In The Fate of the Furious, master gearshifter and loyal thief Dominic Toretto does the unthinkable and turns on his assembled family. The eighth film in the still-accelerating Fast and Furious franchise is in many ways more of the same - self-awarely ridiculous street races, reality-defying vehicular stunts, former murderous villains becoming part of the ever-expanding group - but F. Gary Gray adds in the twist that this time Vin Diesel's hero is working with Charlize Theron's Cipher against Letty, Hobbs and co.
While the mystery of why Dom would betray seven films of character development has been hotly debated since its reveal (and unsurprisingly plays a major part in the movie), it's in actuality only the second most interesting rift between former friends related to the film. Over the past year and off the big screen there’s been an unfolding feud between Vin Diesel (Toretto) and Dwayne Johnson (Hobbs that has caused much debate online. Now the film is finally here, we can - between social posts, leaks and rumors - look back and figure out what happened.
A Potted History of Diesel v. Johnson
To try and get to the bottom of this fracas, we first must understand the public side of the spat. The first evidence of a divide came in August 2016, when Johnson posted on Instagram about his final week on set, praising in no uncertain terms: studio Universal, his female co-stars and most of his male ones. However, he explicitly called out one of his fellow actors, saying they were “too chicken sh*t to do anything about it anyway” and suggesting that in some scenes he didn’t need to act he was so annoyed with this "candy ass".
This is my final week of shooting #FastAndFurious8. There's no other franchise that gets my blood boiling more than this one. An incredible hard working crew. UNIVERSAL has been great partners as well. My female co-stars are always amazing and I love 'em. My male co-stars however are a different story. Some conduct themselves as stand up men and true professionals, while others don't. The ones that don't are too chicken shit to do anything about it anyway. Candy asses. When you watch this movie next April and it seems like I'm not acting in some of these scenes and my blood is legit boiling - you're right. Bottom line is it'll play great for the movie and fits this Hobbs character that's embedded in my DNA extremely well. The producer in me is happy about this part?. Final week on FAST 8 and I'll finish strong. #IcemanCometh #F8 #ZeroToleranceForCandyAsses
At the time it wasn’t immediately clear who he was talking about; the testosterone-filled franchise isn’t short on male leads or egos. As such, Tyrese Gibson (whose comic relief character, Roman, definitely gets on Hobbs' nerves in-movie) quickly tried to distance himself from the outburst. Then, just two days after this was sparked, The Rock posted another image that seemed to backtrack, citing “Family is gonna have differences of opinion and fundamental core beliefs. To me, conflict can be a good thing, when its followed by great resolution” while also hyping up the movie regardless:
My FINAL WEEK of shooting #FastAndFurious. There's no greatness ever achieved alone.. it's always a team effort. We promised an epic prison break out for you guys and we delivered. HUGE THANK YOU to my ohana (family) stunt coordinator JJ Perry and his bad ass fearless stunt team - as well as my cousin and incredible stunt double @samoanstuntman. Thank you team for the willingness to "die hard" and drop your blood & sweat daily for our movie. #MyStuntBrothers #Loco4Life You guys reading this know how much I believe in the idea of TEAM EFFORT. That means respecting every person, their time and their value when they step on to my set or partner with our production company. And like with any team - that's a family - there's gonna be conflict. Family is gonna have differences of opinion and fundamental core beliefs. To me, conflict can be a good thing, when its followed by great resolution. I was raised on healthy conflict and welcome it. And like any family, we get better from it. At the end of the day me and #F8 co-stars all agree on the most important thing: Delivering an incredible movie to the world. #Fast8 #IcemanCometh #FamilyGrowth
Story over? No way. Less than 24 hours later, Vin Diesel posted a video where he celebrated the end of filming and the excitement of returning to his family, but also promised he would tell people “everything”, backing up gossip column rumors he was the subject of Johnson’s ire:
Floodgates open, this was further stoked when, in a post celebrating his end of shooting on the film, Johnson thanked all of his co-stars directly except for Diesel:
Finished strong and on to the next. That's an officially wrap on #FastAndFurious8. Thank you to our director @fgarygray for the vision and execution. Thank you UNIVERSAL for being tremendous partners as always, thank you to all my fellow co-stars for the daily effort and grind. Scott Eastwood you handsome sumbitch! Natalie Emmanuel I have a cold Budweiser ready for you and Tyrese Gibson you still have the biggest smile and forehead I've ever seen.? And a huge THANK YOU to our hard working production crew - the backbone of our business. Your kind words meant a lot to me last night - thank you! In the end, we all rallied, as great teams do, kicked ass and will deliver an amazing movie to the world. Proud of our entire FAST FAMILY. And now in two weeks I'll reunite with ol' friends Kevin Hart & Jack Black and we have the honor to introduce a whole new generation to the amazing world of #JUMANJI. *(for the record we are NOT making a reboot, but rather a continuation of the awesome JUMANJI story). It's also crazy to me how much me, Kev and Jack look like triplets when we're together. ??????. Man this is gonna be FUN. #WheelsUp #ThatsAWrap #FromFastAndFurious #StraightIntoJumanji #BigBrownBaldTattooedMan #DarkChocolateComedicRockStar #BrillaintCrazyCurvyCaucasion #TheseHashtagsAreRidiculous #INeedSleepAndCARBS #ButIWillSettleForTequila
This seemed to confirm a major rift between the pair, something that was tacitly reaffirmed by Jason Statham and Michelle Rodriquez both trying to keep out of the crossfire in the following months. The next time it was raised was a good few months later in November, when Johnson talked about the feud as something in the past and also said it helped improve the movie’s social and financial tracking.
