Chris Morgan Interview: Hobbs and Shaw

Hobbs and Shaw raced into theaters this month, providing fans high-octane car chases and heavy doses of adrenaline. But the Fast and Furious franchise is about more than action set pieces, it’s also about family and the bonds we create. Screenwriter Chris Morgan shared his thoughts on the dynamic between Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham, on how he writes action scenes, and on what audiences can expect from their new favorite cameo.

First of all, I love this franchise. And I think this is the perfect summer action movie. It's just so much fun, especially with Jason and Dwayne. Those two guys are so charismatic on screen together. It's great.

Chris Morgan: Oh, thanks, man. I appreciate hearing that. That's great. That was the hope. Putting those two guys together and just letting them do what they do. I'm glad that you responded to it. That's awesome.

Yeah, it's amazing. Now, a lot of times action set pieces aren't scripted, and the actual action beats are left to the fight choreographers, directors and producers. How much of the action did you put down on the page?

Chris Morgan: Everything always gets put on the page. The process will depend on the movie, the sequence, the director, and a lot of factors. But I'm very focused on action and action set pieces, not just for the spectacle of it, but also for what's happening with the character in the middle of it. What's the challenge they're facing? How does the audience feel about it? How do they grow? There needs to be character moments and growth in all these sequences. It's just one of the things that that comes to my brain pretty specifically, so I tend to write them out beat for beat and line for line.

But sometimes, we'll have an action sequence, and it’s a big thing. And then one of our partners – whether it's our director, or whether it's the studio or the actors – they'll come in, and they have a new idea. Something else has come up. We're a very collaborative group, we always happen been, the Fast franchise. And we share one thing in common, which is that we always fight for the audience. Always. We want to leave them going home floating, as Dwayne will say. But also leave with a little something extra. We want to know that we left it all on the field, and we feel good about it. It’s such a commitment to go to films, spend money and bring families.

So that's a long way of saying that if someone can come in and they've got a new idea, if it's a better idea, we'll switch it up. We'll dig in, we‘ll make the effort. But it still always gets written out.

Interesting. Now, what elements create an action scene that pushes the narrative forward?

Chris Morgan: Well, for me, it depends on what the challenge is. So, for example, it's not a coincidence that – in a lot of movies, frankly – our movie ends with the final fistfight with our bad guy. And we knew when we were setting up this movie a couple of things we wanted to do with these characters. Normally in the Fast franchise, we have a big ensemble cast, which is amazing, and lets us do incredible things. We specifically set out to focus a little bit more deeply on two characters, so we could learn where they come from, what their secret fears are, what their foibles are, what their hopes are, what are problems in their life that they need to overcome. And then we try to solve that by imposing some crazy action on top of it, typically using vehicles.

But for this one, we have these two characters were kind of universally known as big Alpha heroes, and the way the dynamic of those characters works is Hobbs is very different than Shaw. His style is different, his way of fighting is different, his smack talk is different. Shaw is a little bit more refined, a little bit more stealthy. Both of those characters want to solve the problem in this movie alone and in their own way, and we need to construct the action of the movie to force them together. And we need to construct the action of the movie to force them together.

We were lucky to get Idris Elba to come in as our character Brixton, who is genetically modified. So, he beats them down. He beats down so badly that they really do not have a hope of solving the problem of the movie unless they team up and work together. Which is why at the end of the movie, in order to hit Brixton, one of them has to take a punch to let the other guy land the punch. There's a very small window for them to pull it off, and to do it, they have to get their shit together and work together. So that's why we construct something that way. As an example.

I love it. How do you avoid making action sequences predictable, especially considering that the audience has been studying this franchise for over a decade?

Chris Morgan: When I was working on the ideas for the film, I was first and foremost a fan of that original Fast and Furious movie. I sat in the audience and I loved it. And I'm not a super car guy, I'm really not. But I loved that team that kind of formed this family, and the bond that they all had really resonated with me.

So, when I sit down to come up with new action sequences, I always think from that fan point of view. What would I want to see? What would I hope to see? What would be something so crazy; some lateral-thinking solution to a problem where action is generally the formula? And I think the best example of that is Fast Five. There's a very protected vault; there's all these police officers and things that are protecting it. That's okay, we'll just yank it out of the building using two cars and drag it through the streets of Rio. No problem. You know, it's just that fun kind of stuff. Again, I approach it first as a fan.

This is why I love the franchise. You hit it right on the head: it's just so much fun. When you sat down to write this, what did you want audiences to discover about Hobbs and Shaw that had not been uncovered and highlighted in previous films?

Chris Morgan: A couple of things. The big goal is to learn a little bit more about where these guys come from, and what haunts them and what drives them. It's one thing to have a big action hero was tough and never makes problems and is not worried about anything. Those characters are so boring. I love our characters who come in, and they get beat down, and they get up. Because that's what real humans do. In our lives, if we take a beating, the best thing we can do – the best thing we hope we can do – is to stand back up.

