- Film & TV
- 23 Jun 21
With the ninth installment of The Fast And The Furious about to roar into cinemas, franchise star Chris “Ludacris” Bridges discusses the series’ global appeal and how it blazed a trail for diversity in Hollywood.
Some films just need to be enjoyed in a cinema with a huge bucket of popcorn on hand, and the team behind The Fast And The Furious franchise know that their series is perfect for the big screen experience. That’s why they held back the release of F9 during Covid so that this summer, you can head to your local cinema and enjoy the cars, the stunts, the plane-hopping, the espionage, and the absurdity just as intended: on the big screen.
Indeed, with F9, everything is bigger. The ninth edition of the franchise sees the return of Justin Lin, who directed four consecutive installments between Fast & Furious: Tokyo Drift and Fast & Furious 6, and the plot involves a deep dive into Dominic Toretto’s (Vin Diesel) back story; the introduction of Dominic’s brother Jakob (John Cena); the return of Cipher (Charlize Theron); and some – wait, space travel? That can’t be right, can it? (It absolutely can.)
Star Chris Bridges – also known as Ludacris – is happy to see the film finally hit cinemas, declaring “It’s the best one yet!” But despite Covid delaying the film’s release and putting a lot of things on hold, Bridges has found some comfort in the enforced stillness of the past year, and was not at all unhappy about being forced to take a break.
“For me, it’s been great because I’ve had a chance to sit down!” Bridges laughs. “For the past 20 years I’ve travelled so much, shooting the movies and doing so many shows – and of course, humbly speaking, that’s been a blessing – but for me, it’s been time to focus on a lot of things that I’ve been wanting to work on, but really didn’t have enough time to. So it’s been great to do that, and to spend time with my family, and to spend time in the home that I’ve been working on for so long, to make it the perfect house and home. So it’s been really good for me to sit down and really think about the past, the present and the future.”
One of the projects Bridges has been working on is Karma’s World, an animated series for children coming to Netflix in October. Inspired by Bridges’ own daughter Karma, the series is a coming-of-age story about a young Black woman finding her voice and using it to change her world. It’s a project that’s close to Bridges’ heart, as it unites the two passions that have dominated his life for the past decade: his children, and the desire to empower young people.
“I’ve been working on Karma’s World for over a decade, it’s been inspired by my oldest daughter,” he says. “I’ve been working on things that are legacies. I have three daughters, so they have really been inspiring me to do things that empower women, and empower the next generation, period. That’s another thing the pandemic gave me – it has also let me think deeply about how I can balance out the world with more positivity.”
This isn’t the first way Bridges has used his talents to try empower young people. Last year, the rapper and father of three launched Kid Nation, an initiative that uses music videos featuring young kids rapping pieces of positive advice to provide a “fun, safe and educational media platform” for children.
‘Get Along’ promotes acceptance, positivity and inclusivity – a very worthy idea given the divisive rhetoric and violent racism that has defined the world for so many children, particularly in the United States for the past five years. ‘Stay Clean’ reminds kids to wash their hands – a good Covid-era message but also just an extremely catchy tune. Bridges hopes to now use his rap career to help kids grow up to be empowered, loving, strong adults.
“My girls are my tester group for all the videos and music that we put on the platform,” he says. “I call them my consultants! But really it’s just enriching content for kids, and what better time than now, when a lot of kids are behind and doing virtual schooling over the past year? So I wanted to give them something enriching that would keep their attention, which works really well, especially if they love music.”
This feels like quite the transformation for the rapper, who was known for his love of partying, and was once controversially fired from a Pepsi endorsement deal, because his lyrics were deemed to be degrading to women whilst promoting substance abuse. I wonder how this evolution feels for the rapper, and whether it feels more rewarding than his past work, or like an emotional evolution that came about because of his experiences with fatherhood?
