Full disclosure: Of all the expensive comic book movies and sequels scheduled for 2011 release, the last one we expected to love, heading into the year, was Fast Five (available on DVD and Blu-ray today). The fifth, and seemingly unnecessary, installment into the Vin Diesel-led action franchise, Fast Five appeared to be yet another excuse to stare at beautiful women and envy the actors for pushing sick automobiles at law-breaking speeds—not a bad way to kill two hours, admittedly, but still a lowest-common-denominator form of cinematic entertainment.

But then we finally saw Fast Five, and the reaction was one of instantaneous and unanimous approval. Directed by returning helmer Justin Lin (who also shot 2006’s The Fast And The Furious: Tokyo Drift and 2009’s Fast & Furious), the latest entry is easily the series’ best, packed with a string of truly jaw-dropping stunts and car chases, as well as the persistent vibe of good times had by all involved. Another key ingredient to the sequel’s triumph is its unexpected “heist movie” set-up, which follows the franchise’s cemented trinity—Diesel, Paul Walker, and Jordana Brewster—and some old, familiar faces (including Ludacris and Tyrese Gibson) as they orchestrate a high-stakes “job” in Rio.

We weren’t the only ones impressed. Aside from atypically positive reviews from the franchise’s usually negative critics, Fast Five earned $210 million domestically, enough to warrant the inevitable Fast & Furious 6 (in development for 2013). For series regular Brewster, the blockbuster hit was also her character’s (loyal sister Mia Toretto) coming out party as an action heroine, no longer confined to the sidelines as a mere love interest.

With Fast Five’s home video release date upon us, Complex chatted with Brewster about what makes the fifth Fast & Furious edition the best one yet, how the on-set medics curiously repaired an injury of hers during one of her big action scenes, and why playing Mia Toretto is the greatest acting job imaginable.

Interview by Matt Barone (@MBarone)

Complex: For a lot of people, particularly the franchise’s most outspoken haters, Fast Five has been one of the year’s biggest surprises. It’s one of those rare cases where you can tell that the filmmakers totally nailed everything they set out to do with the film.
Jordana Brewster: Thank you, yeah. I loved making it, and I was really, really happy with the outcome. I thought Justin [Lin] did such a good job, and adding Dwayne Johnson was an awesome addition.

When the reviews started coming out, it was interesting to see how many critics who’d ripped apart the previous movies were heaping praise on this one. Did that surprise you at all?
I don’t read reviews, really; usually, I’ll just go on Rotten Tomatoes and look at the overall score. [Laughs.] I don’t read the specifics, though. It’s been so cool to hear that the response has been so positive, especially when you’re on the fifth one. You don’t want to disappoint the core fans, but you also want to bring something fresh and new to the table.

Adding the heist element helped a lot for this one, as did bringing so many of the original cast members back. It’s always so important for us, while we’re working on these movies, to not let the die-hard fans down at all, and I’m so happy that we’ve done good by them again.

Is it difficult for you all to keep things fresh, considering that you are on the fifth movie?
Well, I think one of the most important things is always… Of course the cars are a huge part of it, and the action is a huge part of it. But then I think a big reason why the first one was so successful was that the story was so good, and the characters were so close—it was such a tight-knit family of these oddballs, people who didn’t necessarily belong together, and weren’t really related, but they still had such a code amongst them.

Justin [Lin] was like, 'You’re gonna get to do so much more action in this one,' and I was like, 'Bring it on! I can’t wait.'

That’s something that we always think about, and we’re always working under the thought that, “The heart needs to be in there, or else there’s nothing.” So that’s something that we’re always very conscious of. But in terms of keeping it fresh, for the actors, it’s just so much fun to make these movies. [Laughs.] You’re shooting in Rio, and Puerto Rico, you’re traveling with friends—it’s not hard at all to keep the energy up and have so much fun in these movies.

The Fast & Furious movies are definitely strong examples of movies where you can tell that the actors are having a blast making them, especially in the performances.
Yeah, and it’s like, every time we’re doing something new. This time, we’re jumping off of buildings, and it’s new and different stunts. I think they’re going to keep coming up with new stuff for us to do, which is also really fun. So you just keep challenging yourself.

You mentioned Fast Five’s heist element, which I think was the coolest change from previous installments. Fast Five is the first one that doesn’t feel like a car movie at all—it’s much more in the vein of Ocean’s 11. When you first read the script, what was your reaction to that change?
It was a little surprising to me, actually, and I’m really glad that the fans embraced that. It’s fun because you have so many characters in the franchise, and this was a great way to get everyone involved and to have everyone have a different role in the heist itself, and it’s also a great way to involve the cars in a new, cool way. I thought it was really clever on our writer’s part.

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