Screenwriter and director Drew Pearce is a co-writer on Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw, the first standalone spin-off for the massively successful Fast and Furious franchise. The new movie is both a techno-thriller and a buddy comedy, as DSS agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), former British Special Forces assassin Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) and Shaw’s sister and M16 agent Hattie Shaw (Vanessa Kirby) must stop enhanced super-soldier Brixton (Idris Elba) from getting his hands on a virus that could wipe out half the world’s population.
Along the way there are plenty of the incredible, insane action sequences that the franchise is known for, along with the nods to family (including more on Shaw’s background and a trip to visit Hobbs’ family in Samoa) and even a few wild cameos.
Pearce is no stranger to any of the above, having broken through in Hollywood via the Marvel Cinematic Universe and his collaboration with Shane Black on the clever script for Iron Man 3 (he also wrote an eventually unused script for a Runaways film). From there Pearce worked on a number of other projects, most notably the script for Mission Impossible – Rogue Nation, before making his directorial debut in 2018 with his own original screenplay, the future noir thriller Hotel Artemis.
We got on the phone to chat with Pearce about working on Hobbs & Shaw, immersing himself in the Fast and Furious universe, and what lies ahead for him, including his next directorial effort (for Netflix) and a hint of a possible return to the vastly expanding MCU.
Den of Geek: What was the mission that was handed to you when you were brought onto Hobbs & Shaw?
Drew Pearce: Well, every job is different and you know, sometimes you have a secret job which is helping out, particularly friends, you know, at various points, or a filmmaker I admire. In the case of Dave Leitch, I had a relationship with him and they were in pre-production on Hobbs & Shaw. Chris Morgan, the architect of the franchise, he’s the producer as well. They were a couple of months out, these movies are gigantic juggernauts, and there was this growing number of British characters, frankly, in the film.
So I got a phone call from Dave’s producer, and I met with Chris Morgan and we got along. And two days later I was in London, and we attacked and looked at everything, from character and back story, to structure, to set pieces, and then dialogue.
Jason Statham said in an interview that you were particularly instrumental in helping to punch up the backstory of the Shaws, and also Deckard’s relationship with Brixton.
It starts in a very fundamental place, which is, you can’t write dialogue for a character before you clarify who the character even is. And Shaw has had an eclectic journey to becoming one of the heroes of the movie. First of all it was about sitting down and working out what that could be, but secondly there’s no point in just having backstory for backstory’s sake. The audience needs to know it as well. The organic thing that you want to be doing is you want to be following that backstory into what gives the personal relationships and stakes between, for example, the antagonist and the protagonist, some juice. That was definitely the starting point for the work that I was doing on the Shaw character aspect of the script.
When you go in to a situation like this, how delicate is the balance between respecting the previous writer’s work, especially when it’s someone who has been so intimately involved with the franchise, and also speaking candidly about what may not be working?
I mean, truthfully it’s different project to project. There are a few things that I’ve worked on that nobody knows I’ve worked on, either because I didn’t work on it for very long or because we chose to make that the case. On this one, I came on for a short period of time and actually it worked so well that I became a part of the team for a while. So I think that speaks to how well that aspect of it works.
I think it’s also about the attitude you bring to it. I’m very lucky, I write and direct my own films as well. I work on my own franchise stuff on my own. So when someone asks me to come in, and it’s a friend and I love the movie, I don’t really bring any ego to that.
In the case of Hobbs & Shaw, I’m there to listen to what Dave Leitch’s vision for he wants the movie to be is, help him kind of focus that, work with Chris on what he’s trying to achieve with the movie, and of course that will involve the occasional kind of truth about what the material that’s there already is doing or not doing. But Chris Morgan is very much a “best idea wins” guy, and Dave Leitch was dedicated to making the very best Hobbs & Shaw movie that he could, and that meant nothing was set in stone.
In this case, it was a lot easier than in others because we all agreed on the work, we all dug in together, and it became a very organic process. Hard work, of course, and with jagged moments, but still, it speaks to David as a general, and Chris as a producer in particular, the way that basically we all pulled in exactly the same direction thanks to the leadership.
Did you go back and review at least some, if not all the other ones, before getting to work on this?
