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Walker’s death changed ‘Furious 7’— and Vin Diesel’s life

Vin Diesel says that the latest "Fast & Furious" film deserves a best picture Oscar but has two strikes against it when it comes to the Academy — it’s an action flick and it’s a sequel. The 47-year-old actor has appeared in virtually all of the "Fast & Furious" films, whose plots are built around fast cars.

Although wildly popular with fans, the action franchise hasn’t won over critics until now. "Furious 7" scores an 85 percent average rating from reviewers on Rotten Tomatoes — higher than 25 previous best picture winners. It also scored at the box office, taking in $143.6 million during its opening weekend.

Perhaps the untimely death of series co-star Paul Walker, who was killed in a car crash before the picture was completed, brought out deeper emotions and a sense of unity among the bereaved cast and crew. The movie was completed with help from Walker’s brother and is a tribute to him.

Diesel, who also produced the Universal Pictures movie, said that "Furious 7" has an “emotional toll,” which seems more directed toward women. “We’re actually responding to the fact that our woman audience has just increased and has either eclipsed or is threatening to eclipse our male audience — we’ve seen that across the board,” Diesel said.

In the latest film, which went into wide release on April 3, Diesel plays street racer Dominic Toretto, whose family is threatened by Jason Statham’s character, who is out for revenge for the death of his brother. 

Diesel spoke to The Interview Feed about making the film with the ghost of Walker hovering in his heart.

Do you think your nickname still fits you — “Diesel”? Well, times do change. But it’s still “Diesel.” I can’t shake it. It’s still the same name. Maybe it should be more romantic.

Can you imagine "Fast and Furious 10" one day, racing Teslas? Of course. I tried to get a Tesla in this one. But that’s part of this franchise — to introduce new fun cars. We want to be up to speed and to stay contemporary. It’s fun.

Normally every single one of these movies sets up the next one. But this one is for many reasons very different. How do you envision number 8? Normally I would be walking you through the many films of the future, but because of this film I am going to hold back and allow the audience to just embrace this one. This movie is different. This one is special for all of us. We are not trying to set it up so much as we have in the past. This one has a very clean ending. To the best of my ability I try to hold to that and don’t want to talk about the place in the future.

How did the story change after Paul died? The story was going in one direction. After the tragedy, it became very clear and important to us to make sure that we honor his character. Thankfully, we built in so many themes that actually end up playing out in a way that’s more true than we initially set out to. It’s surreal, because the story is in its best shape and its best form — inspired by a tragedy.

What did the first day after the tragedy feel like? It was very, very difficult just to get there for the first day. I had to call upon a strength that I never had to call upon just to make it back to the set. I am doing a scene on the first day. It’s a showdown. My character is supposed to be furious. I was in a car, the set went quiet.

What happened then? I’d feel something running down my cheek, and my nose is running. It didn’t make sense, because I was so angry. I am the son of a theater director, it didn’t make sense. I spent 40 years trying to master this craft. But I couldn’t stop that thing running down my cheek. And it was all because the car I was sitting in was a car I was introduced to by Paul. I went through three boxes of tissues, and I just couldn’t stop it. I couldn’t shoot the scene.

The loss of Paul was a loss on so many different levels for you. Did it make you reevaluate your own life, did it make you regroup? Very much so. Just the year earlier we were doing press, and he told me how lucky we were to be alive because of all the stunts we had done. I had no idea how close to reality he really was when he was saying that.

You are a producer for this film as well. Is it true that you would not be part of this franchise anymore if you weren’t the producer? I wouldn’t have been an actor in this if I hadn’t been a producer. The studio was prepared to never do "Fast" again. But they asked me to do a cameo in "Tokyo Drift." I said it’s tricky for me to make a cameo. They said you turned down so many in the past, just do this cameo for us and we’ll let you produce the next one. And then we started working on this saga. If I do four, the world is going to want more. I told the studio that I could save them a lot of money, if I just shoot three back to back to back. That’s how we got to 6 and 7.

Why is this franchise so popular? There is an integrity that you don’t find anywhere else. These are great heroes in a world where superheroes wear capes and stuff. They are the authors of this saga. It’s not comic books. They pay close attention to everything. It’s a home-grown franchise. Universal should be very proud of it.

Have you ever thought of doing TV? I played with the idea of TV. The studio wanted me to play with a TV idea for this and for "Chronicles of Riddick." I just haven’t had enough time to really give it a go. We could create stories that expand our universe. We are in that world now where we can do that.

The car stunts in this film are just unbelievable. Do you ever feel that you have reached the absolute limit? Every time you want to up the last one. Whenever we broke records, I would always say I feel a sense of pressure with this great success. It only means that you have to beat it. Each success is only a benchmark to make it even better.

Are you a fan of sequels? I didn’t used to believe in sequels. I asked the studio to never do another one after the first one came out. It had a stigma in the ’90s. "Rebel Without A Cause" would have been ruined with a sequel. But I never thought of "The Godfather: Part II" as a sequel. So I guess I changed my mind.

We have heard that you guys had plenty of sad moments on set, but were there also fun moments? Is laughter the best medicine when you are grieving? My responsibility is not to worry about the pranks, but just to make a great movie. I always feel the pressure. I always think about the big picture. I am always super serious on set. When I am not on set, I am the funniest guy. I laugh so much with Tyrese in my life, but not on set. I am watching every moment on set to make sure there is a place to find some magic that’s not on the page. That’s what I did with Paul. We always tried to make it so much better. I am holding my breath when I make the movie to catch the moment to make something immortal.

You sound like a guy who really does love movies and doesn’t see them just as a job. That’s true. Movies to me are sacred. They just are. There is something about movies that’s immortal that can change people’s life. They do it for me.

If Paul could see this movie, what would he say? That is the question. I am hoping when the premiere happens, that I hear a voice. And it’s Paul who says: “Vinnie, that’s it, the best one that has been made.”

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