Because of facts evident in that latter statement, for the longest time it wasn’t clear if this was an oddly orchestrated publicity stunt. There was something strange about how both actors discussed it in an almost teasing manner, something that by nature invited commentary. One oddly plausible theory suggested that it was all just build-up for a showdown between The Rock and Diesel at WrestleMania 33, which took place just two weeks before Fate’s release. When it became apparent that the movie’s plot dealt with the pair going up against each other, then that expectation only increased; if this movie was the internal conflict one, why not create the illusion of it being something bigger than the movie to help really hook the fanbase.
But then… nothing. After the initial back-and-forth, and through Fate’s pretty intense marketing campaign, little more evidence came of this. Of course, clearly there was something more. And, as the week of release arrived and the press for the film got into fifth gear, the pair were talking more openly. Diesel broke silence first, saying it was blown out of proportion and hinting at both intense affection for his co-star and that he’d used his position as producer to “protect” Johnson. On the red carpet both had further things to say; The Rock cited “different philosophies” while Diesel leaned on his importance in the film’s development. What’s crucial in these more recent cases is that all involved have been keen to not only deflect from the conflict, but to put the focus back on the film - lively a studio-mandated choice (one insider told THR they've been kept apart during junkets).
What Actually Happened?
What’s so remarkable about the entire affair is – in distinct contrast to the macho men at the heart of it – how passive-aggressive it is. It’s a series of social media posts begetting otherwise calm and collected real-world interviews, almost like a teenage spat wrought big. This is what made the whole thing both so initially captivating and, now that appears unlikely to be staged, even more intriguing. The most concrete information on the feud we have in the myriad of coy comments is that Universal don't seem too impressed with the whole affair. Johnson rather candidly discussed how the viral spat helped tracking numbers, yet it hasn't been leaned on since, probably because of the bigger picture. This is a franchise built on the sense of camaraderie on and off screen, so even with F8's themes it's a step too far; the move to try and eschew any direct conflict into pushing the film and how it's "for the fans" fits a studio direction.
But while that's the clean-up, what caused it? According to TMZ, the root of the issue is professionalism. As crew insiders tell it, The Rock is a workaholic who always aims to give 110%, while Diesel has an atrocious ethic; not only did he consistently turn up late to set from his adjacent trailer, he uses his producer role to influence the shoot in seemingly random ways. This arrogance reportedly always irked Johnson and finally bubbled over during the latest shoot, leading to him venting on social media.
It's not hard to see where the cracks could form. Dom's turn to the bad side sees Diesel gift himself his most challenging scenes in the series thus far. Entire stretches are built around him having to convey a wide range of deep-set emotions, something some would say is punching above his weight. This decision also sees him get considerably less actual action in the film – once we get the turn, Dom’s arc is much more story-focused, while the other stars carry the stunts. There’s a self-aggrandizing attitude behind all of this that fits with Diesel’s repeated claims of the series being Oscar-worthy; while Fast and Furious’ success is entirely based on it knowing wholeheartedly it's a dumb fun enterprise, its central star seems to view it as something more. On the other hand, Johnson - beyond his exhaustive approach to moviemaking - is incredibly in touch with his fans and aware of the core appeals of his brand. It’s highly speculative, but it may be that over time these slight ideological differences have become exacerbated – Diesel is getting more into his character while The Rock’s star only continues to rise – leading to the pair butting heads.
The other running theme of the discussion is Diesel’s position within the franchise beyond being the star. In his recent comments, he’s honed in on his relationship with Johnson as a producer; when he was debating making the movie he apparently called The Rock for support and has also made a strong, if somewhat vague, point about how Producer Diesel protects Actor Diesel’s family in unseen ways. This type of dual role can be a hard one to pull off, so with long-standing promises and possible behind-the-scenes issues (it’s worth noting that Hobbs had a vastly minimized role in Furious 7) it’s possible some production-side changes will have had an impact on the pair’s relationship.
UPDATE: Although the movie has turned out mostly OK, with overall positive reviews, it seems that this did still have a tangible impact on the film. The Wrap reports that an ending scene between Johnson and Statham, paying off their emerging friendship across the film, was cut on Diesel's insistence when it got a particularly strong test audience reaction, leading to talk of a spinoff for Hobbs and Deckard (although one insider suggests the scene in question was only ever intended as a bonus feature for home video). Whether this was in reaction to an already present divide or tipped Johnson over the edge is presently unclear.
That all said, it could be something simpler. Perhaps Diesel recently becoming a father altered how he approaches his work (you can definitely feel the influence of that on the movie itself), or this being the first movie in the series that started production after the death of Paul Walker changed the set mood and cast dynamic. There is also no way to fully rule out it being a proposed publicity stunt that went wrong; perhaps this was indeed set to culminate in a WrestleMania match, only for plans to fall through and all involved having to immediately play down anything being amiss. That would be strange and there'd surely be more insider word about such a bizarre marketing switch-up, but only time will tell.
We’ll likely not know what really went down between Diesel and Johnson until long after hype for The Fate of the Furious (and its two sequels) has died down. It was a short but charged public spat that hangs over the movie and calls into question whether Hobbs will be back in Fast 9; if the conflict is professional, then it's unlikely Johnson will want to work with Diesel again. Although what’s perhaps more interesting is how subsequently professional the pair have been, trying to shift every conversation on the topic to the finished product and the fans. It's at Universal's behest, of course, yet highlights an unspoken truth behind the Fast and Furious family: blood is thicker than water, but it has nothing on the box office green.
- The Fate of the Furious (2017) release date: Apr 14, 2017