Vin Diesel on keeping Paul Walker’s character alive and how final scene in ‘F9’ could be best thing they’ve done

Nine movies into a mega-franchise that’s now grossed over $6 billion, series O.G.’s Vin Diesel and Jordana Brewster admit they never saw such a long and lucrative future ahead when they came onboard The Fast and the Furious, released 20 years ago this week on June 22, 2001.

“I didn’t think back then that it was gonna turn into this thing that would then evolve into nine chapters,” Brewster tells Yahoo Entertainment as the latest installment, F9, opens this weekend (watch above).

Diesel didn’t even think there’d be one sequel.

“When the first movie was released [June 22, 2001, it was a modest-budget movie and it was niche, illegal streetcar racing wasn’t something that was super popular or global,” he tells Yahoo Entertainment. “We were shocked that they moved the [release date] to summer. I didn’t know what that meant at the time, but I was later told that that’s a sign that they feel it’s a summer hit.”

The film earned over $200 million worldwide on a budget of only $38 million.

“The movie comes out and they started talking about wanting to sequelize it. And I was of the impression that, like the ’90s, if you would sequelize a movie you destroyed the possibility of that movie being a classic. So I said, ‘Don’t make a sequel to this.’ And they did anyway.”

Diesel, unlike costar Paul Walker, did not return for 2003’s 2 Fast 2 Furious, which introduced future series mainstays like Ludacris and Tyrese Gibson.

The actor returned for a cameo in 2006’s The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (which otherwise featured an entirely new cast), his appearance so ballyhooed that Universal decided to hand the keys for the whole operation over the Diesel for 2009’s franchise re-igniter Fast & Furious.

“They came to me at Tokyo Drift and said, ‘We don’t plan to make any more Fast and Furious movies unless you produce them,” Diesel says. “And I called Paul Walker, who was no longer in the franchise, and he said, ‘If you’re producing, I’m in.’ I had this whole big speech and he just cut me off and didn’t let me deliver my big speech on why it was going to be so important to do.”

Vin Diesel and Paul Walker in a scene from the film 'The Fast And The Furious', 2001. (Photo by Universal/Getty Images)
Vin Diesel and Paul Walker in a scene from the film The Fast And The Furious, 2001. (Photo by Universal/Getty Images)

Through the next four installments, Diesel and Walker became incredibly close as they co-headlined the series until Walker died in a car crash in 2013.

Furious 7, of 2015, marked the last onscreen appearance for Walker’s Brian O’Connor — whose brothers Caleb and Cody helped complete as stand-ins after the actor’s death. But while that film ended with an emotional send-off to Walker, set to Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth’s poignant “See You Again,” that didn’t spell the end to Brian O’Connor.

The character remains alive in the latest sequels, retired and living the family life away from the action with wife Mia (Brewster) and kids.

“What we know from every day of breathing is that he is always with us,” Diesel says of his late friend Walker. “That’s probably the most profound thing, not something I would’ve been able to confirm seven-and-a-half years ago.

“And who would think that a movie could keep someone’s spirit [alive]? Who would ever imagine that?”

Part 8, 2017’s The Fate of the Furious ended with another tribute to Walker as Diesel’s Dom announces he’s named his newborn son Brian. (In real life, Diesel and his wife Paloma Jiménez named their daughter Paulina after Walker when she was born in 2015.)

But the tribute to Walker that closes F9, Diesel says, tops them all.

“Those are homages. But when you see the end of F9, that’s something even bigger. That’s something, a promise, that’s something special. That’s something that potentially could be the best thing we’ve ever done.”

F9 is now playing.

Watch the cast talk about the series going to space:

-Video produced by Anne Lilburn and edited by Steve Michel

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