With the release of the high-octane [Furious 7](movie:264263), Paul Walker took his final bow as Brian O'Conner, a unfathomably likable character who we've been lucky enough to see evolve over 14 years. In spite of his tragic death behind the wheel, Walker will always be remembered as the family man with a badass streak thanks to The Fast and the Furious franchise.
This iconic status is exactly why it's so surprising that Walker nearly walked away from the movies that made him a star, but the behind-the-scenes story proves just how great of a guy Walker really was. The L.A. Times' Amy Kaufman recently published a touching tribute to Walker's legacy that gets right to the heart of why he will continue to be so missed.
A major shift
Following the box office success of The Fast and the Furious and 2 Fast 2 Furious, Paul Walker came very close to quitting the series altogether. He said that "there was politics, studio stuff, a regime decision" that led to him only making a cameo in The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. At this point, he was resigned to be done. So, imagine his surprise when filmmakers approached him about making a back-to-basics sequel (in this case, that means the original cast):
I thought it was stale. They were talking about my involvement with the fourth one and I was like, 'Are you kidding me? Really?' Obviously, we made the first one that catered to pop culture and a youth-driven audience. But trends shift overnight with that audience. Nine years later, I really questioned if there was even an audience anymore.
His concerns were sound. After all, he had a daughter to care for and a career to keep on track. However, his return was essential to bringing this audience back. After producer Moritz tried to lure Walker back to the franchise without any luck, guess who stepped up to the plate?
None other than Vin Diesel, of course
Vin Diesel reassured Walker about Fast & Furious, the fourth film in the series, saying that they would reemerge as a duo one last time (the first time since the original film) and be done. Walker wanted to focus on fatherhood following his daughter's recent move to his home in California, but eventually he got on board.
This decision helped save the franchise
With the team back together for Fast & Furious, audiences came in droves. This success led to a fifth film, Fast Five, which was a major smash hit and really helped cement the revitalized franchise's credibility. Despite his massive success, Walker never lost sight of his fans, and, in many ways, he embodied this dedication to the franchise. Just listen to how he sums up one of the movie's underlying messages:
The franchise raises questions about 'What is the car?' Really, it’s today’s horse -- it’s the white horse, and it symbolizes a lot for guys. It’s a rite of passage. I’m a ride. I’m a man. I can provide for myself and put gas in the car.
In this sense, everyone can be a hero, and that's the exact kind of impact Brian O'Conner had on many of us.
He learned from the movies
Despite his complicated history with the Furious films, don't for one second think that Walker didn't appreciate his time and experience doing them. He sums up how much the films meant to him in this meaningful quote:
My priority is being the best dad I can be and the most well-rounded person I can be. This franchise granted me the opportunity to sit back and collect myself and learn a better-balanced life."
He almost left the franchise to be a great dad, but, in the end, he ended up getting the most out of both occupations. As with any of these tributes (especially that scene in Furious 7), I'm left to assume this now-familiar stance:
Thanks for all the white-knuckle, heart-pounding memories, Paul. You won't be forgotten.