Chris Morgan is one of the chief creative engines behind the “Fast and Furious” series. Credit the screenwriter and producer with cooking up some of the physics-defying car chases that have turned the series into a $3.9 billion blockbuster phenomenon. His latest exercise in ignoring traffic laws, “The Fate of the Furious,” roars into theaters on Friday.
Morgan isn’t just figuring out fresh spins on vehicular destruction. He’s also been tasked by Universal, the makers of the “Fast and Furious” films, with reviving the monster movies that put the studio on the map. Along with Alex Kurtzman (“Star Trek”), Morgan is dusting off the likes of Frankenstein and the Invisible Man and trying to make these horror icons relevant for modern audiences. Their first test case, “The Mummy” with Tom Cruise, hits theaters on June 9.
On the eve of “The Fate of the Furious'” opening, Morgan spoke with Variety about how the series plans to keep topping itself, coping with Paul Walker’s 2013 death, and how he wants the franchise to end.
How has this franchise endured over 16 years and eight installments?
The big reason is that first film. I’ve worked on six of these, three through eight, but it was that first film that established all the elements. It created this core story about brotherhood and a crew that acts as a family. People watched it because they loved racing, but they responded to these guys out of a desire to hang out with them and be a part of there gang.
Over the years we’ve put hurdles in front of them and watched them overcome these challenges. Everyone cheers for the over-the-top action, and that’s what gets people into theaters, but they come back because of the bond between the characters.
There are black characters, Latino characters, and strong female protagonists. Is part of the appeal the diverse makeup of the cast?
The world is becoming more global. It’s getting smaller every day. The crew represents that. You believe that everyone watching the movie, all around the world, would be welcome in this gang.
How tightly scripted are these films? Do you encourage improvisation?
I and everybody on the films work under the philosophy that the best idea wins. I see the script as a blueprint. I write everything out. I know where we’re going. But on the day of shooting, the actors have the freedom to make it better or funnier. They know these characters better than anyone. They know what works coming out of their mouths.
You wrote “Furious 7.” Did the filmmakers think about scrapping the project after Paul Walker died in a car crash while filming was still taking place?
There was a moment where everyone didn’t want to continue. But we asked ourselves what would Paul Walker want and the answer was he wouldn’t want the movie shelved.
I went away and wrote a new end. I brought it back to Vin [Diesel] and the studio, and everyone read it and put their arms together and focused on making it work for Paul.
That film has the underlying subtext about Paul’s character Brian O’Conner wanting to leave the gang to concentrate on raising his young family. Was that in the script before Paul Walker died?
In the original story, it was more of a mid-life crisis. A crisis of fatherhood. Brian, Paul’s character, has a kid, He’s missing the action of some of his younger days; there’s the grass is always greener kind of thing.
I don’t think we would have had him step out of the franchise. When he died, we looked at it, and thought maybe [emphasizing] this is the best way to give him a graceful exit, so he’s always alive in this universe.
“Furious 7” ends with Paul Walker’s character driving off into the sunset. Did you consider killing Brian off?
I’m happy with the choice we made. There was a lot of discussion, but I never entertained killing off Brian. They would have had to hire somebody else if they wanted to do that. It wouldn’t be right. He had such a positivity about him and an energy. We all know what happened in real life, but that’s not what happened in the “Fast” world. It’s comforting for me to know that in our franchise, Brian O’Conner is still out there with his wife and kid.
Vin Diesel has said that this film kicks off a new trilogy. Have you mapped out what those next two films will entail?
I can’t speak about that specifically, but Vin and I have talked about all the story points and areas we’d like to get into. I have a crystal clear image of what the last scene of the franchise needs to be and we’re working to get there.
You’re part of the team working on Universal’s monster movie universe. The first of these reboots opens this summer with “The Mummy.” What’s your approach?
There’s going to be complex characters, and lots of eerie, frightening things, but a lot of humanity. There’s definitely a homage to the original characters, but we’re updating them to reflect contemporary concerns.
The time is right for this. There’s a lot of superhero films out there, and I love superhero films, but not everyone can relate to being a superhero. I think everyone shares some of the qualities of being a monster. There’s a darkness in all of us. We shouldn’t be ashamed or afraid in seeing something of ourselves in Frankenstein or Wolfman or the Creature from the Black Lagoon.
Will any of the monster films be R-rated?
I would never say never. We don’t have a ‘this has to be PG-13 mentality.’ We just want to write the best story. But in tribute to the originals, these will be dark, scary, and terrifying.
Will you direct any of the monster movies?
Right now it’s about getting these scripts in great shape. Will I direct at some point? Yes, but what that will be, I don’t know. With the monsters, my goal is finding the right talent, drilling down on the scripts, and getting the best directors with a vision to come on board. We need to get this right.