leitch, as he told us, had comic book movies on his mind when making his XXX-L summer movie.

This is the first Dwayne Johnson movie that shows what I've always wanted to see from him in an action movie.  When you have an actor as larger-than-life as himself, what do you want to do with that guy's physicality? 

I think the question is, what can't you do with this guy? Look, we set out to make something that was fun, bombastic, and big, and unapologetic, in terms of size and scope. We wanted to have fun. The Fast movies have had so many incarnations now, and they got more outrageous as they went along. I think everyone embraced what it is, and to deliver big summer fun.

Hobbs is basically a superhero in this movie. The ridiculousness is what you want from this franchise, but is there a line you can't cross? What would be a jump-the-shark moment? 

Well, I like that you said that because the appetite for superhero movies has obviously never been greater. People keep seeing these massive set pieces, buildings exploding, and worlds colliding, and I thought, what other universe can you really do that in except those movies? So, putting it towards a superhero movie but not quite being a superhero movie was definitely discussed and was definitely the idea. People want to see this stuff, and you want to go to the cinema to see that stuff. How do we make this franchise work between a superhero movie and a Fast universe?

And you still have your more grounded, physical fights you're known for. Shaw's fight in the apartment is probably the smallest but the best action scene in the movie. 

Thank you for saying that. For me, I love the grounded fight stuff we do at 87Eleven. You know, Chad [Stahelski] and I have been doing that kind of stuff for years. When I took on this franchise, I knew I had to deliver the big spectacle set pieces, and what I had to come to terms with is, how do I make them my own? So, you're right, some of my favorite scenes in the film are the grounded and dirty fights, like the fight in the apartment and the fight at the end in the rain with the slow-motion. I love that stuff. It geeks me out.

What poses more challenges as a director, a scene like the long take from Atomic Blonde or a more CG-heavy set piece like the one at the end of Hobbs & Shaw?

Wow. I would say that the big CG sequences, because for me, as a director, that's been kind of a progression. As a second-unit director, I did a lot of big set pieces with CG, like Captain America: Civil War and things like that, but you leave them with the director, you walk away, and they figure out that crap in post [Laughs]. Now, I'm here with the big logistical puzzle of that chase in Samoa where practical action meets visual effects action, with blue screen elements, cars on rigs, and gimbals. All of that stuff needs to work seamlessly in post. So, that stuff is harder, because there are more moving pieces. With the scene in Atomic Blonde, it's a smaller group of people and artists, trying to do it all analog. There are very little visual effects help, and it's all about the tactile rigs we have on set, giving the old school movie illusion. It's just different muscles to flex.

Do you see Fast & Furious as basically the big American version of a Bond franchise? Did you want a little of that Bond style in Hobbs & Shaw?

For sure. I wanted to steer it into something that was spy-oriented, which I know they've been doing in the last couple of movies. Obviously, they've been working for a spy organization with Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) putting them on these cases; I wanted to take that to the next level. Obviously, Shaw's past being a former spy, and Hattie's (Vanessa Kirby) a spy, so there is a little bit of James Bond floating around. If you're the spy genre, it's kind of hard to avoid, but it's actually a good thing to pay homage to it.

Shaw has a line alluding to his dark past. On this press tour, have you been asked a lot about Han and Justice For Han?

I don't get asked a ton, but the people that ask are really concerned. We hear the fans. [Screenwriter] Chris Morgan and I had many discussions about it, and we knew it was going to be something important to the fans. Going on nine movies, it's a testament to the Fast franchise that the character is so beloved. It's really important at some point we deal with it, and that's the plan; that has been the plan for a while. In this movie, it was really hard, but there are so many stories to tell, so much groundwork to lay, and to set up the world.

hobbs and shaw imageWhen Dwayne Johnson comes out shirtless at the end, does a part of you laugh, like holy cow? I think those shots can be tongue-in-cheek, but the scale his presence alone brings to a movie is remarkable. 

