When actor Paul Walker died in an automobile accident in November 2013, it posed a tricky question for the “Furious 7” filmmakers: Should they continue the latest installment of the multibillion-dollar movie franchise with expensive reshoots, excluding or recasting his character?
After the “Furious 7” cast and crew took a brief hiatus following Walker’s death, it was decided the film’s production would continue with a tweak here, a tweak there. So how did they retire the actor’s character, Brian O’Conner, a staple figure since the movie series was launched back in 2001?
With U.S. audiences now lining up to see the most recent addition to the film franchise spawned by “The Fast and the Furious,” we can tell you the moviemakers opted to pay tribute to Walker’s character at the end of “Furious 7” -- and that the character is just as integral to the cast as in previous productions, but with a caveat. The actor’s brothers Caleb Walker and Cody Walker were brought in as his body doubles and stand-ins to complete the character’s performance in the film. A little makeup and a little computer-generated imagery contributed by Peter Jackson’s company aided in the the illusion.
The filmmakers also chose to capture O’Conner farther away from the camera more than in the previous movies to preserve the integrity of the CGI tricks. It would be much easier to notice those touches were the character shot closer to the camera. In the finished product, there are a few awkward cutaway scenes that don’t show Walker’s face, but rather the body of one of the actor’s brothers -- a shoot-around technique not employed with any of the other actors.
And, now, here be the spoilers. When the bad guy, Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), is locked up, Agent Hobbs (The Rock) is back making empty threats, while the family is back in the Dominican Republic celebrating a job well done. Toretto (Vin Diesel), Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), Roman (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Ludacris) and newcomer hacker Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) are sitting on a beach, watching O’Conner play with his son and wife Mia (Jordana Brewster) closer to the water. “He belongs here,” Toretto says before he gets up to leave without formally bidding farewell to the O’Conners in the distance. “It’s never goodbye,” he says as he walks back to his car.
As the sun is setting on the nearly empty streets inland, Toretto pulls his car to a stop at a traffic light, where O’Conner soon does likewise with his own car. “You thought you could leave without saying goodbye?” O’Conner says with a smile.
The filmmakers then inset a montage of images of Walker’s character over the years, interacting with each of the other characters. There was more time devoted to the on-screen camaraderie between them than to the death-defying stunts they had survived through the years. The audience watches O’Conner’s car head back to the coast and his family, while Toretto’s car heads straight ahead, their paths clearly diverging.
The screen fades to white, and the words “For Paul” are left there before the credits roll. Don’t bother staying past the credits, though: The Walker tribute is the last thing audiences will have until the next adventure.