Film: Vin Diesel on his Fast And Furious character: ‘Isn't that the question, where does Vin end and where does Dom start?'

After a Covid-enforced delay, the Fast And Furious franchise is back. Its director and stars tell Keiran Southern about the latest instalment...

By Keiran Southern, PA Los Angeles Correspondent

Vin Diesel and Nathalie Emmanuel in Fast & Furious 9

THE Fast And Furious franchise is back with what may be the most explosive and outlandish instalment yet.

F9 sees the return of Vin Diesel as street race and international super agent Dominic Toretto, whose attempts at a quiet family life off the grid are disrupted by a criminal plot that threatens the world order.

Former professional wrestler John Cena stars as Dom’s long-lost brother Jakob, with the action taking place around the globe – and beyond.

Diesel, who also produces Universal’s F9 and has served as the fulcrum of the multibillion-dollar franchise since first appearing in 2001’s The Fast And The Furious, said he relished slipping back into the character.

“I feel like I never left,” he says, “It’s been 20 great years. And I feel lucky to have a studio that really supports the evolution of the character.”

Action star Diesel, now 53, has become synonymous with Dominic, and admits even he is no longer sure where the distinction lies between the two.

“Isn’t that the question, where does Vin end and where does Dom start?” he muses.

“After 20 years, I’m not sure anymore. There are moments in the movie that are pulled right from [my life].

“The scene of me putting my son to sleep, that exchange about, ‘Daddy do you know where God is?’ literally comes from my daughter and putting her to sleep.

“And so, of course we all know how much family means in my personal life, and we all know how central the theme of family is in the franchise.”

As Diesel says, family is the major theme of F9.

Dominic’s core crew makes a return, with Michelle Rodriguez back as his wife Letty, Jordana Brewster as his sister Mia, Tyrese Gibson as ex-con Roman, Ludacris as wisecracking mechanic Tej and Nathalie Emmanuel as Ramsey, the British computer hacker.

The gang is locked in a high-stakes battle against criminal mastermind Cipher, played by Charlize Theron, who has joined forces with Jakob and his super-rich backer in an attempt to bring world governments to heel.

It was the introduction of the previously unknown Jakob that fired the imagination of F9 director Justin Lin, who helmed the third, fourth, fifth and sixth chapters of the series.

“For me, it was the idea of further exploring the theme of family, but this time through blood,” he says.

“Something that hadn’t been done, and for us to do something for the very first time in chapter nine was exciting.

“It felt like it was worth coming back for.”

Lin’s return to the franchise led to another comeback sure to delight fans – that of Sung Kang’s Han Lue.

A gangster and race driver, Han first appeared in 2006’s The Fast And The Furious: Tokyo Drift – but appeared to have been killed off.

His death disgruntled fans and sparked the years-long social media campaign #JusticeForHan.

Lin was delighted to be able to resurrect the character.

He says: “The fans had the right to feel like he was kind of dismissed in how he was treated. Coming back, that was something I felt like we needed to address.

“Ultimately, it was a gift for me to be able to not only work with Sung Kang but also to bring this beloved character back. It was a challenge, but I give the fans 100% credit. It wouldn’t have happened without them.”

F9 was originally scheduled to arrive in April 2020, before the pandemic intervened and pushed it back more than a year.

John Cena and Charlize Theron in Fast & Furious 9

It screeches onto the big screen as the pandemic wanes in the UK and US, with cinemas reopening and the box office firing back into life.

The film is on track to be one of the best performers since the health crisis struck, and should add a hefty sum to the franchise’s total gross of over six billion dollars (£4.3 billion).

Emmanuel, who shot to stardom after playing Missandei in Game Of Thrones, notes fans deserve escapism after a traumatic year.

She says: “It’s been an incredibly difficult year for everybody, and in ways that I personally cannot even fathom for some people.

“So the fact that we get to come back together to the cinema and watch these movies that we love and have grown up with, it somehow feels like a reunion, like a family reunion.

“And I think people really deserve that, they really deserve the fun and the escapism these movies give us.”

While much of the adrenaline-fuelled F9 deals in high-octane action perfectly suited to the cinema, it also includes low-key, emotionally resonant moments sure to touch fans.

Alongside Diesel, Paul Walker was the face of the franchise, until he was killed in a car crash in Southern California in 2013. He was 40.

F9 features a tribute to the star, a nod Emmanuel considers an essential part of the franchise’s DNA.

“They’re important to every film, since he passed and going forward,” she says.

“He’s a part of these films, it’s essential we remember him and include him and his character in every film.”

Diesel says his close friendship with his “brother” Walker – who he nicknamed “Pablo” – is what he treasures most from the films.

He says: “I guess the standout moment is all around Pablo. Those are the moments I hold. And obviously, when you lose a family member, you cherish all the moments, we all do that.

“Those are the memories I keep close and cherish the most.”

Diesel adds: “But I’ve had wonderful, wonderful moments throughout these 20 years, because the people I make the movies with have become family.

“My father used to say, ‘Do what you love and you’ll never work another day in your life’.

“And what I’ve learned from doing this franchise is the only thing better than that, is doing what you love with the people you love. And I can say that is the most rewarding aspect of doing Fast And Furious.”

Fast And Furious 9 is in cinemas now.

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