Fast and Furious male stars

In the early 1980s, William Goldman spent a considerable portion of his beloved screenwriting book Adventures in the Screen Trade writing about how important it was in that era to protect a movie star’s image and cushion their egos, giving them the best lines and making sure they always seem like the heroes.

More than three decades later, the film industry has changed in ways Goldman probably never thought possible – but there’s one thing that remains the same.

A new report from The Wall Street Journal goes behind the scenes of the Fast and Furious franchise and examines the demands and behaviors of its male leads – specifically Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, and Jason Statham – and the lengths they’ll go to in order to avoid looking weak on screen.

According to this report, the egos of Diesel, Johnson, and Statham are even more fragile than I thought. I’ve heard whispers for years that Vin Diesel in particular cared so much about who landed more blows in his fight scenes in this franchise that he put a system in place that assigned a numerical value to each move in a fight so he could make sure that Domenic Toretto never lost. This new WSJ report confirms those rumblings – although the outlet says the plan “was eventually abandoned once everyone decided it was too complicated”:

According to producers and crew members on the films, Mr. Statham, 51 years old, negotiated an agreement with the studio that limits how badly he can be beaten up on screen. Mr. Diesel, 52, has his younger sister, a producer on the films, police the number of punches he takes. And Mr. Johnson, 47, enlists producers, editors and fight coordinators to help make sure he always gives as good as he gets.

Naturally, the fight scenes in the Fast franchise involving women – like the brawl between Michelle Rodriguez and Ronda Rousey in Furious 7 – don’t have the same level of concerns about “scorekeeping.” But for the men, this obsession goes beyond simply having people looking out for their interests on set: sources told the WSJ that Statham is known to “swing by the editing room to weigh in on fight scenes.”

But it’s not just the fights they’re worried about. Get a load of this:

No moment in the movies appears too small for actors to nitpick. In a scene in 2017’s “The Fate of the Furious” that required Mr. Johnson to be lying on the ground at Mr. Diesel’s feet, he insisted his character at least be sitting up, according to a postproduction crew member.

Mr. Diesel’s sister, Samantha Vincent, weighs in on rehearsals and edits, people familiar with the situation said. “He’s falling down right here,” she once observed during a fight rehearsal, according to one person on set. “Is he going to get his licks back in?”

I understand the idea of maintaining an image, but this is taking things a bit too far, isn’t it? Maybe it’s confined to this franchise, because I’ve never heard of anything like this from the John Wick movies, and even Tom Cruise, one of the first people I think of when I think about actors who are concerned with their image, has proven he’s fine with being made to look like a fool in the Mission: Impossible movies (occasionally). But apparently the Fast and Furious male stars are just candy asses who have gotten their own pep talks similar to the one Al Pacino’s Marvin Schwarz gives Leonardo DiCaprio’s Rick Dalton in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood: they’re scared of what the audience might think of them if they lose a fight on screen.

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