When you're with Vin Diesel, you're family. Silver screen legend Rita Moreno experienced the Fast & Furious franchise patriarch's familial manner firsthand when she flew to London to film a small role in next summer's blockbuster-to-be, Fast X. The EGOT-winning West Side Story star plays Dom Toretto's grandmother, Abuela Toretto, in the currently shooting 10th installment in the series, and tells Yahoo Entertainment that the experience was "lovely."
"I went all the way to London for that, because that's where they shoot these movies," Moreno revealed while discussing her upcoming Lifetime holiday movie, Santa Bootcamp. "I had two scenes that took place in her little backyard. It was supposed to be a dinner with all of his people — they all come to Abuela's house for a wonderful dinner."
But one important Fast & Furious family member couldn't attend Abuela's gathering in person. Nine years ago this month, Paul Walker died in a tragic car accident during the production of 2015's Furious 7. While his character — Dom's rival-turned-surrogate brother, Brian O'Conner — remains alive and well in the franchise's universe, Brian has understandably sat out Team Toretto's subsequent adventures. (Walker's brothers, Caleb and Cody, served as stand-ins for the remainder of the Furious 7 shoot, and some have speculated that they could fill in again for a potential Brian cameo in Fast X.)
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Since 2013, Diesel has made a point of keeping his friend's spirit alive through emotional social media tributes and in-movie tributes. (Diesel is also the godfather of Walker's daughter, Meadow, and walked her down the aisle last year for her wedding to Louis Thornton-Allan.) And Moreno says the latter tradition continued on the Fast X set, which is being overseen by director Louis Leterrier after original helmer, Justin Lin, departed the film earlier this year.
"There was an empty chair [at the table]," she recalls. "I said, 'Who's supposed to sit in this one?' They said, 'Paul.' I thought, 'Wow, that was really so touching.' [Vin] really loved him. They had a wonderful relationship."
It sounds like Diesel and Moreno are now Fast friends as well. The actor personally recruited her for the part, and announced her casting in a video posted on the franchise's official YouTube channel earlier this year. "It's been my dream forever to work with Rita Moreno," Diesel said at the time. "The fact that she's here playing my grandmother makes my soul smile. I'm so blessed."
"He's a fan," Moreno marvels now. "Who would have guessed? Vin Diesel is my fan! He thinks I'm swell, and I think the same way. He's a real family man, by the way. A very serous family man with a gorgeous wife and children." We can't wait to see Abuela Toretto get behind the wheel in Fast 11.
Watch our full interview with Rita Moreno on YouTube
Fast X races into theaters on May 19, 2023.