John Cena talks Fast and Furious 9: "It's been a long, strange trip"

John Cena!
(Image credit: Getty Images)

John Cena has arrived. The hulking former WWE wrestler is wearing a three-piece suit while talking over Zoom about his latest movie, and we're going unexpectedly deep for a 10 minute chat to promote Fast and Furious 9

That's not really Cena's fault. In the run-up to the latest instalment in the newly minted "Fast Saga", showrunner Vin Diesel has said it feels like Paul Walker sent Cena to play Jakob Toretto, the brother of Diesel's character Dom. 

When GamesRadar+ asks whether the casting feels like fate, Cena doesn't reply with a simple "yes" and instead goes deeper into destiny and manifesting your own future. While we certainly did not have all day to talk through the intricacies of his beliefs, the actor – who has been winning acclaim since his appearance in 2015's Trainwreck – did also touch on playing Jakob, the future of the character in the Fast franchise, and his upcoming portrayal of Peacemaker in both The Suicide Squad and the spin-off TV series. Here's the Q&A, edited for length and clarity.

GamesRadar+: My first question is about your movie Blockers. Because in that film, Leslie Mann makes a joke about "What would Vin Diesel do?" and I was wondering, at the time, did you imagine that you would be going up against the man himself in Fast?

John Cena: Not in a million years. Honestly, to be in that car watching Leslie and Ike (Barinholtz) riff on the Fast and Furious, it made for such comedy because, Ike's impression of Vin and it's all about family. It was a really good situation for parody. But man, never in a million years did I think that that moment, in a weird sort of path or trajectory, would lead to this one. And now being part of the Fast family – I listen to me saying it, "Fast family", because it's real – I have a greater understanding. It's been a long, strange trip.

Vin Diesel and John Cena in Fast & Furious 9

(Image credit: Universal)

I think everyone who watches these films feels like part of the Fast family anyway, but you are, for real, a Toretto. How did how did you get into the headspace of Jacob and being a Toretto?

So normally, that would probably be a daunting task. In the ninth movie, this is the first time we find out that Dom Toretto has a brother. So as the viewer, even as a fan, why now? If I had to come up with all those ideas and make all those choices on my own, I don't think you'd see the same Jakob. But right next to me on either shoulder, I first have Justin Lin, who is tied for the most passionate about how to tie all Fast and Furious narratives together, which is why he did such a great job with F9. And then Vin, Dom Toretto himself. So I can be like, "Yo, why would your brother do this?" And my brother can say back to me, "Well, I think it might have been because I did this." Just having him taking that perspective of, "I'm not telling you what to do, but I'm telling you what I would have done in those years that we have not seen you." And man, that really helps. Because starting from an empty canvas, coming in as a new guy on the ninth installment, it's just too much information, I needed to be compartmentalised. And I had folks really good at saying, "This is your lane. This is the idea of what we think your lane is, feel free to enjoy the space but we will guide you in a direction." And that was so so helpful.

A lot of what we see from Jakob is through flashbacks, in which you have another actor, Finn Cole, playing a younger version of yourself. Did you work with him to help create the character? Or is it very much two different interpretations?

First of all, Finn, what an amazing casting and what an amazing job. When I see him on set, I'm like, "Oh my god, do I tell this kid all the all the weird things that are gonna happen to him in his life?" He looks like me, which is weird. It's crazy. But I think the Jakobs are very different. And I think that's explained very well in the movie. And we learn to realize who Jakob is and the path he's chosen from those moments that you see Finn play. And I don't think I made it any easier for him. If he watched what I was doing, because he has the whole dead time, those eight movies that we haven't heard about Jakob, there's the transformation. You get one Jakob, then you get eight movies of dead space, and then you get Jakob. He didn't once or, at least it shows, he didn't connect with anything that I portrayed. He was so awesome and innocent. And when people see the movie, they'll get it. But I think the flashbacks are such an important part of the movie. It's almost like you get this movie, and inside the movie is a prequel from the first movie, which is insane.

