It’s been almost a decade since Paul Walker tragically lost his life in a car crash at the age of 40. His friends, fans, and family were devastated by his unexpected death, and his sudden passing also hit his Fast & Furious family hard. The late Fast & Furious star was filming the billion-dollar blockbuster Furious 7 at the time of the incident. While most of his Fast family have evocated his name multiple times celebrating Walker's life, the sequel’s director James Wan has now opened up about how hard it was completing the film after losing one of its main stars.
The M3GAN producer was riding off the success of the first Conjuring film when he asked to direct the seventh installment of the Fast & Furious franchise. With the main Fast & Furious franchise edging toward its swan song, James Wan called the seventh installment the “hardest” of his decades-long career as he reflected on the sequel being his first big-budget film. In a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter, the filmmaker explained,
It definitely was the hardest movie of my career. I’ve done technically challenging movies since then, but Furious 7 just hit on so many different levels, especially an emotional one. It was my first big-budget movie. I made The Conjuring for $20 million, and then Furious 7 was hundreds of millions. But the size of the production did not turn me off; I actually embraced it. I really wanted to create a movie that had the look and smell of their franchise, but I wanted to design set pieces that were a bit more tense, suspenseful and scary. The first thing that I pitched to Universal’s Donna Langley in the room was the scene where the bus is going over the edge of the cliff, and Paul Walker’s character, Brian, has to climb onto the side of the bus and run to jump off. Two years later, that became one of the highlights of the trailer.
Coming from the low-budget horror world to a big-budget action racing franchise would be a shock for any director. Luckily, James Wan was down for the intense outrageousness of the Fast & Furious series. Pitching one of the film’s more memorable sequences proved he was ready for action stunts. His hard work and dedication to Furious 7 worked out well, as the film grossed over $1.5 billion worldwide.
While the seventh film was a runaway hit, James Wan went into more detail about why the movie was hard to finish. He opened about the hardships the production faced in the wake of Walker’s absence. The acclaimed director dug into the cast and crew’s initial thoughts about carrying on after losing one of the franchise’s most integral leading stars, saying,
When the passing of Paul Walker happened, we were like, ‘Do we just shut the movie down for good?' But we collectively felt like this movie needed to be Paul’s legacy. So we wiped our tears away and sat around in editorial, going, 'All right, how do we do this?' Thankfully, I had shot certain stuff with Paul, like his ending action stuff, but there were still many bits missing in the film that needed Paul. I shot only half of what I needed from Paul before his passing, and then we worked with visual effects to salvage what we had. To complete that movie now, in today’s world, with AI technology, it’s so simple. But we did not have that kind of technology at our disposal. So we had to really dig deep into our bag of tricks to make it work, and one of them was having Paul’s brothers [Caleb and Cody Walker] step in and shoot the other half of the movie. We then pulled different words that Paul had spoken all through the franchise to create sentences for us.
As James Wan points out, AI technology wasn’t on the level of where it's at today when Furious 7 was shooting. He and the crew had to use movie magic and trickery to finish Walker’s scenes. Thankfully, his past dialogue and younger brothers were able to fill in for the late actor. Using the tech of the time allowed the cast and crew to give Paul Walker and Brian O’Conner a proper send-off.
Unfortunately, that was Wan’s only entry into the intense racing franchise, though he has since helmed other big-budget action films, including Aquaman and its upcoming sequel, Aquaman And The Lost Kingdom.
The Fast & Furious franchise has continued to honor Paul Walker memory by keeping his character alive in the fast-paced world, albeit away from all the action. Fast X took the family motto even further by including a cameo from Paul Walker’s daughter Meadow. The tenth film has continued to do well at the box office despite dipping in its second weekend.
If you want to relive Paul Walker’s best Brian O’Conner moments, get an active Amazon Prime Video subscription to watch Fast & Furious 6. The first five Fast & Furious films and Furious 7 are currently available with a Peacock subscription.