I think it's cool [Laughs]. You gotta love how big and larger-than-life he is. Like, the amount of work and discipline he puts into his diet and training, I really wanted to show that off. You know, maybe I was a little exploitative...

Not at all.

[Laughs] There's a lot more of that on the cutting room floor. He is the superhero we wanted to create, and I like that sort of mythological moment we were making.

The set pieces at the end, did they originally take place at night? Was it changed to daytime?

So, there were conversations. Honestly, sometimes you build these big set pieces and it's all about logistics, so other things come into play influencing the creative. A part of me wanted it at night, because we had all the fire elements. We wanted to see fire. The other part of me is like, we went halfway around the world to shoot in Kauai, which is one of the most beautiful places on the planet, so I want to see it. We did dawn for the initial fire stuff, and then as the battle got into full-swing, we could be in daylight. Also, it helped us with our schedule, because nights are short and days are long. You have more shooting time.

And how did Idris Elba end up having a song in the movie? 

It was in the middle of our London shoot. He was playing with some sort of software on his iPad, and he mentioned he was thinking about a song and the idea he had in his head. He put some beats together, but he said he wanted to get it all worked out first. A couple of weeks later, he sent a demo with his name on it. It was really good, but he said he was going to make it better, so he went back and got Cypress Hill to do a riff on it, then went through another pass at the studio. Dwayne and everyone was onboard. It's funny, he's such a renaissance man; it's fun to work with someone like him. He's an actor, a director in his own right, and a musician. It doesn't get any better than that.

The "I'm black Superman" line is a great trailer moment. When you make a movie like Hobbs & Shaw, do you often think when you get a shot, "This needs to be in the trailer"?

All the time. What's funny is, there's already like 12 minutes of material in the trailers anyway, and sometimes I'm like, holy fuck, how much of the movie are they going to see? But that's also a testament to the movie, because a lot of movies can't cut three trailers. With that being said, Dwayne and I were always joking on set, "This is it, this a trailer shot. Here we go, trailer shot." It was always that sort of fun thing we had whether it was a trailer shot or not, but he always knew we had great, commercial-looking material we were excited about. Also, we have great lines. There were times where Dwayne would come up with something just for marketing, just a line or something. He'd say, "I don't know if it's great for the movie, but it's great for the trailer." We were like, "Let's do it. We're here. Let's get it."

[Laughs] Your filmmaking career had a very natural progression to Hobbs & Shaw. Coming off your first big summer studio movie, Deadpool 2, what did you learn from that experience that helped you make Hobbs & Shaw

I think the biggest thing I learned was the merging, and something we touched on earlier, practical stunts and visual effects. On Deadpool, we didn't get as much opportunity to do practical stuff that interacted with the bigger CG elements we wanted in those superhero moments. With the big chase [at the end] in this, we had the time and will to get real cars on the ground, fly a real Blackhawk helicopter, and get the best stunt drivers in the world to learn how to drive a pattern, so it feels like they're connected with chains. Normally, a director would let CG handle all of that, but all the different departments were ready to do something crazy and big.

Like your other movies, and we talked about this for Deadpool 2, you bring a strong sense of style and color to Hobbs & Shaw. What was new, aesthetically, you wanted in this franchise and this story?

I think in terms of the aesthetic, there are signatures and things [cinematographer] Jonathan Sela and I like to do. I think we play with color just 'cause we're trying to create a heightened world. You know, we were seeing this as sort of a comic book in a sense, because it's larger-than-life. We wanted the escapism of the cinematography to be larger-than-life. With the colors in Samoa, we wanted to make you feel like you wanted to go there. If you look at the movies we've done, they often have a graphic novel, comic book sensibility to them. One of these times we're going to do something a little more grounded and natural, because I love that stuff, too [Laughs]. This felt like an opportunity, like, how do we make this sexy, commercial, polished and fun, so you want to sit in a theater and watch it?


Hobbs & Shaw is now in theaters.