I always want to be able to tell the audience that, yes, Dwayne is a big, muscle-bound, warrior, tough guy. And Jason is the fast, unstoppable other guy. But they also have moms, and they are cowed by them and respectful of them. And they have siblings, and the siblings used to beat them down. Or in the case of Hattie and Deckard, they used to do heists and things. Kind of childhood things, although it’s a little bit of a different scale for the Shaw family. Just to humanize them a little bit.

So that, I think, is why we're allowed to be so high in our franchise, generally. We have some very grounding forces that the let us get away with more than most franchises would. And I think, generally, the secret to that is as Dwayne would call it: the F word. It's family. The fact that those characters actually believe in their loved ones - that their loved ones and their love for their loved ones makes them stronger - is something that I think is universal. I think every person in the audience understands it and feels it. in the audience understands it and feels it. I think that just grounding our films within that dynamic is what allows us to chase an Antonov jet 26 miles down the runway. Stuff like that.

In what ways are you hoping to make this stand apart from the other Fast and Furious films?

Chris Morgan: A couple of things. One is being able to focus a little bit more deeply on the characters’ backstories was a really big goal. I think also having a little more fun and a little more humor in here is a slightly different flavor, in terms of expanding the Fast universe.

That was the agenda for me: to make sure that it feels totally steeped in the world of Fast. It is within our universe; it is within our timeline. The ramifications of these stories will ripple across Fast and vice versa. The world of Fast is a big, interconnected web of characters and stories that cross and criss-cross and criss-cross again.

I think the idea was to be able to take two beloved characters and let the audience know a little bit more about them. Hopefully the audience responds to that, and if so, we have many other adventures. And frankly, I'd like to see that done with the other characters as well. I'd like to know what makes more of the Fast world tick."

I’m not going to say who’s in this film, but the cameos in this film are amazing. Is there any chance to expand on those characters in future installments of Hobbs and Shaw, or even to cross them over with the other Fast characters?

Chris Morgan: Listen, my goal in anything like that, with bringing characters in as cameos, is to always want to learn more about them and use them in fun ways. If this movie is a success, and they allow us to step out and continue? Oh, yeah. 100%. Those guys now inhabit the Fast universe, for sure.

I'd love to see Hobbs, Shaw and Locke. I think that would be so much fun.

Chris Morgan: Oh, yes. It would be amazing, I agree. It's one of the benefits of working on these films – you have all day together, where you just kind of talk and brainstorm. Some of the situations we came up with, or the little action bits and things that would be fun to learn about these characters. We just end up laughing and go, “I know the audience would love this. That would be so great!”

We get excited, and I write them down and I keep them. So, knock on wood. If the world wants to see more of it, we have some really fun ideas.

I can't wait for my friends to see it, because I just want to talk about it with them. Because it's just crazy.

Chris Morgan: That was one of the great things about sitting in the premiere at LA. Most of the audience didn't know what was coming up. And when they come up, there is such a surprised, happy reaction from the audience. It is really gratifying to hear, and I love thinking that the audience is going to experience that in the theater. It’s great.

Yeah, it's amazing. How do you approach script writing for this pared down version of Fast and Furious in comparison to the to the big ensemble flicks?

Chris Morgan: It's kind of the same. It has a very similar process for me. We've actually had the benefit of being kind of like a very long, heavily action-y, soap opera. A TV show or a cable streamer, in that we've been doing this for over a decade. And we've been able to grow these characters through major, major life changes.

Anytime we set out to do one of these stories, you look at the characters who are involved, and you think about, what are the things they need to learn, and then you design the crazy thing to do it. The fun thing about doing this with Fast is that it's [otherwise] such a big ensemble that the real estate is limited. So, even though you have the stories and want to be able to tell it, generally you’re looking at 2 hours or 90 minutes or whatever turns out to be. You can’t dig as deep as you want to into every character's backstory. By limiting the amount of characters, it frees you up and gives you more time. So that was a fun process for me to be able to write a little bit more.

Frankly, it let us do something that I thought was pretty incredible, watching it from the outside, which is to lead into Dwayne's actual cultural heritage. The fact that he's Samoan, and we gave that to Hobbs as his background too, and being able to honor that culture. I remember watching the night that we did the Siva Tau, that war dance, and Dwayne's mom was on set. As she was watching, she had a little bit of tears in eyes. She's watching her son embrace her heritage and speak her language on a film that is now going to globally go around the world and introduce her culture in a way that's never been done before. That was a really beautiful moment. I can only imagine what that was like for Dwayne’s mom. I mean, we talked about it, so I can summarize what it looks like. But I'll never feel that, you know what I mean?

It was incredible. Is there a larger story being told across multiple films? Will this tie into the larger Fast and Furious story, or should we just consider this a new branch of the story that may not necessarily tie back into a larger narrative?

Chris Morgan: Again, I look at Fast as a big, interconnected spider web and everything connects. Things in this movie will have ripple effects down the road in other things, and vice versa. It's always surprising where the roads of Fast and Furious lead and what's around the next corner. But having done this for as long as I have, I like everything connecting. And that is the agenda.

Well, thank you so much for your time. This film is just so much fun. And again, if I get my way, hopefully I have Hobbs, Shaw and Locke for the sequel.

Chris Morgan: I will register your vote with the studio, for sure.

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