“At this time in my life, I’ve accomplished so much that my goal is to create something bigger than Ludacris has ever been,” he remarks, referring to his Ludacris persona in the third person. “I guess the last 20 years I was just focusing on Ludacris and myself, but when you have children you automatically stop thinking so much about you, and start thinking more about the new generation.”
If it’s longevity Bridges is after, then he’s achieving it across several genres. F9 is now the ninth installment of The Fast And The Furious franchise, and this year marks the 20th anniversary of the original film. It’s now the 10th highest grossing film series of all time, with a combined gross of over $5.8 billion.
Bridges joined the cast for the second film, and his audition was a frenetic, last-minute affair that occurred when Ja Rule dropped out, reportedly because he wasn’t happy with the offer of a half-a-million dollar paycheque. Director John Singleton was left looking for a replacement, and called Bridges – who was slightly busy at the time.
“I was on tour with Eminem and got a call from John Singleton asking me to try out for it,” he explains. “I literally only had a few minutes before going on stage, but I was up for the challenge. I remember standing backstage reading these sides to the best of my ability before performing – and then I got the call the next day to say that I got the job. And that few minutes defined the next 17 years of my life! It’s glorious, it’s out of this world.”
The Fast And The Furious franchise has become known for its increasingly epic action sequences and stunts, transforming from a humble street racing film to a series about espionage, heists, and the occasional trip on a submarine. These ever more ambitious (and often absurd) storylines and setpieces are held together by a recurring theme of family and loyalty, and in this instance, art imitates life.
The cast, which now centres around Bridges, Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson and Sung Kang, are famously tight-knit; they seem to have a blast travelling all over the world together, and slagging each other in ad-libs that make it into the movies.
“We really are a family,” Bridges confirms. “We are so spoiled, we really want everything we work on be family oriented and we are family – our kids know each other, everyone gets invited to everyone’s birthday parties, it’s absolutely amazing. I want every working experience to be that way! Unfortunately it’s not, but I feel so blessed to be part of a franchise where everyone loves each other so much.”
One often under-appreciated role in the franchise’s popularity is its diverse cast and crew. Indeed, it is the single most diverse franchise on cinema screens, and has always featured people of colour. Action fans of all races and ethnicities can find someone like themselves onscreen, racing cars and kicking ass.
For a series that’s often overlooked by critics and ignored by more prestigious awards committees, its commitment to diversity shows up the rest of Hollywood, who – despite constant handwringing and hashtagging – are still depressingly slow to put diverse casts onscreen. Does Bridges ever feel frustrated by the slow progress of the rest of Tinsel Town?
“I’m so glad you said that,” Bridges responds. “I personally feel that – not that there wasn’t diversity in movies before Fast Five – but once Fast Five hit the market and The Rock joined the cast, and we literally had the different ethnicities and had this very inclusive cast, I noticed a lot of big changes in Hollywood in terms of how different movies were cast in order to market and promote them. So I love the inclusion, I think it was very well-needed and a long time coming.
“But now people are seeing the result and benefit, that people around the world get to look at the screen and look at people like themselves, and be able to vicariously live through these characters, and see different cultures and countries and languages that are incorporated into the franchise. So I’m very happy, I am not frustrated at all, because I feel like there’s so much longer to go, but we are making strides, and making so much progress, and I’m glad to be part of that.”
The issue of race is obviously so prescient right now, particularly for Black people in America who have spent the past few years seeing so many horrific incidents of police brutality, and a rise in explicit racism thanks to the influence of Donald Trump. Last year, Bridges attended a memorial for George Floyd in Minneapolis, and said he was profoundly moved hearing from Floyd’s friends and family. And I wonder if the hope Bridges has for the film industry extends to a hope for his country at large, and a hope for a safer future for Black Americans.
“I will always be hopeful, I just feel that we have a very, very long way to go. But I will always be hopeful. There are changes being made, and we just need to keep going.”
• F9 is in cinemas across Ireland from June 24.