Hollywood heartthrob Paul Walker has become synonymous with The Fast & the Furious movie franchise. His character Brian O'Conner was an undercover cop that got too close to the action and, well, the rest is history. His IMDB filmography lists more than 30 films he's worked on since making the move from the small screen (television) to the big screen (movies) in the 1980s. Some of his other notable titles include Varsity Blues, Joy Ride, Running Scared and Eight Below, but he is decidedly more at home track side or in his shop than he is at Oscar parties and other blockbuster swarays. A self-proclaimed total gear head, Walker loves cars and keeping fast company. He's a regular at some California tracks where he enjoys driving high-performance cars and hanging out with other enthusiasts that like to do the same. He's pretty down to Earth actually, as you'll discover in our exclusive interview with Mr. Fast and Furious.
What is the very first car you owned?
My first car was a pickup truck. It was a 1986 Ford Ranger.
What are you driving right now?
I'm actually driving a Toyota Tundra right now.
So, you're a truck guy?
I'm an everything guy.
Best car you've ever owned?
It depends on what category, but as far as touring cars, I really like my 2012 CLS 63 AMG. It's a cool car but I'm a Porsche guy – I have a four-liter Porsche 911 GT3 RS.
Man, I've been pretty fortunate. I pick winners. I had a '66 Buick Skylark Gran Sport with a 401 Wildcat. It was a guzzler. I had some issues with that and finally I just rebuilt it – then it was good. And then I had a 55-series '72 Land Cruiser (the first generation of the four-door wagon version) brought to the States. It was, uh, a bit problematic. It got it fixed up too, but that 55 was expensive for me. I got it for a song, and I ended up paying for it in the long run, but I loved it. That was a fun rig!
What kind of driver are you in the real world? Are you aggressive, passive, speedy or do you just putter around getting in everybody's way?
There's a reason why I'm driving a pickup right now. Let's just put it that way.
Who is your favorite racer?
I don't know if I really have a favorite. I appreciate different guys with different styles. My favorite is WRC. I love it! In my opinion, that's as far as you can get as far as racing is concerned. For pushing the limits, I think it's just killer. And the things that the navigators and drivers have to deal with, it's unbelievable! I would love to do that.
Why don't you?
Umm, it takes a lot of seat time. Access to rally driving here is tough unless you're doing that stadium stuff, that rallycross. I mean where else are you going to find it? It's just not big enough here in the States, which is unfortunate. Here, we like everything contained so that everyone can see it. You know, if you can't fill stadium seats you're not making enough money. That's the American way. Rally is out there in the open, you can't really control it. Liability I'm sure is a concern, but overseas man, they're havin' at it! People are blasting though barricades, driving inches from spectators. I love it, but I don't see it (WRC) coming here anytime soon.
Do you get out to the track much?
Yeah, I do a lot of that. I was in a time attack series for a little bit. SCCA events, I've done a few those and the 25 Hours of Thunderhill. I like the endurance races. But yeah, it's always going to be a part of what I do.
I know you have a performance shop. Tell me more about it.
I have a performance shop called AE Performance and we do race prep and all that stuff out in Valencia. So I have a couple partners and we all race together. It's a family business basically. We brought in friends and people coming from different economic backgrounds, let's just say, but it's cool because everyone gets to have their cake and eat it too. Eric Davis, Roger Rodas, Rich Taylor, Casey Adamo are just a handful of the guys involved.
We just picked up some factory Fords — three new Boss 302s actually — and we've been doing our own R&D out at the track, figuring out our race prep and getting them set up. They're pretty quick, they're fun. I was never really a Mustang guy, but they're a kick in the pants, especially for a factory car. I think they're only 80 or 90 grand. It's pretty unbelievable. With street tires, I was putting in times just as good as my 997 GT3 RS with the Ford Mustang, if that gives you any idea. They're quick, but I'm looking forward to putting slicks on that thing! I'm actually heading to the shop right now and we're going to talk more about the Mustangs. We bought some hop-up stuff that we're trying to figure out this week. We manufacture stuff too, like exhaust systems for Porsches and BMWs. We tinker with it all. We're definitely not a niche business. I'm big into 4x4 so we do a lot of fabrication and roll cages for Baja and that sort of thing too. I'm actually considering running the 500 this year.
