Tyrese Gibson has been a hallmark of the Fast and Furious franchise for nearly fifteen years, ever since the actor made his debut co-starring alongside Paul Walker in the 2003 sequel 2 Fast 2 Furious. In the years since, the franchise has grown from its mid-budget beginnings as street-racing fuelled Point Break-style two-handers into a behemoth, globe-trotting action ensemble, transformed through the lens of four directors, and lost a beloved member of the family when Paul Walker died in 2013. But no amount of evolution or behind-the-scenes tragedy has stopped the franchise from thriving as international box office sensation and a summer blockbuster staple that fans eagerly return to time and time again.
The franchise saw another big money win this year with Fate of the Furious, the eighth installment, helmed by Straight Outta Compton director F. Gary Gray, which has soared to more than $1.2 billion at the worldwide box office. Now the film is hitting home video and with the Blu-ray landing today, I recently had the remarkable experience of traveling to Havana, Cuba where Fate of the Furious made history as the first American movie to film in the long-embargoed country in decades. And given the recent policy reversals, it might be one of the last.
While the international franchise has traveled far and wide in its day, leaving the streets of Los Angeles behind in favor of exotic locations like Brazil, Abu Dhabi, and Iceland, Havana offers a completely new landscape for the action series and endows the film’s opening set-piece with a sense of history and a singular texture. After touring the filming locations of the historic shoot, I sat down for a chat with Gibson. The actor, who recently launched his travel start-up Voltron Travel, talked about how the franchise always continues to evolve its diversity, why audiences are still hooked on the family’s escapades sixteen years after The Fast and The Furious hit theaters, his craziest moment filming the action-packed sequel, how he approaches the technically challenging scenes, and where in the world he wants the Furious films to go next.
Do you feel vindicated since you weren’t here for the shoot? Now you got to come to Cuba?
TYRESE GIBSON: I don’t know if vindicated is the word. I wish I would have been here for that, you know. I told Vin I was pissed that I wasn’t in those scenes. I could have did hair and makeup for Charlize. Would have carried her luggage. Could have did anything.
She’s a fun addition to the franchise.
GIBSON: Oh yeah.
When you got the script for this one, because it’s such a flip of the format we’ve come to know with these films, not just introducing this villain but making the hero play villain as well. What was your reaction?
GIBSON: I guess, you know, we had conversations about diversity and even though we pride ourselves on diversity, that’s been our message for 16 years, we didn’t want our diversity to not include more women. You know, we got Jordana, Gal Gadot, Michelle Rodriguez, but we wanted to up the ante as far as female presence. We didn’t just want another girl to be in the movie, “Ah, save me.” We wanted to really have a strong character to come into the franchise, and Charlize was the answer. We hope to keep going in that direction, because we can’t sing diversity and then not diversify as far as more women in the franchise, and more importantly the way women are portrayed.
It’s very true. This franchise probably the best example of diversity in studio filmmaking right now.
GIBSON: It seems to be a new theme in Hollywood, diversity.
GIBSON: I think the Oscar So White campaign really sparked … Because you didn’t want to be the Oscars, so everybody in Hollywood was like, well, before the heat comes down. The Golden Globes diversified. Just everybody ended up diversifying as far as handing out awards to more diverse folks in Hollywood because at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what your race is. If you’re waking up every day and you’re doing the work, you deserve an opportunity to be awarded like everybody else.
GIBSON: And I think for me, we’ve been singing diversity for 16 years, so it’s just beautiful to see the rest of the world finally catching on and they’re making it a point to do it.
And it’s proving not just like the right thing to do but profitable. People respond to it. I think it’s probably part of why this franchise has endured. People love seeing themselves on screen, and all sorts of people can see themselves on screen in these movies.
I was curious your thoughts on that endurance, because 16 years is a long time for an action franchise. And the fans, and I’m one of them, are hugely into it. Why do you think it has conjured that kind of love, even though it evolves with every new film? Why do you think people stick with the family through everything?
GIBSON: Well, family is a universal language. It’s unrealistic, especially in 2017, to paint this picture that white people are only friends with white people. When you see diversity, it’s a beautiful thing to experience a movie with this much action and adrenaline being served up with such a beautiful cast of all included folks. I think the other thing is people grew up with us, you know? So I wish TV shows like Married With Children were still on TV, or Martin. Those were some of my favorites from back in the day. I never wanted to miss an episode, and I felt like the more years it was on TV, I was able to grow up with it.