Fast and Furious 9

(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

The recontextualizing of the first film makes it feel like such an important part in the saga as well. And one of the interesting things about Jakob's character is that he's defined by his relationship with his brother. If you did return for future films, would want to define Jacob as his own character? Is that something you want to explore?

Oh, of course. Do I want to I want to stay on the Fast ride? Hell yeah, I do. It has been awesome. But I think that's the reason that resonates so heavy, especially with somebody like me. I got four brothers, I've been a younger brother. And I've been an older brother. And I know what it's like to live in my brother's shadow, and I know what it's like to be the shadow that my poor brothers have to live in. That's what really I enjoyed about this. So regardless of if Jacob has a future and where they take that future, I don't want to stake my claim as I think we should do this. Because those people making those choices, now in the ninth installment of Fast, have done pretty well for themselves. What I can't wait to anticipate is, "Hey, we'd like you to be part of the next journey, this is what we see. Maybe you do continue to live in Dom's shadow, maybe you do branch off." I think all those all those choices are interesting and can add to that dynamic that shows up on screen.

One of the things that has really struck me about what everyone's talking about surrounding this movie is your place within the franchise. Vin said that it feels like Paul Walker sent you, and Justin Lin said they created this character with you in mind. Did this feel like fate for you, all these things coming together?

Well, that dives into the question of fate and destiny and all that. That's a super deep question. I firmly believe, and this isn't the right way, this is just my perspective, I firmly believe that opportunities find us and you have to be ready. This was one instance where, "Hey, Vin Diesel wants to talk to you." "About what?" "No, he just wants to get together and talk." An easy responses is, "I don't have the time." Right there, whoosh, they're gone. But I did have the time. And I didn't walk in with just 10 minutes so as he's talking, I'm like, "I gotta get here." I walked in going, "This is my day. Let's see what happens." Could have been 10 minutes, we spent two hours together. And then after, he starts filming a social video, I still don't know what's going on, you can go back and look at the video, it's awesome because I look like a deer in headlights. I can, "Yo, don't do that." I didn't. I just let him do his thing. So a series of opportunities and me just being brave enough to go for it. So, in a weird definition of what fate is, I guess being brave enough to accept the opportunity and the circumstances that are attached to it. So, I don't know. I don't know. Cool, deep question. We'll take an hour with that one.

The Suicide Squad Peacemaker series

(Image credit: Warner Bros/DC)

A fun answer though! I do quickly want to touch on your future projects, The Suicide Squad and then the Peacemaker series. What element of that character are you most excited to explore over a TV series, now that you've had the time to really discover him?

So, we perform so that people other than ourselves can be entertained. If I wanted to just crack myself up or make myself cry, I could film videos on my iPhone and watch them over and over again. I hope you know with The Suicide Squad right around the corner, I hope people see the movie and want more. And that's what you hope out of a performance. And the series is basically just that, where we dive into an episodic journey about the character. So you're going to get a ton of information, you're going to feel a lot closer to a character you see in an ensemble piece. And I really think, it's this it's almost the same when people go to see F9. "Okay, John in this is Jakob Toretto." I want people coming out of the theater going, "Well, what are they going to do next?" That's our goal as a performer because that means they want to come back and see again. So Jakob essentially will have a future. I can only hope that people are so riveted with The Suicide Squad that they want to watch, Peacemaker and then whatever they take away from it, that hopefully we further that journey.

Fast and Furious 9 is in cinemas now. For more, check out our interviews with Vin Diesel about fate, and Justin Lin about being furious.

Jack Shepherd
Freelance Journalist

Jack Shepherd is the former Senior Entertainment Editor of GamesRadar. Jack used to work at The Independent as a general culture writer before specializing in TV and film for the likes of GR+, Total Film, SFX, and others. You can now find Jack working as a freelance journalist and editor.