Michelle Rodriguez, Debbie Evans’ bond helps create ‘Furious’ stunts

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The fun behind the wheel Michelle Rodriguez has in the Fast and the Furious series? That isn’t really her.

Thanks to her longtime stunt double, Debbie Evans, it’s Rodriguez who’s among the stars of the franchise but Evans who’s getting to have a lot of the fun.

“If anything happens to her, the movie’s down. If anything happens to me, they get someone else!” Evans laughs.

It’s that immediate chemistry between the two that has allowed them to work together over several films throughout the Universal Pictures’ Fast and the Furious franchise, continuing with the eighth installment of the series The Fate of the Furious, which opens today in theaters nationwide. F. Gary Gray directs this film, which besides Rodriguez also features stars Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Charlize Theron and Tyrese Gibson leading the cast.

Evans is one of Hollywood’s top stuntwomen with a resume that sparkles. She’s been Rodriguez’s lead stunt driver for six films in the series and been inducted into the American Motorcyclist (AMA) Hall of Fame and The Hollywood Stuntmen’s Hall of Fame, among others.

The two also collaborated on another fun feature to help build anticipation for the movie, a Castrol EDGE Titanium Trial video called “Titanium Ice,” a virtual reality display.

“The performance was amazing. I pushed that car to the edge! It performed flawlessly. I thought the engine might blow!” Evans laughed.

Virtual reality is one thing, of course, but the appeal of the Fast and the Furious is the visceral reality of driving. The car connection that has permeated throughout the previous seven movies has appealed to a primarily young audience, but has made waves to such different demographics.

UNIVERSAL CITY, CA – MARCH 12: Actor Vin Diesel (L) and actress Michelle Rodriguez arrive at the premiere Universal’s “Fast & Furious” held at Universal CityWalk Theaters on March 12, 2009 in Universal City, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Rodriguez has played Leticia “Letty” Ortiz from the start, with the franchise having been an integral part of her career almost straight from the start.

“It was more of an interview than anything, and it was Vin (Diesel) saw me in Girlfight… and the director sought me to cast him as his girlfriend in the franchise,” she told NBC Sports.

“It was my introduction into Hollywood, and it was really my third film as I did another indie in-between. For me it was an introduction to Hollywood features… and I thought I would be having the same kind of fun Debbie does! Little did I realize that insurance says no!

“So half of the cool stuff, working in action movies, which was the realm that as a tomboy, that I just dreamed of, jumping out of windows, doing gun tactical training, racing cars, yeah… no. Debbie has all the fun!”

Since Evans has done the majority of the stunt work, it’s up to her to recap some of her favorite stunt scenes she’s performed. In this series, Evans said one from the original film was best.

LOS ANGELES, CA – MAY 20: Stunt woman Debbie Evans arrives at the 7th Annual Taurus World Stunt Awards at Paramount Pictures on May 20, 2007 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Charley Gallay/Getty Images)

“My favorite stunt was on the first one, driving the car underneath the semi-truck and then flipping it! Today to this day I have people ask that was CGI. No, I was in the whole thing. That was all real,” Evans said.

Rodriguez laughed and responded, “I’d love to feel what it’s like to flip a car and land in the roll cage. (I bet) It’s like being in a laundry machine!”

As the Furious franchise isn’t Evans’ only series, there’s been other stunts she’s loved to perform.

“Another one was I turned my car over in a tunnel in What Dreams May Come, a Robin Williams movie,” Evans said. “I had a Porsche 911. The coordinator said it’d be nice if you could hit the top of the tunnel. It was about 18 feet high.

“So we figured out just where I needed to hit the ramp, broke the light at the top of the tunnel, flew 95 feet, then hit the ground.

“I was in the air so long, I’m like, the ground’s coming…”

Evans though, it seems, was destined to drive from birth. Her professional accolades come as she started as a kid, only progressing from there.

“I grew up riding motorcycles; I started riding when I was 6, competing when I was 9, rode against the men, rode for Yamaha, factory-sponsored and all that,” she said. “So I’ve always been into motorsports. I’ve always loved cars. I am just the luckiest person, most fortunate person to drive an Enzo Ferrari, the Jag F Series.”

Rodriguez brought some humor to that description when discussing her own interest in cars and racing, piqued by her role within this franchise.

