'Hobbs & Shaw' Director on the Uncredited A-Listers Who Rewrote Their Lines and Those Keanu Rumors

David Leitch-Getty-H 2019
Samir Hussein/WireImage
David Leitch tried hard to fit his 'John Wick' leading man into the 'Fast' spinoff ("We even talked in post") and leaned on a previous collaborator for one of two big cameos: "He came up with a bunch of great jokes, but a lot of them are on the cutting room floor."

[This story contains spoilers for Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw.]

David Leitch is making hay while the sun is shining. After 2014’s John Wick caught lightning in a bottle, the uncredited co-director has never looked back thanks to the critical and financial successes of Atomic Blonde ($100 million on an $11 million budget) and Deadpool 2 ($785 million worldwide). All three projects have led to the 49-year-old filmmaker’s greatest challenge to date, Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw, which debuted at the top of the weekend box office with $60.8 million, plus $120 million overseas.

With the Fast & Furious franchise’s first bona fide spinoff, Leitch knew he needed to flesh out the world of Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), while potentially setting up a future team. When Leitch needed to impart some first-act exposition in an amusing manner, he knew just the person to call — his Deadpool 2 star Ryan Reynolds, who co-wrote Deadpool 2 and reinterpreted the CIA officer character and even rewrote his dialogue for the film.

“He took [the role], deconstructed it and created a crazy character who’s obsessed with Hobbs,” Leitch tells The Hollywood Reporter. “He came up with a bunch of great jokes, but a lot of them are on the cutting room floor. You can’t keep all of them. It’s also not improv; it’s painstaking writing from the thoughtful mind of a comedic genius.”

Kevin Hart, who played an overzealous air marshal, also reworked his own lines.

When Hobbs & Shaw’s additional photography commenced in the spring of 2019, rumors began to spread that another one of Leitch’s famed collaborators would be joining the Fast & Furious fold: John Wick star Keanu Reeves. Leitch confirms he had discussions with Reeves about a potential role throughout shooting, and even into post production. 

“I...wanted to make sure that it was enough — a real promise for something legitimate in the future — and wasn’t just a stunt casting role,” Leitch explains. “We started to populate the movie with all these other personalities, and I just didn’t really think that we needed it, although I would’ve loved it. We even talked in post, and I showed him a rough cut of the movie. We came to the conclusion of ‘let’s put a pin in it.’”

In a recent conversation with THR, Leitch also discusses Hobbs & Shaw’s massive third act change at the last minute, the identity of the film’s mystery villain and the status of Atomic Blonde 2

Can you believe that the Fast franchise started with Paul Walker ordering a tuna sandwich in Echo Park?

Isn’t that crazy?

You’ve made four movies in five years, which exhausts me just thinking about it. Do you have a vacation planned once you’re done with Hobbs & Shaw press?

I do, but the first thing I’m doing opening weekend is getting on a plane and renting a theater out in Kohler, Wis., so my parents can celebrate opening day with us. We’re like Hobbs and Shaw — we’re going back to family for celebration. Then, we have to do the China press tour, and then [producing partner/wife] Kelly [McCormick] and I are going to take some time to relax and figure out what we want to do next. There’s a lot of opportunities right now.

My knowledge of action design is limited to what you and Chad Stahelski have taught us during press tours, but I’m assuming that Keanu Reeves and Charlize Theron had similar playbooks given their longer body types. With an actor like Dwayne Johnson who’s as wide as Keanu and Charlize are long, did you have to create a specific approach for his body type?

You create a specific approach for everybody. As action designers, the methodology we’ve always used is to do an evaluation first. You bring the actor in and try out choreography combos, some martial art combos and see where their strengths and weaknesses are. Then, you start to design their fighting style around that, on top of what you’re trying to achieve with the character in the story. With Hobbs, obviously, you’re going to lean into who he’s been in the past. He’s sort of the smasher, he’s going to run through a brick wall, he’s gonna knock guys out with one punch, he’s gonna use his wrestling background and incorporate the suplex and other wrestling moves. Every actor is different and you try to build with the toolbox they have, in line with the story.

Was Vanessa Kirby handed the Lorraine Broughton playbook from Atomic Blonde?

There’s a lot of that, but what we were really trying to do with Vanessa was match her up with Shaw so that the action was building the connection between Jason Statham and her. There’s that scene in the movie where we intercut her fighting Dwayne while Jason is kicking the crap out of the mercs in the apartment. The subtle sort of story we’re telling there is that it’s like brother, like sister. She’s a chip off the old block. You can see that they have a similar intensity and unrelenting style. At the same point in the story, we’re building a relationship between her and Hobbs in a fun, flirtatious True Lies kind of way. There’s a lot of Lorraine Broughton in her because we gave Lorraine a pretty wide skill set. Charlize had the aptitude.

