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The Fast & Furious Cast Was Never The Same After Paul Walker's Death

The "Fast & Furious" movie franchise is all about family. Yes, there are car chases and heists and races and just about everything else that can be done with a car, but the films stress over and over the importance of family, of sticking together, of having your brothers' and sisters' backs. Dominic "Dom" Toretto (Vin Diesel) is the head of his car racing, hijacking, crime-fighting family, and nothing is going to get in his way when it comes to making sure they're safe and happy.

As with any family, the death of someone within it strikes a major blow to everyone else. And, although the actors in the "Fast & Furious" films are not actually related, when Paul Walker (who played Brian O'Conner in six of the first seven movies in the series) died tragically in 2013, his loss was felt deeply by everyone on the cast. It wasn't just a matter of losing a co-worker and a friend; many of them wondered how they could ever go on without Paul beside them.

In the films, if a family member is hurting then everyone is hurting, and if one member is in trouble, they all take on the burden. They say that time heals all wounds, but the main "Fast & Furious" cast has never been the same after Walker's death: A decade after his shocking passing, his former co-stars still feel his loss. Fittingly, the cast continues to honor and remember him.

Vin Diesel lost a brother

Speaking with Entertainment Tonight, Vin Diesel said that losing Paul Walker — whom he called Pablo, which is Spanish for Paul — was like losing his own flesh and blood. The two didn't just grow their friendship into a brotherhood in the movies, they forged a real one that's survived beyond Walker's passing. "People go, 'What's it like making a movie without Pablo,' and that's not the right question," he said. "What's it like living without your brother, know what I mean? It's not about making a movie."

Diesel has revealed that he played the role of "big brother" on set for the core cast, especially in those early films, but it was Walker who taught him how to be a father. Walker became a dad in 1998 to daughter Meadow, though Diesel's first child wasn't born until ten years later. "I leaned on him," the actor told Access Hollywood, "and he was my rock." Diesel went on to explain how Walker was even there in spirit when his youngest daughter was born in 2015. He named her Pauline in his late friend's honor. "When I was in the delivery room and writing down her name, even my mom to this day says, 'Pablo was in the room with you.'"

The feeling of brotherhood was clearly mutual, as Meadow Walker had Vin Diesel escort her down the aisle in her father's place. "[She] counts Vin and his kids as family and will talk to them on days she's struggling," a source told Us Weekly, so the decision to have Diesel at her side was a natural choice that honored her father.

Michelle Rodriguez went on a spiritual journey

It wasn't until 16 months after Paul Walker's death that Michelle Rodriguez spoke openly about her reaction to losing her friend. Rodriguez, who plays Leticia "Letty" Ortiz in the "Fast & Furious" franchise, described Walker as "the deepest guy" she knew in an interview with Entertainment Weekly. She revealed that his death was such a horrific jolt that she completely fell apart. "I felt like nothing I could do could make me feel alive, so I just kept pushing myself harder and harder," she said. "I was traveling and I was having sex. And I was just trying to ignore everything that I was feeling."

Six years later, Rodriguez sat down to talk with Tamron Hall from a much healthier place, mentally and spiritually. The actor had been suffering from anger issues and substance abuse on top of her grief, so she took what Hall referred to as a "spiritual sabbatical" to resolve them. Now, Rodriguez considers herself a "student of life." She told Hall that this means keeping "your heart open" and not taking things for granted. She added that Walker's death was "a reality check" that made her question her entire existence and purpose. At first she found herself seeking extremes to cope with the pain, but she set about "reprogramming" herself to live in the present — and she's a much happier person for it.

Jordana Brewster often thinks about Paul Walker

In the "Fast & Furious" films, Jordana Brewster plays the part of Mia Toretto, sister to Vin Diesel's Dom and love interest of Paul Walker's Brian. Throughout the movies, Mia's relationship with Brian evolves and grows until eventually they start a family together. Working so closely together, Brewster and Walker shared a special bond, and in a conversation with Us Weekly, Brewster shared that this bond has not waned. "I'm always thinking about him," she said. "His death was so impactful because people understood on a very primal cellular level what a wonderful good soul he was."

