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How Movie Stars Control Their Macho Capital

Aug 15, 2019
Originally published on August 15, 2019 11:39 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

There are eight movies in the "Fast & Furious" franchise. Plus, there's a spinoff of the series called "Hobbs & Shaw" that is currently topping the box office. The franchise is filled with tough-guy actors, and NPR's economics podcast The Indicator From Planet Money looks at how some of them negotiate ways to preserve their onscreen reputations.

Here's Cardiff Garcia.

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CARDIFF GARCIA, BYLINE: Three of the core actors in these movies - Vin Diesel...

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VIN DIESEL: (As Dominic Toretto) You've got the best crew in the world standing right in front of you.

GARCIA: ...Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson...

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DWAYNE JOHNSON: (As Luke Hobbs) When it's the fate of the world, it becomes my business.

GARCIA: ...And Jason Statham...

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JASON STATHAM: (As Deckard Shaw) Watch this. You might learn something.

GARCIA: ...Play characters who fight not just bad guys, but also each other at different points in the movies. And these actors do not like it when their characters lose fights. They dislike it so much that all three of them have taken steps to make sure that the fights onscreen are never lopsided against their characters.

So what is going on? Are these actors just protecting their fragile masculine egos, or are there rational reasons for guarding their tough-guy brands? This was all revealed in a great Wall Street Journal article by reporter Erich Schwartzel.

ERICH SCHWARTZEL: Well, there's a whole system in place. So some of it is pretty deliberate, right? So when Jason Statham signed on to join the franchise, he secured an agreement that there would be certain stipulations about what would happen to his character on screen. He wouldn't spend the whole movie getting pummeled, right? He wouldn't, you know, lose fight after fight after fight. That was kind of like some very deliberate image maintenance.

As the actors have grown more powerful, obviously, they have teams and entourages who help maintain that image. And so, for instance, Vin Diesel's sister, who is a producer on the films - she is essentially a surrogate for her brother on the set. And so she will go to fight rehearsals and say, hey, I noticed, you know, Vin's getting, you know, quite a few kicks here; like, is he going to be able to fight back in an equal way?

GARCIA: Yeah. And you write in your piece that in Hollywood, sheltering the tender egos of action stars is increasingly a cost of doing business. I mean, are there monetary stakes in doing this?

SCHWARTZEL: I think that is the insecurity. Yes. I mean, the "Fast & Furious" franchise is really an indicator of how Hollywood works today, right? These movies cost in excess of $150 million to produce, which means they have to be hits everywhere to turn a profit.

Also, at the same time, you're seeing the movie star in Hollywood in general is just not what it once was. We really are sort of past the era of Jim Carrey or Julia Roberts, these kind of big-name stars who could carry a movie themselves. So it's really become more about the property than the actors.

But the "Fast & Furious" franchise really is tied to this kind of core set of tough guys - Jason Statham, Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson. And because there are three of them in one property, that has really contributed to the arms race, right? Like, what happens when they have to fight one another? It has to kind of reach a stasis. Like, no one can emerge looking tougher than the other.

GARCIA: Erich Schwartzel is a reporter from The Wall Street Journal. And I'm Cardiff Garcia, host of The Indicator From Planet Money.

(SOUNDBITE OF WHITE KATANA'S "SORCERER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.