What brought you back to Xander Cage?
I had started envisioning doing another XxX after Fast and Furious, the fourth one, had success in 2009. There were people saying “You did it with Dom; do it with Xander.” So I started to entertain the idea. After that it was it matter of finding the right time, but the time never presented itself. There was never a large enough window to make it. And then, after the experience of Furious 7… You know, 2014, 2015, were kind of tough years to have to finish a movie without a friend (following the death of Fast and Furious co-star Paul Walker in 2013). That was such a tumultuous and arduous experience that, quite frankly, I never needed a character where I laughed and smiled more, than at that moment in my life. I found myself needing a movie where I could simply have fun again. And I’m so happy I did this.
What was your initial input into the creation of Xander Cage himself?
Well, that’s the compelling part about playing a character in a saga. You evolve off screen and you have to evolve on screen. Those two factors have to synch up and work together. In the first film, Xander Cage was a lone soldier. And in this film he’s willing to work with a team. That’s a critical difference and a clear evolution. But that’s what makes it interesting. That’s what’s so fascinating and compelling for me – to do these characters over a long kind of stretch. The first film, you know, I didn’t get much to work with in the first one except the fact that this guy was an extreme-sports athlete first and then a kind of James Bond. Working with the writer and the director at the time, we kind of developed a swagger to the character and found that there was something kind of delicious about a guy who had that unapologetic but very fun vanity. And a character that was really just seeking thrills. With Dom Toretto, it was about a guy looking to protect a family. This guy, Xander, is seeking to protect the right to have a thrill -to do the extreme.
What was it like reteaming with Sam Jackson in this film? How important was it for you that he was in it?
Very important – I don’t think we could have done it without him. Working with Sam Jackson was important to me because he’s such a powerful actor and so highly respected within the acting community. You know, for kids that couldn’t afford acting classes, all you had to do was watch a bunch of Sam Jackson movies. So when he wanted to do XxX with me, it was just this huge sense of personal validation. It was a true moment where I realized I had finally arrived. So I wouldn’t have returned to this movie without him. He was always such an integral part of this story and working with him again was just so fun.
There are so many amazing stunts and action sequences in the new film – from the skateboarding to the zero-gravity antics to the motorcycles… Is there one that stands out that was especially fun to train for and fun to do?
All of it was fun to train for and all of it was fun to do. That’s what I needed with this movie. I needed to have fun. And the fun started when I was first behind my computer sifting through thousands of extreme-sports clips and narrowing it down to some that I thought would be just fantastic on film. Working with my team, my director, DJ Caruso, the writer and our stunt coordinators, and coming up with ideas – that was so much fun. When it came time to actually start rehearsing these different sequences that became fun. When I was skateboarding in the Dominican Republic in preparation for this movie, I remembered being a kid and skateboarding through the streets of New York. [Laughs] And then of course filming it was just a blast.
What was the biggest challenge making the film?
Finding the time to do it. Honestly the biggest challenge in putting it all together was just finding the time to do it. Making that time. That was hands down the biggest challenge. It wasn’t until I needed it for my own personal kind of healing that I made the time.
One thing I have to know – what’s the story behind Xander’s coat?
The coat [laughs]… I had a meeting with Mark Zuckerberg (CEO, Facebook) right before Fast 7 was coming out. I thought the questions were going to be Fast 7 related - you know, aside from the social media conversations we were having. Anyway, he stops me at one point and says, “My favourite movie is XxX”. He says: “I loved the movie so much that after I closed this big deal I went and bought my Number Two guy that coat that you wore in XxX”. “I was asking him to work overtime and he said to me, “Don’t worry Mark, I live for this shit.’” And so he went and bought him the coat! After that, I just had to wear it again [laughs].
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