On the plane over there, I weirdly did a thing where I re-watched… I’ve seen all the movies, more than once in most cases. I’m a genuine fan of the franchise. Tokyo Drift and Fast Five are my favorites, I would say. So I ended up wide awake on a trip to London, re-going over the Hobbs & Shaw script in detail for the eleven and a half hours, whilst also in the background re-watching all of the movies at the same time. So I had a very intense transatlantic Fast & Furious boot camp that I put myself through, ready to hit the ground running.
Are there other franchises out there that you would like a crack at? I don’t know if it’s a cliché, but as a British filmmaker would you jump at the chance to work on a James Bond movie, for example?
To quote Bond, “Never say never.” I mean, I grew up adoring Bond and I love Bond, so whatever happens next, someday I would love to have a go, both as writer and as a director. I adore the Marvel Universe, I came up through it. I owe a lot of my career to Kevin Feige and that gang. I do hope to return to the MCU at some point in the next few years, because I think it’s only going to become a more interesting and exciting place to play. And I miss that gang, frankly.
Plus there’s a couple of things that aren’t announced yet that are some really big franchise ideas and worlds that I’m already developing which, in a boring way, I can’t say, but I’m really lucky in that thus far – and hopefully it continues – I get to have one foot in tentpole land, and one foot in weirdo-indie land, in the case of Hotel Artemis. And frankly that’s something I want to continue to be able to do. The two things do actually feed back into each other. You learn a lot making a little movie that goes into a big movie, and vice versa.
So yeah, there is plenty out there that excites me, but honestly, it has to be something that genuinely engages me, and that I lock in with on an emotional level. I know that might sound a bit grandiose, but the bottom line is you’re going to spend three years minimum working on a massive movie. You better fucking know what you love about it before you walk in the door, because otherwise you will definitely not be in love with it two and a half years in.
Especially now with Marvel having just about all their characters back under one roof, is there a particular character or comic that you would jump at if you could?
And that, I am literally not going to answer, I’m afraid. You can take from that that yes, there is a character or a group that I feel most connected to, but beyond that there’s nothing else I can say.
That’s an intriguingly vague answer.
Sorry I can’t give you more!
Tell me about Quartermaster, which is something you’re working on with Netflix.
Quartermaster is exciting, man. I’ve actually got a couple of movies going. Aaron Stewart-Ahn, who wrote Mandy, he and I are developing a kind of smaller horror/sci-fi project, and that one is moving quite fast. But Quartermaster is an idea I’m incredibly excited about. It’s a much bigger movie than Hotel Artemis, which frankly is why I took it to Netflix first, because it’s very hard for a studio that’s focused on theatrical to put out a big original idea. I’d had some lovely chats with Netflix where they’d said heartbreakingly lovely things like, “If you’d done Hotel Artemis with us, you’d be shooting the second one and writing the third one by now.” So obviously I was open to the idea of working with them, and they loved the Quartermaster idea as much as I did.
There’s not that much I can say about it, but it’s big in scale, it’s a kind of techno-thriller with a lot of action, but with a really strong contemporary female lead that I genuinely don’t think we’ve seen before onscreen, especially not in a genre movie. And I’m kind of deep in it at the moment, deep in prep. Hopefully, towards the end of the year, other stuff will be shared about it, but for the moment I am very excited and hopeful that we’re shooting it next year, because I think it’s one of the best ideas I’ve ever had, frankly. For what that’s worth.
Well I read that they bought it right there in the room after you made your pitch, so they obviously liked it.
That’s actually totally true, they did! They absolutely did. Hopefully that momentum continues. It’s definitely really original, I think, and it’s also the kind of thing — I love the fact that something like Bird Box, for example, can become a part of the national conversation like Stranger Things can. I can’t say for sure Quartermaster will be that, but I think the idea and the character and the dynamics of it have the potential to be really huge. I’d love for a bunch of people to sit down on the Friday night it comes out and go, “Fuck yeah! I’m not going out, I get to watch this for free! Yeah, brilliant, okay. I’m buying beers, I’m staying in.”
After you’ve gone through the release of an indie movie, frankly the idea of releasing a movie to people’s homes is very attractive. I don’t think it’s the thing you do with every film. I think you look at the story, look at the idea, and you decide, if you can, what the best way to try and get it to the right people and the most number of people is. If you look at it through that prism, then I think what’s happening in theatrical and streaming and everything else is hopefully massively positive, but we’ll see.
Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw is out in theaters now.
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