Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and the stars of "Fast & Furious 7" resume production in early April — four months after Paul Walker's tragic death — and it won't be easy for anyone.
"The biggest pain I felt was for his family, his daughter," Johnson told Yahoo Movies on Monday while he was promoting his upcoming film, "Hercules," at CinemaCon in Las Vegas.
Marking the first time Johnson has talked at length about the loss of his co-star, the 41-year-old star opened up about honoring Walker in the high speed film franchise and making sure his character, Brian O'Conner, has a fitting finale.
"It's very important for everybody involved, of course," Johnson said. "It's not easy, and it's a challenge when you have something like this — a beloved person. Paul, as you guys know, he was truly one of the good guys — a great dude, who didn't take himself seriously, loved what he did, understood the business of the business. You got the real deal, genuine guy when you got him. So it's important for everybody to creatively honor him in the best way that we possibly can."
Meanwhile, Universal unveiled a brief teaser trailer for "Fast Seven" at CinemaCon Tuesday, and it was met with a warm welcome from the audience — partly because the studio knows how to sell its very successful franchise via fast, fancy cars and lots of action, but mostly because viewers got to see a smiling, driving Paul Walker on the big screen again.
The teaser is only about a minute-and-a-half, but it features multiple shots of Walker. At one point in the footage, Brian (Walker) and Dom (Vin Diesel) are listening to Tej (Ludacris) and Roman (Tyrese Gibson) bicker just before driving out of a plane, mid-air. Brian's line to Dom — "Just when you didn't think it could get any better, huh? — leaves a particularly lasting impression as it hints at the cast's well-documented camaraderie.
Johnson and his castmates were left reeling after Walker died in a fiery car crash over Thanksgiving weekend. Many of them had worked together since the 2001 original film (Johnson first appeared in 2011's "Fast Five"), so they had bonded like a family.
"[You deal with it] as best you can," he said. "We've all dealt with that kind of loss before, where it jolts us and it jolts our hearts. I think it also has a way of informing us. Loss like that also has a way of making us love better, love stronger, appreciate our loved ones and our family that much more, when we wake up and when we go to bed. How families deal with loss, everyone has their own process."
The cast and crew members were about halfway done with the film shoot when Walker died. After script adjustments were made, director James Wan and the remaining cast is scheduled to return to Atlanta around April 1 for the six to eight weeks needed to complete the shoot. According to the Hollywood Reporter, Walker's character will not die — he'll be "retired." And the New York Daily News reported that remaining scenes featuring Walker will be completed using four different body doubles with his face and voice being used on top using CGI.
"As far as for the movie family that he had, it just takes time," he said. "You just need space, and space was created. The studio took a moment, took a beat, created a lot of space too. You know, you move forward one day at a time with it. As a family, they move forward one day at a time and get through it. Then I think the movie family and the studio and the movie itself, they move forward one day at a time too, and as respectfully as you can."
Johnson added that his heart ached most for Walker's 14-year-old daughter, Meadow, who was recently in the headlines because her grandmother, the late star's mother, is trying to become her legal guardian.
"We had talked about that a multitude of times — how cool it is to be a dad. There's that really special bond between a dad and his little girl. She'll always be his little girl. … So my biggest pain was for his family and for his daughter, mom, and dad."
This marks the first time Johnson talked at length about the loss of his co-star friend. However, he did pay tribute to him right after Walker's death in two Instagram posts.
"Love you brother," was all he wrote on Dec. 1 when he posted this photo himself with Walker. Three days later, he posted a second photo and a longer message, writing, "Losing a loved one jolts our hearts to the core. It also has a very special way of helping us move forward to live & love as greatly as possible. Hug our loved ones a little tighter. Pray a little stronger. Work a little harder. Smile a little bigger. Life goes on and memories are forever cherished... #PW"
—Reporting by Kara Warner