Hobbs and Shaw - Johnson Statham synchronize

Chris Morgan has written every single Fast and Furious movie since 2006’s The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, and he’s back as a writer/producer of the franchise’s first spin-off, Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shaw. But while Morgan had previously written all of his entries solo, this time he has a co-writer in the form of Drew Pearce (Iron Man 3, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation).

In a phone interview conducted earlier this week, I spoke with Morgan about how his working relationship with Pearce, the scenes stars Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham wanted to see in the script, the inspirations for writing this film, taking this franchise into full-on James Bond territory with the villain plot, and more.

Hobbs and Shaw Interview: Chris Morgan

When I spoke with you for The Fate of the Furious, we were talking about how Vin Diesel is such a big collaborator of yours and is a key part of the development process for the Fast and Furious movies. He did not act in or produce Hobbs and Shaw, so was he involved in any of the story conversations about this spin-off?

No, I think they were so focused on [Fast] 9, which was developing at the same time, they had their hands full with that and we had their hands full with this. Fortunately, I have an excellent collaborator in Dwayne Johnson as well. Let me back it up a little bit. When we did Fast 8, remember the sequence in the prison and we played Dwayne and Jason against each other and they went to town on each other throwing insults?

Yes.

That’s the moment that we knew – and the studio knew, specifically – that if we ever wanted to expand the Fast universe, it’s probably with those two guys. They just had a great engine. They respect each other, but man, they hate each other. The characters, that is. One of the things about the Fast films is that they’re always very, very large ensemble pieces, which is awesome, but doesn’t give you a whole lot of time to kinda dig down into characters about where they come from, what are the things that haunt them, what are the things that ground them and make them real sorts of people? Parental troubles, sibling rivalries, all that kind of stuff. So when we fastened in to do this, we really decided to dig in on where does Hobbs come from? Who is his family? Where does Shaw come from? What are his issues with his family? Who are the new characters we haven’t met yet? We got to just dream and play and have fun with these characters who we’ve been living with for a lot of years and then make it personal as well. Specifically for Dwayne, just to be able to bring his Samoan heritage into the film and into such a big, global picture, was really fun.

I’m curious about writing a script for big alpha actors like Johnson and Statham. What sort of stipulations did you get from them or their people when writing this movie? Did they want equal screen time, or was there anything like that which you sort of had to write around when crafting this screenplay?

No, not really. It’s Hobbs and Shaw: you naturally want to balance that screen time just from a story sense anyway. But no, nobody’s counting lines or anything like that. It’s characters that they both love to play, and again, they love to get over on each other. It’s just knowing that we’re going to feed into that with action sequences and fights and some personal – the things that they ask for, generally, are, ‘Can we have a touching moment with my daughter? Can we dig into my family history?’ Those are the things they want to safeguard, and look, they know that we’ve got them handled on all the action front.

To me, this movie is essentially a modern-day remake of Tango and Cash. Was that film a touchstone for you when you set out to write this movie?

(laughs) It is, I love Tango and Cash. Absolutely. That and Butch and Sundance and Lethal Weapon and 48 Hrs. Yeah, all of those are touchstones.

Did you study Tango and Cash structurally?

(laughs) When I was younger! In the theater, a bunch of times. For sure.

How did you approach this from a writing standpoint? As the first spin-off of the franchise, how important was it to step out into new territory while trying to retain a sense that this is an adventure that’s taking place in a world we already know?

Yeah, it’s a balancing act, right? It’s Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shaw, so you want to make sure that people who love Fast and Furious understand that this does take place in the universe of Fast, in our timeline. The repercussions of this adventure will kind of ring out down the road through Fast. Part of the reason the studio really wanted me on producing and writing and all that was to guarantee that: that Fast feel, that Fast tone. But then also to lend it its own flavor as well so you recognize there’s something slightly different and special in these spin-offs. Largely, it’s the fact that A), we get to dig a little deeper on our characters and their backgrounds, but B) the comedy. For this particular film, there’s a little bit more comedy just because of the energy between Dwayne and Jason. Specifically Hobbs and Shaw, but also Dwayne and Jason, you know?

So yeah, I think as a fan of Fast and someone who’s been involved for a while, I just want to make sure that we are delivering on the same Fast level in terms of the heart, the action, the accepting inclusiveness, globe-trotting. David Leitch came in and he’d just done Deadpool 2 and Atomic Blonde, and his sense is very pop and very fun. He’s a really funny guy, so he just got to ‘plus’ all of those comedic scenes.

This is the first time you have a co-writing credit on one of these films. Did you and Drew Pearce write together, or did he come on board and do a separate pass later? How did that writing relationship work?

