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The Fast and the Furious franchise turns 20 years old on June 22, three days before the premiere of F9. In 2001, no one expected this to be Universal’s big franchise kickoff. That summer alone they had sequels to The Mummy and Jurassic Park. The family of The Fast and the Furious could have looked a lot different too. If Timothy Olyphant had accepted the role, Vin Diesel would still be doing indie movies. 

Vin Diesel and Paul Walker ride in a car in The Fast and the Furious
L-R: Vin Diesel and Paul Walker | Universal/Getty Images presented an oral history of The Fast and the Furious on May 3. Producer Neal Moritz, Diesel, and the late Paul Walker discuss the casting of the movie. 

‘The Fast and the Furious’ was Timothy Olyphant’s if he wanted it

In 2001, the cast of The Fast and the Furious were up and comers. Walker had had ensemble hits with Varsity Blues and The Skulls. Diesel was in Saving Private Ryan, Boiler Room, and Pitch Black. Michelle Rodriguez had debuted in the indie sensation Girlfight. Olyphant’s previously starred in Scream 2, Gone in 60 Seconds, and Go.

Timothy Olyphant stands in front of a Once Upon a Time in Hollywood poster
Timothy Olyphant | David Crotty/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

“The studio said, ‘If you get Timothy Olyphant to play the role of Dominic Toretto, the movie’s greenlit.’” Moritz told EW. “We went to Tim and he passed, and we wondered if we were going to get to make it.”

‘The Fast and the Furious’ family were looking out for Vin Diesel

Diesel had some allies in the cast and crew of The Fast and the Furious. They suggested Diesel for the role of Dom, the leader of a gang of street racing teenagers.

“[Director] Rob [Cohen] was like, ‘Did you see this movie Strays?’” Walker said in a 2013 interview prior to his death. “Hadn’t even heard of it. ‘Did you see Saving Private Ryan? You know the bald guy? His name’s Vin Diesel.’

The Fast and the Furious: Dom and Brian after a car crash
L-R: Vin Diesel and Paul Walker | Universal/Getty Images

Moritz saw Diesel’s work, but still had to sell him to Universal.

I had seen Pitch Black and knew Vin from his earlier short film [Multi-Facial], and I had convinced the studio that he had to be the guy. We had our first meeting at the famed Kate Mantilini’s in L.A., and I remember I’m sitting at the bar waiting for him, and, boy, when those doors opened, it was like there was a klieg light on him — here comes the biggest star in the world. Even though he didn’t have that bankability at that point, he just had that confidence that he was a star. I thought Vin was coming there to convince me to hire him, and in reality I had to convince him to be Dominic Toretto.

Neal Moritz,, 5/3/21

This iconic scene convinced Vin Diesel to play Dom

Diesel would go on to make xXx with Cohen after the first Fast and the Furious. Cohen used one scene to convince Diesel to be a part of the movie. 

“Before I got the script, Rob described to me the scene of the camera going through my eyes and into the car and then the engine, merging man and machine,” Diesel said. “That image made me go, ‘That’s insane — I’m all in.’ And then I read the script and was like, ‘Eh, I don’t know.’”


‘Fast and Furious’ Star Vin Diesel Once Saved a Family From a Burning Car

Then Universal hired David Ayer for a rewrite on Gary Scott Thompson’s script. Diesel worked with Ayer to get the script to his satisfaction.

“They hired David and asked me to go page by page with my notes, and I thought that was really cool,” Diesel said. “I felt validated and heard.”