LOS ANGELES, June 22 (UPI) -- Vin Diesel said that when he began 2001's The Fast and the Furious, he never imagined that his character, Dominic Toretto, or he, would become a father.
The 53-year-old actor now has a 13-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son. The Fate of the Furious introduced his character's son, whom he's raising with Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) when F9 begins.
"Now we come full circle, and we see how deathly committed he is to being a father," Diesel said in a recent Zoom press conference ahead of Friday's premiere.
F9 also introduces Dom's long-lost brother, Jakob (John Cena). Expanding the Toretto family also was personal to Diesel, who said his multicultural background allowed for the casting of Cena.
"You could've cast anyone to be my brother," Diesel said. "The whole world was considered."
In the original film, Dom led a gang of street racers he called his family. Police officer Brian O'Conner (Paul Walker) infiltrated them to catch them hijacking trucks to finance their souped-up vehicles.
Sequels 2 Fast 2 Furious and Tokyo Drift introduced new characters like Roman Pierce (Tyrese Gibson), Tej (Ludacris), Han (Sung Kang) and Sean Boswell (Lucas Black), while Diesel declined to appear, except for a cameo in Tokyo Drift. The fourth film, Fast & Furious reunited the original cast, with Brian and Dom forced to work out their differences on an undercover mission.
Fast Five included characters from every previous movie, teaming up as an all-star racing team to battle international villains. Characters like agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) pursued them in Fast Five, then became part of the family.
Sequels would find Letty recovering from amnesia and Hobbs pardoning the gang in exchange for help on increasingly dangerous missions. Hobbs eventually got his own spinoff.
The mission in F9 begins when Jakob kidnaps their government liaison, Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell). Dom and his team of auto racers reunite to rescue Mr. Nobody and keep dangerous technology out of Jakob's hands.
The Toretto family already included Dom's sister Mia (Jordana Brewster). The character wasn't in The Fate of the Furious because she is married to Brian. While the series kept Brian alive after Walker's death, F9 allows Mia to return to help Dom deal with Jakob, leaving Brian at home to watch the kids.
"There's something very refreshing and very evolved about a woman leaving her husband and kids behind in order to take care of business," the 41-year-old Brewster said in a Zoom press conference. "That's something that a lot of women will recognize in the film and will go, 'OK, finally, we get to see that on the screen.'"
F9 also features more reunions. Han, presumed dead in Tokyo Drift and Furious 6, returns.
The 49-year-old Kang said the only reason he felt comfortable returning was that Justin Lin, director of the third through sixth films, also returned. F9 explains how Han survived.
"Justin and I, we gave birth to Han together," Kang said. "Han is so important to him, not only within the story but in his personal life as an Asian American man of what Han represents."
The explanation of Han's return also makes him a caretaker for the new character Elle (Anna Sawai). Kang said Han has grown up and matured since fans last saw him racing cars.
"When crisis affects you, how Han, or how one deals with it, creates his cadence and how he walks for the rest of his life," Kang said.
Returning characters also got to show growth in F9. Tyrese Gibson's character, Roman, has been comic relief in previous films. The 42-year-old Gibson said F9 allowed him to be more dramatic.
"I have a problem with authority," Gibson said of Roman. "Instead of me barking back at authority and always following it with a joke, this time I barked back at authority and just kept barking."
F9 is the third film in the series for Nathalie Emmanuel. Furious 7 introduced Ramsey, Emmanuel's hacker character.
Ramsey shares many scenes with Roman and Tej. The 32-year-old Emmanuel said Ramsey has become a foil to Roman and Tej.
"She enjoys putting them in their place," Emmanuel said. "They're a fun little trio where we get some of the comic relief."
In F9, Roman questions how the characters have survived all the missions they've been on. Citing outrageous moments like the tank chase from Furious 6 and submarine chase from Fate, Roman wonders if they are immortal.
"The audience watching these movies is probably going to be thinking this," Gibson said. "I'm just calling out the obvious that we're all still alive. No one's been shot and killed in the movie, in the franchise, and it doesn't matter how crazy, big and ridiculous the stunts are."
Ramsey and Tej mock Roman for his theory. Behind the scenes, Emmanuel said she enjoyed being part of scenes that addressed the fans' questions.
"It's obviously, in a way, almost laughing at this idea that these people are surviving these deathly circumstances over and over and over again," Emmanuel said. "I just thought that was such a great way to wink at it a bit and have fun with that because it's true."
Many of the additions to F9 were answers to fans requests, too. After the series presumably killed off Han for a second time in Furious 6, fans tweeted #Justice4Han, leading the filmmakers to write him back in.
"It's humbling, the fact that a character that I played that has died multiple times, there's a call to action to bring this character back," Kang said. "There's this feeling of injustice by the fan base, this itch that needs to be scratched."
Emmanuel said she also felt the pressure to live up to fans' expectations. She said she did not want the ninth film in the series to be the one that let them down.
"We want them to love it," Emmanuel said. "The fans, in a way, drive you to really commit to that character building and to the other characters within the story."
F9 opens Friday in theaters.