Samoa felt like the most fitting location to end this story, but it was originally set in the second act until three weeks prior to production. Can you talk about that massive change at the 11th hour?

Yeah, three months before that, Samoa was in the third act, but then it got changed to the second act. Sometimes, you have to reverse-engineer movies, and we had to spend more time in London for tax credit reasons. So, it was like, “Well, then our third-act set piece should probably be in the U.K.” So, that’s when we started to design the movie’s Chernobyl sequence. Both set pieces were kind of modular in that respect. They’re gonna go on this mission to find a machine; we can come up with a construct with that anywhere. The plot in this movie was simple enough that we could move those around.

What’s scary about switching it three weeks out was the logistics for everybody involved. I needed to have enough of my third-act set piece to play in London, because that’s where my shooting time is, but I can only afford to shoot four or five weeks in Kauai. Then, everyone panicked, but I never really panicked. I just said, “Look, the idea would be that we build a cave set in London on stage, and that would be where the final fight is, which ties into Samoa.” So, we still used London for the time we needed; it didn’t change the schedule at all; but, it allowed us to put the end of the movie where it needed to be. The emotional context in Samoa, with Hobbs’ family, who he’s been estranged from for 25 years, was all there. He comes back and reconnects with his brothers in an emotional way. Hobbs doing that brought his character full circle, and obviously, Shaw had the same journey with Hattie and their mother (Helen Mirren). And we got to do that in a more beautiful setting. Ending the movie in the gray palette of the Ukraine, as opposed to the beautiful palette of Samoa, was the obvious choice. It was always staring us in the face, and when I brought it up again, there was that moment of terror, and then we realized we could all do this. As the director, you sometimes have to make those hard choices. It was never daunting to me, but I can see why everyone was like, “Holy shit!”

Your lead actors have made plenty of action movies in the past. Even Vanessa Kirby was cast at a time when she had just come off of Mission: Impossible – Fallout, whose home base was also in London. Do you have to revisit their previous work in order to avoid any overlap as far as the action choreography or character details are concerned?

Totally. I think they’re all very aware of not wanting to repeat themselves or making sure that their character is very clear for whatever role they’re in. Obviously, there’s some overlap in what Dwayne and Jason do in the action space. They’re such personalities that sometimes their characters are very close to home and very close to their own personalities. I would argue that Hobbs and Shaw are no different. We do have very clear road marks for their characters in this world — and so does Vanessa. Her initial concern coming in was that she trained to do action in Mission, and she got to do very little. She was hoping that if she was coming on board this one, she could really have a presence in the action. That was really more of her concern. I assured her by saying, “The role that I have for you is to really hold the guys accountable in the action space. You’ll give as good as you get and hold your own as a strong female presence in this world we’re forging.” I think I held up my side of the bargain, and I think she’s excited about it. There are times where she steals the show, and that’s a testament to her as an actress. She also put in the time for physical training in order to really embody the character of Hattie.

You’ve already been asked about the mechanics of Dwayne putting his T-shirt back on as the movie transitioned to the third-act helicopter chase, which was shot before the story’s preceding shirtless brawl. Even if he kept the shirt off, is it remotely possible to double a shirtless Dwayne Johnson?

(Laughs.) It’s hard. It’s really hard. Stunt doubling anybody is really hard, and Dwayne Johnson just makes it that much harder. He does have a really great stunt double, Tanoai Reed, who’s related to him. He’s part of his extended family, and Tanoai trains and really tries to keep up his physique. But, the times when you have to use Tanoai, sometimes you need a little help from digital to clean things up or buff things out. For the most part, I have to give it up to Tanoai. He’s been in the stunt business as long as I have — 20 years — and he’s been doubling Dwayne for at least half of that. He stays in shape, he takes his job incredibly seriously and he knows he has to be as close as possible because Dwayne needs it. To logistically get a big action movie done, you need a good stunt double; you do. It’s not always about the actor’s safety; it’s just about the schedule. It’s like, “Man, we gotta shoot these five shots on the road; they’re super wide. Get Tanoai because Dwayne is on the other set right now shooting dramatic stuff that I absolutely need him for.” So, it’s the pressure of modern filmmaking; you need a great stunt double. I respect that profession so much because it was a huge part of my life. 

The cameos. Were they scripted in advance, or did they happen on the fly?

