MOVIE URBAN LEGEND: Vin Diesel turned down a cash payment for his cameo in The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, choosing instead to bargain for the movie rights to one of his other film characters.
It is very hard, in 2022, to look back to 2006 and realize that not only was The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift NOT the final film in the Fast and Furious franchise (which it certainly looked like at the time), but that it instead was the start of a whole new beginning for the franchise as it became bigger and better than it ever had before. Part of why it is so hard to believe is that the film itself really had very little to do with any of that other stuff, but rather the behind the scenes parts of the film that later led to the film becoming the start of something big rather than the end of everything. One of the key parts of this new beginning was Vin Diesel returning at the end of the film in an uncredited cameo as Dominic Toretto, the character he had originated in the first The Fast and the Furious, but had refused to play in the film’s first sequel, 2 Fast 2 Furious (yes, the actual name of the second film in the series). Torretto shows up to race Sean Boswell (Lucas Black), the star of Tokyo Drift, at the end of the film. Torretto notes that he was a friend of Han Lue (Sung Kang), Sean’s friend and mentor in the film who had seemingly died earlier in the film.
Diesel’s return to the franchise set up his full return in Fast & Furious three years later, which turned the franchise’s fortunes around (Tokyo Drift made about $80 million less than 2 Fast 2 Furious) with the biggest hit of the franchise yet, but then when the franchise expanded beyond just racing cars and into elaborate almost superhero style stories in Fast Five, the box office numbers catapaulted, with Fast Five almost doubling Fast & Furious‘ box office. Clearly, the return of Vin Diesel was very important…so how did it happen?
HOW DID THE FILMMAKERS GET DIESEL TO RETURN TO HIS ICONIC ROLE OF DOMINIC TORRETTO?
The problems with The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift were generally studio-driven, as the two men who were hired for the project, director Justin Lin and screenwriter Chris Morgan, have been the key creative personnel in the evolution of Fast and Furious to becoming oine of the most dominant film franchises in the entire world (Lin has directed Fast & Furious, Fast Five, Fast & Furious 6, F9 and will be directing the upcoming two-part Fast & Furious 10). Morgan has written the screenplays for all films save for F9, which he missed as he helped launch the spinoff film series, Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw (and he, too, is returning for Fast & Furious 10).
When Morgan signed on to the film (via an open casting call for new writers), he initially thought that the film would have Diesel in it. He explained to Uproxx in 2017, “There was an open writing call for the third film. I think originally I came in and pitched. Essentially it was Tokyo Drift, but it was with Vin, and his character kind of had to go out and learn drifting. And there was a murder he had to solve. And they said, ‘Nah, can’t do that. We have to do high school.’ And so the movie became what the movie was. I was really proud of it. And the audience, they came to see it. A lot of people liked it. It kind of did the worst of all the films.”
Lin, in particular, put a lot of his own heart and soul into the film, making changes to the film as he went along. He recalled joining the project, “‘After I read the original script, they called me up and asked, ‘What do you think?'” says Lin. And I said, ‘I think it’s offensive and dated, and I don’t have any intention of doing it.’ But Stacey [Snider], the head of the studio, said, ‘Just tell us what you’d do differently.’ So I said, ‘To begin with, I’d get rid of all the gongs and temples and Buddhas and the visual gags about how the white guy is a foot taller than all the Asians.’ And she said, ‘OK, we’ll make the kind of movie you want.’ I was like, ‘Uh, are you sure?’ Ultimately, it ended up being a constant challenge — I kept on getting into discussions that were like, ‘You signed me to do a certain type of movie, if you don’t want to do that movie, get rid of me.’ But all you can ever ask is that the producers and the studio be fair and reasonable. And to their credit, they were very fair and reasonable.” Lin added Kang’s Han, who became a franchise favorite, and made a number of other changes to help make the film be as good as it could be.
However, in the end, the test screenings still weren’t amazing, and Morgan joked, “It is so funny. It could have been the death throes, and then thankfully, the thing that kind of saved us was that we got Vin at the very end of the movie to come in and kind of hint where we’re going to go in the future.”
Lin recalled meeting up with Diesel in person to convince him to do the movie, “We talked our way to going to his house. I remember he was showing us his Dungeons and Dragons book and stuff like that and I ended up talking by his poolside for four hours about the mythology and his relationship with Han. It sounds crazy, but all the way up to ‘Fast 6,’ a lot of that was talked about that night in 2005.” Lin then noted, “When Vin Diesel showed up, I remember sitting in the audience and the crowd went crazy and that’s when the studio went, ‘Wow, maybe we should bring him back.’”
HOW WAS VIN DIESEL PAID FOR HIS CAMEO IN THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS: TOKYO DRIFT?
As it turned out, the key to getting Diesel to return was an entirely other movie! One of Diesel’s first big projects was 2000’s Pitch Black, where he played the mysterious Riddick. One of the reasons Diesel couldn’t do 2 Fast 2 Furious was because he was working on the sequel to Pitch Black, 2004’s Chronicles of Riddick. While Pitch Black was a surprise hit, the bigger budget Chronicles of Riddick was a bit of a flop, perhaps not even making more than its budget at the box office.
Therefore, in exchange for doing the cameo in The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, Diesel didn’t want cash, he wanted the film rights to the Riddick character, which were owned by Universal Pictures, the makers of the Fast & Furious films. The studio agreed and in 2013, Diesel produced the smaller budget Riddick, which became a minor hit for the actor (ironically, Universal later took an equity position in the film and distributed it).
So that cameo helped turn around the Fast & Furious AND the Riddick film franchises! Impressive stuff by Diesel!
The legend is…
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Vin Diesel Didn’t Want Pay for His Tokyo Drift Cameo – He Wanted Riddick