On the American Top Gear, your FF co-star Michelle Rodriguez posted a 1:52 (wet) lap against Kid Rock's 1:43 (wet) lap time in the "Star in a reasonably priced car" challenge. Where do you think your wet lap time would fall in the Suzuki SX4?
Uh (pause) I'd have to say at least 10 seconds faster than his, but to be honest with you I haven't paid much attention to the Top Gear USA. Not to be cruel — I like Tanner a lot. Tanner's a cool guy! — I'm just not a TV person in general. I have seen the UK one more than a few times. Obviously, they've been around a lot longer and they get some killer guests.
Mark Wahlberg, Matt Leblanc, Rowan Atkinson, Tim Allen, Ryan Reynolds and Tom Cruise have all posted some decent lap times on the UK Top Gear. In a drag race between all of you, who would win?
Do any of them have any real seat time? Ah, I'd probably kick all their asses to be honest with you.
Has Top Gear ever invited you to come on the show?
Top Gear USA did, but I was unavailable.
Has your own driving been influenced by the fact you've played the role of Brian O'Conner several times now?
I've been racing go karts since I was a kid, which is kind of the reason why it (the whole Fast and Furious franchise) all happened. I was working with the studio and the producer and the director on another movie and they asked me what I wanted to do next? I said I wanted to do a movie where I was an undercover cop or a race car driver, so they combined the two. That's how Fast and Furious came to be. Going in to the first movie, I felt pretty confident. That was 12 years ago, but I'm still going to the track and shifter karting and all that stuff. It's been part of my life for as long as I can remember. My grandfather raced cars. I was brought up around it. He raced factory Fords. That's just been my thing.
Who's the best driver from all of the FF movies?
I am. By far. They'd all tell you the same thing. Vin might say otherwise, but when you really ask him, he knows different.
Yeah, he was pretty good in that TMZ thing with the SUV, eh?
Yeah well, that's Vin.
You've seen your share of crazy stunts, what do you think of stunt drivers and the work they do?
Some are really, genuinely talented. Others ones come in and they're good at creating a lot of smoke and noise, and there's a place for that, but I'd say 50% of them at best know how to drive. Well, stunt driving school is different than seat time and going to a track you know. With stunt driving, a lot of noise and smoke is generally good because cinematically that's desirable, but as we know, a lot of noise and smoke doesn't equate to fast times on the track. It just doesn't.
A few of the stunt drivers you've worked with include some big name drifters and rallycross guys like Rhys Millen, Samuel Hubinette and Tanner, so I know you can't be talking about them.
Those guys are coming from a different school, but not all stunt drivers come with that background, a real racing background. More and more what we're finding is they're calling in or bringing in guys that are specialty guys. Rutherford would be a perfect example. It's trial and error too you know. You try with guys who claim that they know how to drive but then go, “Ah, you know what...?” after you stack four cars on the last one. Let's not play games. Let's bring in somebody that's been doing this for a career, that have been at the profession for a long time.
It's cool having the exposure. I know most of these guys too, and so it's cool to see them on set and play catch up. The thing that's frustrating for me is that when I see the sequence or what they're doing — and I know they've got to do the seat time for me — and I'm looking at Rutherford or whoever it is and I'm like 'Dammit! You know I can do this. Why don't they just let do it?' and they just laugh. That's the job and there's a thing called insurance, and insurance does always let you do the driving sequences you know you can do. You have to just bite your lip, sit back and let the machine do what it does. You've seen the movies, but the reality is that a lot of the things we stage can be fatal. Sensibilities and all those things come into play too.
Do you do many of your own stunts?
I do plenty, but the big jumps, crashes and that sort of thing they don't let me do. I don't get to do the jumps or the collisions.
Darnit! Who is your most regular stunt double?
His name is Oakley Lehman. We went to high school together. I love that we went to high school together. I've known him my whole life. He'd always wanted to be a stunt man and I was doing Joy Ride and managed to get him on as my stunt double.
Tell me about your most frightening incident while driving?
