James Wan is responsible for many filmgoers’ nightmares as the director behind “Saw,” “Insidious” and “The Conjuring.” Now he takes on the biggest movie of his career with “Furious 7,” the latest in the “Fast and Furious” franchise, hitting theaters April 3.
Were you familiar with the “Fast and Furious” films?
I’m a big fan of the fast franchise. I remember when I met Neal Moritz early on, I joked if Justin Lin ever left the franchise, I would be the perfect guy to slip right in and take over and no one would know the difference.
As someone who has given the reins over on their own series to other filmmakers, what was it like to be on the other side and come in to an existing franchise?
It’s very interesting to be on the flip side of that. Because now I have to be very respectful of what other people have created, the way I expect that when people take over my movies. At the same time, I also think it’s important to make the movie I want to make while keeping it in the sandbox they’ve already built. I felt the way I could differentiate myself from the previous filmmakers was to bring my sensibility to it. I loved the love story in the film; I liked the idea of playing that up more. I’m a big fan of suspense movies and wanted to bring a sense of suspense to the action set pieces. And I knew if I focused in those areas that it would naturally bring my own sensibility to it.
You lost Paul Walker during shooting; was there a point where you weren’t sure you could finish the film?
Paul was such a beloved guy and I didn’t know what an awesome human being he was until I met him and realized how down to earth and non-movie star he was. For a guy in such huge movies, he’s not a typical movie star. A lot of times he hated talking about Hollywood, he didn’t want anything to do with it. And for that, I respected him even more. At first it hit us emotionally in a very big way. When that sank in, the reality of finishing this movie sank in even further.
What did you do?
We took time off, we went to hiatus to assess what we’d shot so far and determine whether or not we could finish the movie. We were halfway into shooting the movie when it happened. We went back to the drawing board and it was a huge undertaking. It was unprecedented; there has never been a movie faced with this kind of setback before. There wasn’t another director I could call and ask for advice. At first we weren’t quite sure how we were going to finish this movie without Paul. But it was very important to all of us, from the filmmakers to Vin Diesel, to the producers, to finish this movie and honor Paul’s legacy. So we dug deep. I always say I have a big bag of cinematic tricks at my disposal and I dug so deep into this one that I used up every single trick I can think of to make this film work. One of the ways we moved ahead was we got Paul’s brothers Caleb and Cody involved and an actor John Brotherton – who was already in the movie playing a different character. He physically kind of resembles Paul – same height, same build. We brought on an acting coach who, with John Brotherton, worked with the brothers. They’d never been in front of the cameras before. Those poor guys went through a crash course in knowing how to perform for the camera. It was a whole different world for them and I think they had new found respect for what their brother did. I was very grateful to have the family involved.
Would you be willing to return for number eight?
I’m open to anything at this point. I took a break from horror; I made three ghost movies back-to-back-to-back. Now I get to go back and do “The Conjuring 2” rejuvenated.
You’ve made several movies featuring creepy dolls; why the fascination?
I guess I have a fascination with the idea of puppeteering. I think in a lot of ways directing is puppeteering. I guess I see a lot of analogies between what puppetters and filmmakers do. There’s something about creating life out of things that have no life. That does not apply to my actors – that’s a Hitchcock thing. I see my actors as my collaborators.
As a horror guru, have you had personal experiences with ghosts?
I’m terrified of the supernatural things, which is why I’m very grateful that I don’t see things like that. Because if I did see things of the paranormal persuasion, I don’t think I’d be able to continue making scary movies.