Need for Speed might be based on a video game, but director Scott Waugh wasn’t interested in digital representations for his feature film. Nearly everything you see on-screen is real, whether it’s a car jumping a medium or flying off a bridge. What else would you expect from a veteran stuntman turned director?
The wild card was getting an actor to sign up for that.
When Waugh first approached Aaron Paul to star in his first post-Breaking Bad film, he didn’t mince words: “I told him, If you really want to do this movie, I need to teach you how to drive. And I’m not talking straight. I’m talking 150 miles an hour drifting,” Waugh told EW in October.
Driving school came next, and Paul was a quick study.”My first true day on the film was out at the race track. By the end of the first day I was doing 360s. Then the next couple of days were learning how to trick around corners or doing reverse 180s,” Paul said.
Anyone familiar with the video game will know that it doesn’t have a narrative, just a lot of cool cars and locations. That gave Waugh and screenwriters George Gatins, John Gatins (Flight), and George Nolfi (The Bourne Ultimatum) the freedom to create something entirely new. In Need for Speed, Paul’s Tobey is out for revenge against a childhood rival, Dino (Dominic Cooper), who not only got him framed and imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit, but is also dating Tobey’s ex played by the future Anastasia Steele, Dakota Johnson.
Despite an emotional core, the stunts are the centerpieces of the film, which Waugh and Paul see as a throwback to classic ’70s car pics like Bullitt.
“Audiences know when things are fake. They know when they’re being lied to,” said Waugh of the importance of actually filming the stunts. That meant shutting down the freeways, enlisting the help of hundreds of stuntmen, and trusting your actors to tell you when they’d rather hand it over to the professionals for a particular stunt. “I’m not shooting Two and a Half Men,” said Waugh.
It also involves actually wrecking the cars, which made for some pretty tricky days on set.
“You don’t have doubles. You don’t have two cars. You’ve only got one shot,” said Waugh. “During some of these sequences we had 27 cameras. They were hidden in every little bush. It was wild,” Paul added.
Although Paul did do much of the driving himself, he knew when to hand the wheel over to the stuntmen. “I’ve never been on a project that was so stunt driven,” said Paul. “The community of stunt men and women is a family. During these big sequences there’s a silence that goes on around set. Some sh-t can go down. They’d huddle around and say ‘I’ll see you on the other side,’” Paul said. “It’s amazing what they do. To see that family and that brotherhood was a really cool thing.”
Need for Speed hits theaters March 14, 2014. Kid Cudi, Michael Keaton, and Imogen Poots also star.