I was coming around the oval at Fontana Motor Speedway in my R34 at almost 180 mph with about a foot-and-a-half maybe two feet between my right wheel — mind you the car is RHD — and the wall. I blew out a tire and almost went into the wall — it was pretty intense.
Most daring stunt you've witnessed on the set?
I don't know man. It's pretty calculated. We've gotten pretty good at this. You know what, when I was in South Africa and I was doing Vehicle 19, which comes out later this year, there were no permits, so I was doing all the wheel driving with the camera crew hanging off my minivan on both sides weaving in and out of Johannesburg traffic. No lockdown, no control. That was pretty fun. I've got to be honest with you with what was going on. They just don't have the standards we do. It's the wild west over there, and some of the stuff I was doing over there was pretty crazy. It's always a nail-biter when you know you have people hanging off the sides of your car while doing the stunts. We don't do that stuff here. It was one hell of an experience. It was a lot of fun! Having that freedom was bitching, incredible too when you consider that people are willing to put that kind of trust in you, literally put their life in your hands. I've never seen anything like it before, and I have a lot of respect for them there. It was one of the best crews I've ever worked with — good blue collar guys, no bullshit, no pretense, just get it done with kind of a cowboy mentality! — and we did some f*cking crazy things in South Africa!
Is Vehicle 19 with the same studio?
No, no. We did that for next to nothing. We made that movie for four million bucks in South Africa. It was kind of a Hail Mary, ‘Let's go make something in South Africa project, let's go live the experience.' And Ketchup ended up picking it up, so we're going to see distribution. A four million dollar movie is going to the theater, it's incredible.
I assume you've seen Drive, with Ryan Gosling. Kind of along those lines and that indie-type film?
Actually, I never saw it.
Really? You must hate him then. (laughs)
No, I just don't see many movies. I like to do it. I try and watch a movie and I have to have something to tinker with. I rarely even go to the theater, I just can't do it. It's not something that — I mean if it's Lord of the Rings I'm all over it; if it's Star Wars, I'm all over it; if it's Indiana Jones, I'm all over it. But it just doesn't happen too often.
I'm like you; I'd prefer to be driving instead of writing and talking about it. That said, you've had a few cars in the movie series — what is your favorite?
I really like the 2JZ in the Supra. I love that motor, it's a lot of fun. The Supras are a f*ckin' kick in the pants. I finally got one recently — I got a '95, a white one with really low miles — it's got under 30,000 miles on it. It's all stock! I'm so tempted to build that thing up because that one was really fun. Remember how ridiculous they looked with those wide body kits on the Supras? They looked mean! That car is really, really — that's a fun car. The RB26 in the R34 is a really fun motor, although super temperamental; not nearly as reliable as the 2JZ. But an RB26, whether it's a R32, R33 or R34 Skyline is a really fun car. I'm not a big fan of the 35, the drive itself — it's just, I don't know — I think it's relatively uninspired. You just don't have enough exhilaration, there's not enough driver input anymore. I'm like the old school guy, I like the art of driving. And there's no denying the way things are going, you know, with this Formula One type — whether it's DCT or the Porsche one, the new PDK is really good — but I like the manual transmission. I just like it. And I'm disappointed to see — I know for sure that it's going away — it's going to be a thing of the past.
Many movies have a tough time making a second or a third sequel, but your franchise has had six now. What do you think has been the difference that's made it so successful and have the longevity?
I think the way it started out, we got off on an organic foot. I feel like because of that we've been able to run. We just tapped the source on the first one. And the thing that's cool is what we tapped — well it's relatively timeless: car culture — ya there's different interpretations of what's cool, what people like doing. And whether you're into canyoning, whether you're into drifting — it doesn't matter what the genre is. Maybe you're into blasting around Humvees off-road, you know? If you're in the Baja 500 — I mean it's like, now with Dwayne's (Johnson) character coming in with the big-rig trucks and all that shit — it doesn't matter if you're a redneck or if you're a hardcore JDM enthusiast, there's a little bit for everybody. It's always been representative of car culture. We started off with a limited capacity and it was just quarter-mile stuff and imports were still relatively new on the scene, it didn't have a whole lot of respect and, we all know, that's changed. It's so diverse, just like the audience — it never ends, it never tires. It's always cool.