Brewster went on to share her favorite memory of working with Walker on the "Fast & Furious" franchise, recalling a time that she ended up needing stitches. "I split my hand open jumping from roof to roof in Puerto Rico," she revealed, referencing the famous stunt they performed together for "Fast Five." She added: "I was like, 'I can keep going' because I wanted to have bravado in front of Paul. He was like, 'Yeah, you're being tough! I'm so proud of you!'" Brewster added that she considered the injury and Walker's subsequent approval to be a "badge of honor."

Brewster has kept honoring her relationship with Walker throughout the years, becoming close with his daughter Meadow. The two women were even guests at each other's weddings. "She has a lot of traits that are very similar to Paul," Brewster said about Meadow (who made a cameo appearance as a flight attendant in "Fast X"), adding, "I'm very, very proud of her."

Tyrese Gibson owes his role in the franchise to Paul Walker

After "The Fast and the Furious" came out in 2001 and made bank at the box office, it faced several obstacles on its way to becoming a blockbuster franchise. For one, Vin Diesel wasn't interested in returning for a sequel. "2 Fast 2 Furious" went ahead without him, but Paul Walker's Brian O'Conner was back, getting into shenanigans down in Miami with Tyrese Gibson as his childhood friend Roman Pearce. When Diesel later returned, Gibson's role fell by the wayside. Speaking to the Toronto Sun, Gibson revealed that Walker fought hard for his character to be brought back into the fold.

"When I wasn't in number three or four, every other day Paul was saying: 'We've got to bring Tyrese back; we've got to bring Roman back!' There were certain people who were against it and Paul campaigned to bring me back," Gibson said. "Paul Walker single-handedly got me back in the franchise, for sure." Just like Walker and Diesel, the pair were like brothers off camera, so Walker's death hit Gibson very hard.

Speaking with Entertainment Weekly, Gibson admitted that he still has a hard time watching "Furious 7" — Walker's final film — because of his loss. "I have more bad memories than good, because all of the fun and all of the magic that we had going before Paul Walker's untimely death, the trauma of losing him superseded all of that," he said. "Once 'Furious 7' came out, it was hard to watch. So I definitely don't have that one on repeat."

Ludacris feels closer to the rest of the cast

Chris "Ludacris" Bridges is famous for his fast, sexy, playful raps, be it on his own songs or as a featured performer on other tracks. However, he has also built up a respectable career as an actor, with the "Fast & Furious" film series being his most well-known. Bridges originated the role of Tej in "2 Fast 2 Furious" as a street racer-turned-tech guru and continued in that capacity from the fifth film onward. Tej's relationship with Walker's O'Conner was full of respect, and the same was true away from the cameras. Like so many other members of the cast, Ludacris considered Walker a "brother," and he felt his loss profoundly.

Talking with Vibe ahead of the release of "Fast X," the actor and musician revealed what it had been like going on without Walker. "It's difficult, but at the same time, I think us becoming tighter and closer after him passing away, is what keeps the legacy of everything that he was trying to do — and engulf and embody — together," Bridges said. "Because a lot of it is making sure we continue to shed the light on his foundation and what he was doing just worldwide, in terms of preservation and in terms of this earth's animals and extinction." Bridges also said that having Walker's daughter Meadow around helps a lot. "He lives on through her, and she's on set with us a lot and off set as well."

Sung Kang delivered an important message

What you might not know about Sung Kang's Han Lue is that the character first appeared in Justin Lin's 2002 film "Better Luck Tomorrow," a movie about a group of Asian American high school seniors who dip their toes into the world of crime. Lin brought the character into the "Fast & Furious" franchise for 2006's "Tokyo Drift" (Han appeared to die in that film when his car was run off the road, though this was later retconned). Kang got the chance to work with Paul Walker in subsequent movies, and he formed a bond with the franchise star. 

"The more projects you do, the more actors you meet, the more people you meet, it's harder and harder to give your heart and your complete attention or absolute sincerity to that person," Kang said shortly after Walker's death (via the Los Angeles Daily News). "But with Paul, every memory I have with him, even when we were on set, on location or having dinner — he made sure that every time he had a minute with you, he was going to give 100 percent of his heart."

In 2022, Kang directed a PSA that warned of the dangers of driving irresponsibly. There was a spike in street racing during the COVID-19 pandemic, and, like all of the "Fast" family, Kang knows that car accidents can devastate lives. The actor also did the voiceover for the PSA, which urged those planning on taking to the streets to race to go to designated tracks instead. "I wish our special effects could bring back our loved ones, but unfortunately that won't be the case," Kang told People, adding that he was "honored to be able to be part of such an important message."