They were scripted, but they were collaborations. I don’t even like to call them cameos. We had this great tone with Hobbs and Shaw, and I wanted to extend that tone to the rest of the world. I wanted to make sure that we were allowing ourselves to have fun with all the ancillary characters in the piece. When there was this CIA officer character on the page named Victor Locke, it was simple exposition, and I was like, “How do we have fun with this?” So, I reached out to Ryan [Reynolds], and Ryan was like, “I would love to come do a day. I can take a stab at that and make it really fun.” And I said, “Please, do it. That’d be great.” Obviously, he took it, deconstructed it and created a crazy character who’s obsessed with Hobbs. They also have a history. He came up with a bunch of great jokes, but a lot of them are on the cutting room floor. You can’t keep all of them. It’s also not improv; it’s painstaking writing from the thoughtful mind of a comedic genius. He came in with a lot of alts he wanted to try in order to see what worked.

And Kevin Hart is the same way. Kevin came in through his relationship with Dwayne. We presented him with this Leo Getz-type character, Air Marshal Dinkley, and he’s the guy in this world that can get things for them — anything. Kevin took the pages, rewrote them and came in with some great riffs. Again, a lot of it hit the cutting room floor because there’s so much of it. These guys are so good that you wish you had them in three scenes in the movie, but that’s the promise for the future. Again, I don’t like to call them cameos because that’s the tone of the movie, and the hope is that these guys could live in that universe. Our first time out, we’ve really seeded Hobbs & Shaw with massive potential for wherever we want to go. Hobbs and Shaw aside, there’s massive potential with Idris [Elba], Vanessa, Ryan and Kevin. It’s exciting, and we’ll see what happens with it.

On Fallon, Dwayne said that these cameos set up the “future team,” and it sounds like you agree with that statement.

I totally do. That’s a movie I know I want to see. It’s certainly a movie I want to make. When you can combine real heart and soul — like we do in the Fast movies — as Hobbs and Shaw are reconnecting with their families, that’s something everyone can relate to. Then, there’s this undeniable comedic talent that’s providing great levity as we go on this classic spy plot that allows for these big set pieces. It’s a really good formula to have fun, and that was my intention. I hope that people respond to it.

Did Ryan and Kevin shoot their scenes during principal photography or additional photography?

They both shot during principal and additional. During principal photography, we did the airplane scene with Kevin in London, and we did the pancake house scene with Ryan in London. He was shooting a movie [Six Underground] in Europe at the time. So, it was actually really helpful as they came in and set the tone for their characters. Ryan had a couple scenes, and we shot those scenes. Then, at the end of the movie when we cut it all together, we had a couple things that we wanted to polish out. So, they each came back for a day and did their bits; Ryan did the coda. He’d written a bunch of material that was paying off jokes that we’d set up — Game of Thrones and the brick idea — which are amazing. I really wanted to clarify the virus again and what happened to it. Our heroes took care of it, and they were responsible. It was kind of an abrupt ending as we were starting to compress the movie. It was great to just have someone from that world give us an explanation, but in a fun way and in a tone of how I believe this franchise should move forward. Kevin was the same. We always knew we wanted to get to Samoa, and a lot of the times in these movies, people get from A to B like it’s Star Trek; you just beam up and you’re in the place. And you’re like, “How did they get there?” So, we had this idea of reconnecting with Dinkley, the air marshal, and he’s the guy who got them this unregistered cargo plane out of the Ukraine that brought them to Samoa. Again, we’re giving the audience the promise that these guys could move on in the franchise in a really fun way and in a lot of different iterations.

A rumor circulated that Keanu had a secret role in Hobbs & Shaw. Do you think somebody heard that one of your former actors had a surprise role and they just guessed the wrong star?

Actually, no. It all stemmed from the fact that we had talked to Keanu early on. It was even before where we ended up with this draft. I had been talking to Keanu periodically through the shooting of it all and looking for opportunities of where it could be. I also wanted to make sure that it was enough — a real promise for something legitimate in the future — and wasn’t just a stunt casting role. We started to populate the movie with all these other personalities, and I just didn’t really think that we needed it, although I would’ve loved it. We even talked in post, and I showed him a rough cut of the movie. Then, we had conversations about “is there something here?” We came to the conclusion of “let’s put a pin in it.” I’m all for finding opportunities, but I also didn't want to force anything. The mystery at the end of the movie where the Eteon director is nameless and faceless seems perfect for our ending because we had so much story we’ve already told. The backstory with Brixton and Shaw, Hobbs reconnecting with Jonah (Cliff Curtis), Shaw reconnecting with Hattie, Locke’s relationship with Hobbs…Dinkley. There was just so much stuff, and we still had to resolve all the family threads. The mystery of what Eteon is and where it’s gonna go was left where it needed to be.