It’s great. We were doing it together. Basically what happened was, as we were getting right into production, I’m producing it as well as writing it, and there’s a lot of – we basically just needed extra hands. David had worked with Drew previously, and we came in and got along great, and we just divvied up scenes, divvied up work, and he’d do a pass and I’d come over and vice versa. A positive benefit of that as well is that he’s actually from the UK, so he got to bring some really fun dialogue for the Shaw family that felt a little more authentic.

You mentioned the globe-trotting action earlier. This franchise has been compared to the Bond movies in terms of its scope, but a secret organization that wants to commit genocide in order to replace human weaknesses with mechanical perfection is the most Bond villain plot this franchise has ever seen. What was the thinking behind going that far with the Eteon organization?

Well, in terms of the Bond level of it, I’ll start from the beginning. We have Hobbs and Shaw, who are like these alpha tough guys. We’ve seen them clear a room of bad guys and they’re not daunted by anything. We needed something to actually stand in their way, be so formidable, to beat them down so badly, that these two guys who definitely don’t want to work together – and though they respect each other, they probably hate each other – the only way for them to possibly even try to solve the problem of the movie is to work together to beat Brixton, Idris Elba, in our film.

The reason for the genre shift a little bit – and we’ve done it before also, with Fast Five going into the heist genre – I was just doing a bunch of research on super soldiers and DARPA and future military tech, what they’re working on, where they think they’re going to get. We just decided to give some of those attributes to Brixton to make him incredibly formidable. Also, there’s a little bit of a theme in there of ‘heart vs. tech,’ kind of an old school sort of thing. It turns out that he works for an organization and they’re up to nefarious things. We’re not even sure exactly all the stuff that they’re up to, in terms of the audience, yet. It just seemed like it was fun. It’s a footstep into a slightly different genre, but not too far. It’s five minutes in the future in terms of the actual tech that Brixton is wielding, like the autonomous bike that he has.

Speaking of old school, I have to ask you about Han. He’s not mentioned in this movie, but last time we spoke, you said that you’d been thinking a lot about that character. If Han were to come back in a future Fast movie, would it have to be in flashback form? Or would you entertain the idea that he somehow escaped that explosion in Tokyo?

OK, so there’s a lot of questions in there. Let me start with, there’s a line in this movie from Shaw, right before the ancient weapons battle in Samoa where he’s talking to Hattie and he says, ‘There’s things that I’ve done and there’s things that I have to make amends for.’ That, specifically, he’s referring to Han there. That’s why I wrote it that way.

In terms of Han, I think Han and Shaw – Shaw is going to have one of the greatest arcs of the Fast franchise. It is something that we’ve been talking so long and so much about that we want to be able to devote enough time to it to make it really land. But his is an arc of redemption, of regret. You should just know, in terms of Justice for Han, nobody feels the need for that more than us. Especially Sung Kang as a friend, and we altered the entire timeline of the Fast universe to preserve for three additional movies. Believe me, we are the biggest fans, and I want to make sure that his stuff is resolved really well. I’m just going to just leave the other question in terms of flashback or bringing him back – let’s just see how that story lays out.

Fair enough. I was wondering if Han’s ghost haunted you as you’re writing lines for Deckard Shaw, a character who killed him and got away with it?

It does. Honestly, it does. Han is one of my favorite characters. He started my Fast journey with me in terms of the character and also Sung, you know? That character has been a constant for me, one of my very favorite characters, and someone that I think about often, and exactly how we lay out whatever we reveal in the future with him.

At one point, Shaw points to a Mini Cooper and talks about a “job over in Italy.” Did Deckard Shaw change his name and operate as Handsome Rob from The Italian Job for a while?

I’m just going to leave that there. (laughs) You know what it is? Who knows, but what I will say, I remember we were kitting out Deckard’s lair, and we were looking at the cars. There’s a lot of McLarens, all British cars, and then we were just like, ‘Oh my God, we have to put a Mini Cooper. We have to.’ And they were like, ‘Really?’ and we said, ‘Yes, yes, we must.’ So thank you for noticing that. It’s funny because I love that film and I’m a big fan of it. Who knows what Deckard Shaw has been up to?

Are you going to write Fast 10?

We’ll have to see. Would I? I would, for sure.

What’s the latest on Crime of the Century?

Oh my God, you and me both. I’ve been talking to [director] Dan [Trachtenberg]. Things are in the works. I would just say, just be patient. That’s such an amazing project.

We know it’s a time travel heist film, but can you tell me what’s being heisted? What’s the score that the protagonists are going after?

You know what, I’m going to leave that to Dan, because it’s so personal for him. I don’t want to reveal that for him. I’ll give him the choice on that.

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Hobbs and Shaw is in theaters now.

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