Dwayne Johnson and Paul Walker bonded over fatherhood

Much has been written about the feud between Dwayne Johnson and Vin Diesel (Johnson, who plays Luke Hobbs in the "Fast & Furious" franchise, fell out with Diesel after they clashed on set and his time in the films appeared to be done at one stage). However, you probably don't know as much about Johnson's relationship with Paul Walker. According to the former WWE star, the two bonded over their daughters, who are around the same age. Johnson doesn't speak publicly about Walker's death very often, but he felt compelled to say something after another of his actor friends came close to suffering the same fate.

In 2019, Kevin Hart (who has starred opposite Johnson in films like "Central Intelligence" and the rebooted "Jumanji" films and even made a cameo appearance in "Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw") was involved in a serious car accident that left him needing back surgery. "Recently, I got a scare when I almost lost another friend on the road," Johnson posted to Instagram on what would have been Walker's 46th birthday. "All this stuff got me thinking about how beautiful, yet wildly unpredictable life is. We never know what's around the corner, so we gotta live as greatly as we can in the honor of our loved ones and ancestors who are no longer with us."

Nathalie Emmanuel wants to make Paul Walker proud

Playing the role of computer genius Ramsey, Nathalie Emmanuel joined the "Fast & Furious" franchise for 2015's "Furious 7." It would be Paul Walker's final film of the series (he died before filming was finished), and while Emmanuel didn't spend as much time with him as her co-stars, she still feels his loss to this day. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Emmanuel described how the "devastating" death of Walker fueled the cast to make the films as great as possible. Furthermore, she believes that urge for greatness has followed them into the continuing saga. "Paul was such a huge part of it, and he lives still within it."

Emmanuel has been saying as much for years. Remembering her debut in the series in 2019 ahead of the release of "F9," she spoke about Walker in an Instagram post. "It's my favorite," she said of the seventh entry in the franchise. "But it also was our brother [Paul Walker]'s last... and it was my honour to work with him and be a part of his final movie and we continue his legacy." Director James Wan, who helmed "Furious 7," also chimed in, commenting on the post that Emmanuel and Walker were two of "the best memories [he has] of making that film." It seems Walker left a positive impression wherever he went.

Scott Eastwood was a good friend of Paul Walker

Scott Eastwood didn't join the "Fast" saga until the eighth film, "The Fate of the Furious," in the role of Little Nobody. It was the first film in the series made entirely following Paul Walker's death, which made it hard for his returning co-stars. It was hard for Eastwood in a different way — this was his first appearance in the franchise, but he and Walker had been good friends, so taking the role "was definitely an emotionally charged decision," he told Metro. In the end, however, he couldn't think of a reason not to be involved in something that Walker was so proud of.

Eastwood went on to say that filming "The Fate of the Furious" was very difficult because the loss still felt so fresh to everyone who worked the series. "There were days when it was hard, it would hit you like a ton of bricks," he said. "And then there were days when everyone was singing and laughing and telling stories about Paul and that made everyone happy because it's a great way to continue his legacy."

Paul Walker's brothers stepped in after his death

When Paul Walker died tragically in 2013, filming was still underway for "Furious 7." Walker had completed most of his scenes by then, so his brothers Caleb and Cody were brought in to do the remaining additional shots. The scenes were then edited in post with CGI to make the change seamless. After "Furious 7," Cody (who is the brand manager of Paul Walker's foundation Reach Out Worldwide) began acting in his own right and he has since appeared in a handful of projects.

None of Cody's appearances have been in the "Fast" saga, but he did appear in Sung Kang's anti-street racing PSA. "Like many of you, I too have lost somebody due to reckless driving," Cody said (via People). "I think a lot of the time when those of us that want to go fast, or we have something to prove, we don't take into consideration the lives of those around us. It's not just you that you're putting in jeopardy it's everybody else around you. So don't be dumb, take it to the track. There's somebody at home that loves you that's expecting you to return."

The legacy of Paul Walker, both on-screen and off, is forever interwoven with the family that he forged in the "Fast & Furious" franchise. In the 2018 documentary "I Am Paul Walker," the late actor's family and friends speak with love about his fearlessness, his charm, and how much he is still missed. That's a legacy worth leaving.