It’s kind of crazy. Now that you say that, I just remembered being in summer school, a freshman in high school seeing the first Fast and Furious and talking about it with my friends after class, and now I’m here in this interview as an adult. That’s half of my life, isn’t that kind of crazy?
GIBSON: [Laughs] Yeah! Yeah. Well, I wasn’t in the first one, so I remember we were talking about Fast 1 when I was in the neighborhood, so it’s just all a very interesting time right now.
One of the other hallmarks of the franchise, of course, is the sort of globetrotting extreme action that we all love.
Did you have a particular sequence that was your favorite to shoot on this one or that was absolutely wild? I imagine they were all a bit wild.
GIBSON: You know, honestly, Iceland was the wildest for me because it was just so freaking cold out there. It just shook me up.
As a performer, what’s your approach to those massively technical set pieces, where there are cars and action everywhere?
GIBSON: Honestly, I’m a simple dude. You know, there’s some folks that take this shit way too serious. I get to the set, they tell me what I’m doing, what the setup is. I work really hard to memorize my lines, because that’s where I’m always challenged, and I just get in there and I get busy. I’m a very simple dude. I’m like, I’m the least of everybody’s worries. They, when it comes to headaches and people that’s like, “Is he okay?” They got enough of that shit going on. I’m a simple man. I get to the set. I just be ready to rock it, you know?
What do you still enjoy about playing Roman all these years later?
GIBSON: I just love that we keep going to different places and, you know, I just get a chance to put a smile on people’s faces around the world. It’s just like I never take it for granted. It’s still a very big deal to this day that I get a chance to do what I do. I just hope I never let the fans down with the energy that I’m looking to bring to the franchise. I mean, it seems like the movie just came up last week, and we’re already releasing the Blu-Ray and DVD on it. It’s crazy.
Have you enjoyed leaning more and more into the comedic element of the character as the years go on?
GIBSON: Yeah. Yeah, I’ve enjoyed it. I mean, everything else otherwise is so intense. I’m just glad I get to be me. I mean, I’m pretty serious as a day-to-day person for real in real life. I mean, I only crack jokes when I get around a select few, but I just love that Fast and Furious allows for me to bring that humor. But I’m not a comedian.
GIBSON: But I do like the fact that I get a chance to bring some levity and energy to the movie.
I really feel like F. Gary Gray really tapped into that probably the best we’ve seen yet in this film as well. You honestly had me howling at points.
GIBSON: Yeah, I, you know, I think between him and Justin Lin when I was really able to just kind of tap in, because they really understand the rhythm of funny and humor, because they’ve, you know, yeah. It’s an exciting time. I do have some good news to share with you. I just launched my travel agency today.
GIBSON: It’s an online travel agency called VoltronTravel.com. William Shatner, I had this idea many years ago, like five years ago. It’s been five years in the making. I was like, you know what? The only entertainer in the travel space is William Shatner, and he’s like 90 years old. And I’m like, I might have a shot at bringing something really cool and young and swag to the travel industry. So I just launched VoltronTravel.com, and I partnered up with Priceline, and so between hotels, travel, and rental cars, we got the best rates. I’m very competitive, so I came into this thing with some serious intensity, and we did a soft launch about a week and a half ago and just did the official launch today.
GIBSON: Thank you.
I know you can’t say anything about what’s going to happen, obviously, but you guys are structuring the next as a trilogy. What would you like to see happen for Roman on the trilogy?
GIBSON: I want to go to Africa. I think, for me I think it’s time to travel to Cape Town, Johannesburg. We’ve done well in the Latin community. We’ve done well in the Middle East with Abu Dhabi. I think it’s about time we take us to Cape Town and Jo-burg and really tap into that energy over there. I would love to do it, so I’m going to keep campaigning for it. So we can take it up a level. And yeah, other than that, I don’t know. I just, whatever those scenarios are, I’m just going to do the best I can to keep Roman Pearce alive.
The Fate of the Furious is now available on Digital HD and will be available on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, DVD and On Demand July 11 from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.