I know that some of the cars and the owners we've featured in our magazine were actually involved as extras in some of the movies. Can you speak a little about working with them on set?
For me it's always fun because it's refreshing. These are real car enthusiasts. The guys that are really into it, most of them know the same about me — that I'm really into it. So I just hang out with the guys and talk cars all day long. You know, we have tons and tons of submissions and when we started off nobody knew who we were so maybe we didn't have the best cars to showcase when we did the first Fast, but now it's like, we have the pick of the litter.
These guys are coming in with cars that are just — I mean it's unbelievable what we're seeing. The R35 you will see in Fast & Furious 6 was just ridiculous. From retro mods to full customs, I mean we see some really bitchin' stuff. I like having those guys around because, to me, that's the credibility. And the franchise, it's like ‘Ya, stretch reality and what's plausible.' But it's nice knowing that those guys are willing to turn a blind eye to the fact that ‘Maybe that isn't too plausible,' but you know what? They get their rocks off, they can laugh about it and they enjoy it — because they get where it's coming from, they understand what it's about. I think they appreciate it — I appreciate it!
I'm a car guy. To me, when I do these movies I want everything to be real — that's me. So when I'm behind the wheel of a car, guess what? It's going to look on point, I'm going to match everything up. Whether I'm doing a reverse 180, or you name it — I know what it looks like, I know what it feels like, I'm going to re-enact it. I'm going to do this stunt and when I get out and we've got to do the interior shots on green screen, I know what this looks like. Bam, bam, bam! If you pay attention when you watch the movie, look who they spend the most time with behind the wheel — pay attention to that. Most of the time it's me behind the wheel. Why? Because I know what it feels like, I know the dynamics, I understand what's going on. When it comes to fight sequences, generally you're going to see Dwayne and you're going to see Vin (Diesel) bangin' it up, because they're these big physical guys. So everybody's bringing their little bit to it. And I like going, ‘Hey, you know what? I'm the car guy, that's what I do.' Tyrese brings his energy, he's MC'd, he's been an artist for a long time. Same thing with Luda (Ludacris). Everybody brings their thing to it. So going back to the question you asked earlier, why has it been the success it has, it's because everybody's bringing their arena to the movie. Everybody's bringing their area of expertise to the flick.
Not only that, you guys obviously have really good chemistry, or the chemistry has developed to the point where it's extremely good.
And part of that is because of the respect everyone has. Everyone has their niche. Everybody is bringing their little piece to it. And you add a bunch of little pieces together, it ends up being one pretty big damn piece! And I think that's why we've had the success that we've had. We've got the right people on board, and everybody's bringing what they feel is important and they're bringing their stamp to it. People get that, people respect that. Nobody's just signing off on this and showing up and collecting a check. Everyone busts their ass and works really hard and wants to make it the best they can. And Justin Lin the director has been a champion. Here you've got all these people bringing what they think is good to the table, imagine trying to weave through it!
That leads perfectly into my next question. Aside from the money and the fame that you get out of it, what have you gained most from the movies? With everybody bringing SOMETHING in, everyone gets to take something out of it? What is it for you that makes it most rewarding?
I just like to work hard, to be honest with you. It doesn't matter what I'm doing, I want to work hard — I want to feel good about what I'm doing. If I believe in what I'm doing, then I'm bringing the wood that's it. When I start wondering, or when I start questioning, when I start doubting — that's not the environment I want to be in. Especially when you're surrounded by people who are committed to the cause, it's pretty bitchin'. You're always one-upping, doing better, bringing a little more. Obviously the payoff that you're hoping for at the end of the day is that the fans are going to go (see the movie) and they're going to give it a stamp. That's all that matters, is the people that have been watching this franchise, especially for the last 10 or 12 years — if they're happy with what we've done, that's when I'm really stoked. I can go to sleep at night just knowing that I've done the best I can, but I'm not going to lie, when they appreciate the hard work that I've done, there's nothing better. That's just the rainbow sprinkles on top of the frosting. It's a great feeling and we've been fortunate enough to experience that more than a handful of times with this. We keep going out and people are like, ‘F*ck ya, bring us another one!' That's a pretty damn good feeling when people appreciate what you've been doing.
