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Walker, along with the rest of the cast and crew of Fast 7, had been scheduled to return to Atlanta on Sunday to resume shooting the big-budget film, which features extensive car racing. Those plans are on hold until Monday or Tuesday at the earliest.
Director James Wan and Universal executives held a conference call Sunday morning to discuss the state of the film, whether rewrites would be necessary and how to proceed in a manner that would be respectful to Walker’s death. Walker, 40, was a favorite on the set of the Fast movies, and his death has left his fellow stars, including Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson, and the crew devastated.
Fast 7, which was well underway shooting in Atlanta, was on hiatus for the Thanksgiving holiday. Walker had returned to Southern California when the limited-edition Porsche he was a passenger in crashed Saturday afternoon in Valencia, bursting into flames. The driver has been identified as Roger Rodas, a well-respected financial adviser and the CEO of Walker’s company Always Evolving (the duo met because of their shared passion for cars).
Walker was reprising his role as Brian O’Conner in Fast 7. The seventh film in the racing-centric action franchise is slated to hit theaters July 11. The film is on an expedited schedule in order to make that release date (Justin Lin, the director of previous installments, bowed out in part because he didn’t want to work on the speedy timeline), so any delay in production could impact that release date. In addition, marketing Fast 7 could pose a challenge, considering Walker died in a crash of a flashy car similar to those used in the movies.
Insiders say a large part of the film had been shot, although in January, Walker and the rest of the Fast 7 team were scheduled to travel to Abu Dhabi to film additional scenes.
“All of us at Universal are heartbroken,” a studio spokesperson said in a statement Saturday night. “Paul was truly one of the most beloved and respected members of our studio family for 14 years, and this loss is devastating to us, to everyone involved with the Fast and Furious films, and to countless fans. We send our deepest and most sincere condolences to Paul’s family.”
The studio declined to comment on the future of Fast 7.
In January 2008, director Terry Gilliam faced a similar situation when Heath Ledger died in the middle of shooting The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. The independent film suspended production temporarily. Ultimately, Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell came aboard to portray various versions of Ledger’s character.
Ledger’s death also came just as Warner Bros. was ramping up marketing for The Dark Knight. The studio didn’t shy away from showing images of Ledger as the Joker throughout the campaign, despite the macabre nature of Ledger’s character.
Two films starring Walker are awaiting release: Hurricane Katrina drama Hours, due out in December, and Brick Mansions, now in postproduction. Brick Mansions, from EuropaCorp and Relativity Media, is an English-language remake of the 2004 French action movie District B13.
Pantelion Films, a joint venture between Lionsgate and Televisa, acquired North American rights to Hours in August and is tentatively planning a dual release in theaters and on VOD.
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Sterling K. Brown