“I think when Debbie was born, she came out in a Ducati!” she laughed. “Mom gave birth and there was a motor sound… then a cry after the liquid came out!”

It’s that witty banter that has allowed the two to flourish together over the length of the franchise, continuing with today’s release of the latest installment.

F1 Preview: 2018 Australian Grand Prix

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Save for two occasions, in 2006, and 2010, the Australian Grand Prix has served as the season-opening event for the FIA Formula 1 World Championship since 1996, and this weekend’s event will be the 21st time that the city of Melbourne has kicked off the Formula 1 campaign.

The 2018 season is the fifth one of the current hybrid power unit era, the second season of the current aero regulations, and the second under Liberty Media’s guidance.

Last year saw titans Mercedes AMG Petronas and Scuderia Ferrari duel for supremacy for most of the season before Mercedes distanced Ferrari late in the season to take the constructor’s title and the driver’s title, with Lewis Hamilton, who is now tied with Sebastian Vettel on four world championships apiece.

Four drivers on the grid have Formula 1 world championships to their name: Hamilton, Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen, and Fernando Alonso. Scuderia Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley also has a world championship to his name as a two-time titlist in the FIA World Endurance Championship.

So, what can viewers expect from the 2018 curtain-raiser in Australia? A handful of things to watch are below?

2018 Australian Grand Prix – Talking Points

Does Anyone Have Anything for Mercedes?

Only on one day during pre-season testing did a Mercedes driver lead the way – Lewis Hamilton was fastest on the final day of Week 1 at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

However, all indications were that was by design, with the team focusing the majority of the second week, if not the entire second week, on long runs with their W09 EQ Power+ chassis.

Such a decision is an ominous one, in that it indicates the team is very comfortable with the amount of speed in the car and did not see a need, or desire, to show their hand during testing.

With that in mind, the Mercedes duo of Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas may yet again have the best and fastest cars, and the team looks poised to potentially make it five constructor’s and driver’s championships in a row.

Ferrari and Red Bull Look to End Mercedes Reign

The biggest threats to Mercedes are undoubtedly Ferrari and Red Bull, the only other teams to win in 2017.

And both teams displayed a lot of pace during testing, particularly in the “one-lap speed” category. Ricciardo set a lap record around the Catalunya circuit during the second week, only for Vettel to supplant that mark later in the week. Teammate Kimi Raikkonen led the way during the final day of testing.

It is unknown how that pace will translate over the course of a race distance. Mercedes appeared to have an edge on both Ferrari and Red Bull over long runs and race simulations, but there is also a theory that neither Ferrari nor Red Bull had their true long-run form on display.

Still, if a team is going to knock off Mercedes, it will likely be either Ferrari or Red Bull.

McLaren on the Rebound?

Put simply, the previous three seasons for McLaren F1 Team were a bit of a disaster. Their partnership with Honda yielded point totals of 27 (2015), 76 (2016), and 30 (2017) in a three-year venture that was defined by poor reliability and underwhelming power.

The relationship hit a boiling point last year and both entities parted ways ahead of the 2018 season, with McLaren signing a new power unit deal with Renault.

Testing went better than in previous years, though the team continued to battle reliability problems. However, all issues appeared to be minor, needling issues rather than more significant, foundational problems, as the other Renault teams (Red Bull and Renault Sport F1 Team) had solid runs with few reliability issues.

The car does appear to have speed in it, so if the reliability problems are behind them, McLaren could be in for a rebound season.

Stuck in the Midfield Again

Formula 1’s battle amongst the midfield is set to be as fierce as ever as a host of a several teams have a chance at being “best of the rest.”

Sahara Force India has been the frontrunner from the the midfield teams each of the last two years, finishing fourth in the constructor’s title in both 2016 and 2017, though if the steady conflict between drivers Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez continues through 2018, it could hamper their efforts significantly.

Renault Sport F1 Team and Haas F1 Team look to improve on their 2017 form, while Toro Rosso is in a new partnership with Honda power units…and has experienced a surprisingly smooth pre-season as Honda’s 2018 platform looks significantly better, with the team enjoying a solid run of testing with few, if any, reliability problems.

Williams Martini Racing and Alfa Romeo Sauber appear to be at the back of the pack entering the season, but both could battle for points finishes if those ahead of them falter.