What's the biggest misconception about the Fast movies?
I don't know, that's a good question. At one point I think the misconception was that this was just going to be a flash in the pan, that it was just a glorified 'B' movie. And were we? Maybe we were. Are we now? I don't know, maybe we are. For me to be objective, I don't even know. What I do know is that people love it. And so the naysayers, the people that want to hate — I get it man, we can't make a movie for everybody. But we have, apparently, made a movie for the masses. I wish we could satisfy everybody's taste. Do I always want to go see Fast and the Furious-type movies? Nope. Sometimes I want to see a Kevin Klein movie, sometimes I want to see something Fantasy-based, or maybe I want to see a documentary. So it's funny, you've got people on one hand that want to hate — but you know what? If you've got haters then you're doing something right! As the same time I appreciate the opinion, but people that don't like it? That's cool with me, I get it. I don't expect everybody to like it. If you want to believe the good stuff people have to say about you, you have to believe the bad stuff too — that's a fact. I think that most people on this thing have the same mentality.
What do you see next for the series?
I've think we've gone so big now that the next step is the cars need to turn into robots (laughs). I think we're talking about a reset, you know, bringing it back to its roots and controlling the tempo — bringing it back a little bit.
If you do have a favorite movie that focuses on driving or racing what would you say it is?
Hmm. Ronin had some pretty bad ass driving sequences. Ronin had some good stuff. You can even go back, like Steve McQueen's Bullet — that was ahead of it's time, that was pretty bitchin'. Those are probably the first two that come to mind. But they did some pretty decent stuff if I recall in The Bourne Identity series too.
You probably get this question a lot; but do you have a motto you live by?
It used to always be, 'Go big or go home' when I was a kid. I've mellowed it out a bit, because I got sick of stacking it up and crashing. Then it was like, ‘Live large in charge,' and that was a 'Go big go home' kind of thing. Now it's just, I dunno — f*ck. No. I don't have one right now.
(Laughs) We'll quote that one. Finally, who do you think the most badass driver in Hollywood is?
Patrick Dempsey. I think he has some skills. Other than Patrick I don't really know who else is driving.
What are your thoughts on Ken Block?
Ya, but I wouldn't consider him Hollywood. He's a shoe guy, gajillionaire that f*cks around with cars and does shit called Gymkhana. Ken Block's got it made! I see the shit he does with Gymkhana when they shut down the streets in San Francisco and it makes me so envious! I f*cked up years ago when he was still working at DC and he wanted to work something out with me. I was just kind of a cocky prick and didn't realize really what was going on. He rolled out a pretty sweet opportunity and I let it go by. So Ken Block, please give me a phone call, let's talk business — because I want to do what you do!
We interviewed him yesterday. If you want to talk to him I can make it happen.
I really would like to reach out to Ken again. The guy is a friggin' stud. One thing you gotta tell him though, or maybe I'll tell him — is the next time he does Gymkhana, they gotta paint out the tire tracks! He's gotta put it together and make it look like it was seamless, like it was one pass! Everybody sees it, like ‘Okay, how many times did he come through that turn?' And then people start investigating and find out he crashed out three cars in that run or something. Just paint it out! Paint out the old tire marks and put it together — make it look like it was seamless. Leave it to the imagination at least, you know?! Don't leave in the old passes there — you can't! You gotta paint out the old tire marks! Tell him! Tell Ken! (laughs)
Ha ha will do Paul. Thanks so much man, I won't take up any more of your time. We've been chatting for almost 45 minutes and time flies when you're having fun! It was fun for me, I hope it was fun for you. I will certainly follow up with you because I like the way you're thinking and it's great. I really appreciate it. We're going to have a killer issue for you to share with you and your colleagues, alright man?
Alright man, I'm excited. This is refreshing I gotta tell you. The feeling's mutual, I wish I could talk like this with all these interviews. So good man, thank you, appreciate the time and we'll catch up soon.