David Leitch knows action. The former stuntman and stunt coordinator made his debut as the co-director of John Wick alongside Chad Stahelski — the two previously formed the stunt-based studio 87Eleven together — and since then has helmed Atomic Blond, Deadpool 2, and now, Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw, opening this weekend.
Leitch stopped by Fandom recently to discuss his approach to the film and its massive action sequences.
RESPECTING YOUR (FURIOUS) ROOTS
As the title indicates, Hobbs & Shaw is of course a spinoff of the Fast & Furious films, focusing on Dwayne Johnson’s Luke Hobbs and Jason Statham’s Deckard Shaw. And while it definitely has its own vibe, Leitch explained they also wanted to make sure it didn’t feel completely disconnected.
“The studio, [co-screenwriter/producer] Chris Morgan, everybody involved, and Dwayne and Jason, wanted to do something original and do their own thing, but we knew we wanted to access the fanbase of Fast. You have these two iconic characters from the last three installments – Hobbs has been there since Five, right? And they’re beloved. You need to pay respect to them and respect to their world, so that was key. But we did want to strike a tone that was completely different and that you see sort of in the comedy, where we leaned into their dynamic more. Even with some of the supporting cast, we started to have fun in the movie that maybe you couldn’t have in a Fast movie. So that was one of the things I really wanted to do and that we sort of jumped off in this franchise.”
When it came to the title characters and giving them distinct fighting styles and sequences, Leitch explained, “I think you have to approach action scenes and fight scenes from story and character first. And with this it was actually pretty simple in a way. I mean the whole premise of the movie is can this odd couple come together and save the world, right? So you’re defining them, obviously in the narrative stuff, and you’re defining them in the way that they approach problems. Hobbs smashes through things, and even Statham’s character brings that up. And maybe Shaw deals with things in a more sophisticated, scalpel type way. And you basically build their fight scenes in that style. Like Hobbs, you look at the opening scene in the tattoo parlor, he is just throwing guys into mannequins, picking up trays, smashing guys over the head, whereas Jason is like, doing a more sophisticated martial art fight. You see, even in their physical styles, they approach problems very differently.”
The Fast & Furious movies have escalated the action through the years to bigger – and more reality-defying – heights and Leitch said that when it came to going that big, “I’s not necessarily in my instinct as a filmmaker to do that. If you look at the stuff that I’ve done before, I’ve tried to ground the action – outside of Deadpool, which is a comic book movie where he did ridiculous things with his abilities. But if you look at Atomic Blondor John Wick, the action’s more grounded. I think that what’s great about the Fast movies is they kind of reinvent themselves and in the last couple of incarnations, they’ve really gone crazy, and the fans have loved it. So if you look at the sub chase in the last movie, we were looking at set pieces that match that. Again, it’s not necessarily my instinct, but I took the reins of this franchise saying I want to service that as well and I want that experience as a filmmaker. So I dug in and tried to create sequences that worked in that world and it was great for me to have that experience.”
A big new addition to the series comes via the introduction of Vanessa Kirby as Hattie Shaw, Deckard’s younger sister, who is more than capable of holding her own in a fight.
Kirby was seen in Mission: Impossible – Fallout, though she didn’t have much of her own action sequences in that film, especially compared to Hobbs & Shaw.
Said Leitch, “I think there were concerns maybe at the beginning on her end, because they did a lot of fight training for Mission and then she ended up doing a small amount of fighting on screen. And I was reassuring her the whole time, ‘You’re gonna do a lot of fight training with my team too, and we’re gonna train you like we train all the actors that come through 87eleven. You’re gonna be able to do it, and we’re going to be able to put you on camera doing the fighting action. And I’m going to lean into it, so the better you are, the more you’re gonna get.”
Leitch was impressed by Kirby, saying she, “Stepped up and trained her butt off, and I was true to my word and we gave her a lot of things that weren’t necessarily on the page. It’s like, ‘We should have a moment with Hattie here,’ or ‘Hattie should have an extra beat here.’ If you really watch the movie closely, Hattie’s never really saved by the guys and I think that’s a good – that was intentional and it’s also a good message for movies like this. Our heroes have their own journey, she was as formidable and capable as them, and she was along as part of the team, as a full on developed, capable member. And she delivered that as an actress.