The mysterious Eteon director is credited as Champ Nightengale, which is a pseudonym that Ryan Reynolds used for a fake Amazon review of his own gin brand. All joking aside, has the identity of Eteon’s mystery director truly been finalized yet?

I’ll be honest: there’s no final decision. I think we wanted to leave it open-ended. We have a lot of strong, creative ideas that are circling between Chris Morgan, the producers and myself. But, again, we wanted to give ourselves opportunity because it’s a first time out. If this was Fast Five, you’ve already built your world, and it’s good to have that cliff-hanger to get into the next one. For us, we wanted to anchor our characters in two defined worlds, show the potential of this world and set it loose into the theatrical world to see how people respond. Then, we’ll react accordingly and say, “Hey, this is what the next movie should be.” We want this thing to live on for a while, and we want these characters to have many adventures. We just felt it was too early to say, “Here’s our next adventure.”

Shifting gears, have you been killed onscreen by John Wick, Lorraine Broughton, Deadpool, Hobbs, Shaw, etc.?

No, I’ve never been killed by the heroes! In Deadpool 2, I was killed by Cable, and in this movie, I was killed by Idris. He threw me, the pilot, out of the helicopter. (Laughs.)

In April 2018, Charlize stated that Atomic Blonder was in the works. 16 months later, is there still hope for more Lorraine Broughton?

(Laughs.) I like that name. I think there is. At the end of the day, I have less involvement in that franchise moving forward, just from the way things were set up. I know that they want to do an Atomic Blonde 2, and I think a streaming service is circling it. I honestly don’t know much about it, but when we finished, I had a lot of ideas circling. It was a really great movie experience for me, and I’m really proud of the stuff that Kelly and I made on that film. It felt like a really original piece and truly from me as an artist. I hope they make another one, and I love that world and that character.

Jim Jarmusch recently named Atomic Blonde as one of his favorite films.

That is humbling and amazing. That’s really cool. There are those moments in time where you have the creative freedom because the box of resources is so small that no one’s looking. You get to be truly inspired. We were just let loose to make something provocative, and it feels really good when people enjoy it.

I recently asked Jake Gyllenhaal about The Division, and he sounded like he wanted to start John Wick training at 87eleven right then and there. Is that project potentially next for you?

(Laughs.) Yeah! I’m excited about the material, and it is potentially next for us. We are currently in the script phase. Then, it’s about getting everybody’s schedules to line up and making sure that we’re ready to go with a script we’re 100 percent behind. That process is accelerating quickly. I love that material, and I love the potential of working with those two incredible actors [Gyllenhaal and Jessica Chastain]. The creative team on that is Kelly McCormick as producer, myself, Jake and Jessica. We have a really core team that cares about the material and is going to work hard to make it great.

You and Kelly also have a new production shingle with Universal, right?

It’s called 87North. For Universal, we want to produce midsize action movies and franchise starters in the spirit of Atomic Blonde and John Wick. So, that’s what they’re looking for. We have a movie going this year with Bob Odenkirk; it’s called Nobody. Ilya Naishuller is directing, and we’re incredibly excited about it. Bob’s been training at 87eleven. He’s been going through the process, and he’s getting really good and proficient. This movie, for lack of a better word, is his turn at John Wick in a slightly different way. We get to see him play a really empathetic character who will get to do some crazy action. It’s very exciting to work with him, and he’s such a talent. Universal has also supported us bringing in projects that are not just strictly action movies but have an action component in all genres. The goal of 87North is to push us outside of just the action space and into all types of commercial content that have potential in the theatrical space. What’s also interesting about our deal with Universal is that these moderately priced movies have a shot at theatrical; they’re not just made for streaming at this point.

Tom Cruise and Keanu get a lot of attention for doing their own stunts and action. Keanu doesn’t do stunts, per se, but he does all of his own fighting and gun play. Their commitment to the craft has even become a selling point in their movies’ marketing campaigns. Given the mountain of publicity that Cruise and Keanu receive for this, are actors becoming more and more willing to do their own stunts?

Actors are more willing because it’s becoming more commonplace, but not all actors have the aptitude that those two guys have — and the passion for it. When you look at Keanu and Tom, they’re incredible actors, but from a stunt perspective, they’re also incredible in their physicality and their ability to do action. They also have a willingness to take the time to rehearse, train and push themselves. Any good actor wants to put in the time to portray the character physically to the best of their ability, but some people have more aptitude than others. You referenced two of the most exceptional guys in the business.