Hip-hop superstar Chris “Ludacris” Bridges was a novice actor when he landed the role of Tej Parker in director John Singleton’s 2 Fast 2 Furious back in 2003. Even as he has carved out a Hollywood career in the years since with movies like Hustle and Flow, Max Payne and New Year’s Eve on his resume, he has returned to the series that gave him his start on the screen three more times, playing the ex-street racer turned tech genius who provides the brainpower behind the Toretto family’s physical and automotive muscle in Fast Five, Fast and Furious 6, and now Furious 7.
Like all the other cast members, Bridges has come to appreciate being part of the Fast and Furious family and was devastated by the loss of Paul Walker as the new film neared completion. But the cast and crew, led by new director James Wan, rallied to not only finish the franchise’s most spectacular entry yet, but make it a poignant testament to their fallen friend. Screen Rant sat down with Ludacris at the film’s recent press junket in Los Angeles to discuss the evolution of Tej, paying tribute to Walker and the Furious future.
You joined the series on 2 Fast 2 Furious. Did you ever imagine still being part of this five films later?
Actually I didn’t know there was going to be any more. So it was definitely a surprise and I’m just humbled to be a part of this franchise. Gotta love that. No one thought it would be successful enough to make it to seven. Now it’s like literally one of the historically probably most successful franchises in movie history. They keep getting bigger and better.
2 Fast 2 Furious was only your first or second film as an actor. How do you think you’ve evolved as an actor since then and how has the character of Tej evolved in the course of these films?
I think that Tej has evolved because I used to have a big-ass afro and I just used to be a little petty gambler and do little things. And now you see him being tech savvy and being kind of like extremely intelligent and the brains of the operation and a cohesive person for the team. In this movie I even get in a fight scene. So there continue to be skill sets that people are surprised about.
And how about you as an actor? Did you feel back then that you had the confidence in yourself to do this kind of job?
Oh yeah man. I think the more that I’m able to be around very seasoned or veteran actors and learn as much as I can, I'm constantly learning about myself. I feel like the more I do the better I get. So I’ve got to continue to strive for excellence.
Is it cool to have a legend like Kurt Russell on this film?
Hell yes. He’s so cool. That’s why I like to kind of come to the set and watch on days when they’re working. I just learn.
Did you get to talk to him?
Yeah, yeah, yeah. He’s really cool. It’s always great when you look up to somebody and you have that type of interaction.
Jason Statham is also kind of a legend in his own way at this point.
Absolutely. I’m a big fan of his and when I met him he was still humble and, you know, not like stuck up or being an asshole. It’s refreshing to meet people like that.
What were some of the most satisfying scenes on this film for you to shoot?
My fight scene. I was so happy to do that. I literally had to -- it wasn’t written in the script that way and I had to kind of like go to the director and say, "Man, we’ve got to make this happen." And I showed him a reel because I had been working on something which involved martial arts. I showed him that and he loved it and I was able to fight for my fight scene, so to speak.
Do you try to do as many stunts as they’ll allow you to do?
Hell yeah, man. I’m a thrill seeker. I’m an adrenaline junkie.
How was working with James Wan as director after doing your first one with John Singleton and then having Justin Lin at the helm for the last several?
I think the franchise needs that splash of, you know, different directing styles, just to get a different perspective and not do the same thing all the time. So it’s good. I think it was good and it’s a lot of pressure coming into a multi-hundred-million dollar franchise. So that being said I was very happy about that.
Is there a difference in their methods of directing and the way they work with you?
Yeah, and that’s what makes each person unique. When you look at the movies you can see how they’re different, for people who pay attention to that stuff. It’s always going to be different styles because there’s so much that you can do from a director’s standpoint. It was just good, man.
You have a lot of scenes with Nathalie Emmanuel (Game of Thrones). Since she’s a new member of the cast, did you feel you wanted to take her under your wing a little bit to guide her through how this franchise works?
It’s funny because I think that throughout the movie I was learning some stuff from her and she was learning some stuff from me. So it just makes it even more interesting.
And the rapport with Tyrese Gibson is second nature at this point.
We’ve been friends for ten years so that has a lot to do with our chemistry. We’re the same off screen as we are on screen.
What are your best memories of working with Paul Walker?
We were working on a scene on the movie seven days before he passed away and that was our last conversation -- me, Tyrese and him. And since that was the last conversation it’s probably the most memorable because we were talking about life and family and things in general. It was just so hard to lose him. It still is. I think we honored him in such a graceful and elegant and classy way at the end of this movie. I’m just happy with the way that it was done.
It's a really beautiful moment.
I agree man. It’s a great moment of silence. This film almost didn’t even make the light of day. But we were able to finish it, and to see the finished product the way that it is, it lets you know that we’re happy we did finish it. I wanted it to be right. I didn’t want to just finish it just because. But after I saw the end I was like, "I’m glad we did this."
It’s almost like the films have paralleled the cast in real life. The core group has been together so long now and that comes across in the characters.
Absolutely. And that’s why I say, when you’re a family off screen as well as on screen, those things happen because you’re spending time with each other and that just makes it a real family.
Where do you think the series could go from here?
I know that the fans dictate where it goes, because we’re so intuitive and listening to everything they’re saying online. We read what they like about each film and make sure to incorporate that into the next one, so we’ll see what happens.
You also just released Ludaversal, your first album in more than four years. Is music as still as important to you now as it was when you started?
That’s what got me here in the first place so I can never forget that. It is just as important if not more. Until I don’t feel inspired anymore, I’m going to continue. As long as the fans love what I’m doing, I’ll continue doing it.
Furious 7 hits theaters April 3, 2015.