Meanwhile, the movie’s bad guy, Brixton, played by Idris Elba, is a genetically and cybernetically enhanced, making him essentially a supervillain. Leitch felt the Fast franchise could accommodate a character of this type at this point, saying, “You look at the last couple of things, even Cipher in the last movie, she’s dealing with a lot of tech stuff that still doesn’t exist – it’s sort of next level tech. I think that the fact that Brixton has augmented reality and he can see things – we’re not that far off from augmented reality or glasses you can wear, or next generation prosthetics that provide strength. It felt near future enough that we could play with it. I think it’s just the tone of the movie is heightened in a fun way that maybe exaggerates that feeling. But in terms of how far away we from are having that technology, it doesn’t seem that far, in some respects!”
THAT STUNT BACKGROUND
Leitch says his own stunt experience helps a lot when it comes to working with actors on films like Hobbs & Shaw, remarking, “There’s a lot of trust because I have that background. So I think that coming into this movie – not only being part of John Wick at the beginning and delivering Atomic Blond and the crazy action sequence we did in that and people saw Charlize [Theron] doing her own stunts. There’s a story of me as a director being able to get actors being able to do more. But, because I come from the stunt background, I also have the legitimacy that I did it myself. And so I’m telling you ‘This is going to look good, I’ve choreographed hundreds of fight scenes, this looks great!’ There’s a lot of trust with those guys. Jason especially, we go way back. We’ve worked on movies like The Mechanic and other smaller movies that he’s done. And he trains with the 87Eleven guys a lot, and so he’s always at our facility prepping for a movie anyway, so we’re used to that stuff with him.”
Leitch worked with and doubled for Brad Pitt several times prior to becoming a director, and said it was fun to see Pitt now actually playing a stuntman in Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood. While he hadn’t had time to see the film yet, he noted, “From what I understand, he’s portraying someone more in the Hal Needham-type cowboy stunt guy. But it’s really a kind of funny, kind of odd, life imitates art sort of thing. ‘Are you really portraying a stuntman?!’ It’s pretty awesome. It’s really cool, and I can’t wait to see it. I’m a huge fan of Quentin Tarantino and Brad’s, so I’m sure whatever they cooked up with that is great.”
WADE AND JOHN
Leitch’s Deadpool 2 was another big hit last year, which normally would mean we’d be seeing Ryan Reynolds returning as that character fairly soon, but Disney buying 20th Century Fox has put things on hold and in a state of flux.
However, Leitch is fairly confident Disney will act sooner rather than later with the character, saying, “My guess honestly is as good as yours… But Deadpool is so beloved and the world is so fun. It seems like a no-brainer to just kick out another one as soon as they can, and they wrap their heads around how they’re gonna do it. And I hope so. I mean any Deadpool movie that I can be involved in, I would love to be involved in. I like working with Ryan and I love that character so much. He’s so fun. He’s got a heart of gold, but he gets to say all the things that maybe you want to say that aren’t politically correct, and we can laugh at it. It’s sort of this last safe space to do some of those things because the character is perfect for it, and he’s redeemable. So hopefully they’ll do it, and if they’re smart… I mean it’s a very, very lucrative franchise. So, if they can figure it out and it works for their brand, I hope they do it.”
As for John Wick, Leitch says he feels like something of a proud parent seeing how the franchise and the character’s popularity has grown since he co-directed the first film, remarking, “I have a lot of pride that that first movie and the character that Chad and I were able to create with Keanu [Reeves] resonated in the pop culture zeitgeist as it has. And then there’s also a huge testament to Chad, building the world out further in John Wick 2, and delivering this incredible action movie in 3. I’d say the first act of John Wick 3 is some of the best action I’ve seen in a long time. I get so geeked out – like I was at the premiere with [Chad] and I was really excited about the knife fight in the shop and the horse through Central Park and the motorcycle. It’s endless cool, creative ideas. So I’m really proud of it.”
You can check out Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw in theaters now, and for more of our interview with David Leitch, check out the video at the top of the page!