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.

 

For you specifically, Fast Five allowed you to get more involved in the action and the stunts finally. Did that feel really long overdue?
It was, yeah! Especially in the fourth one, I was just the chick at home, holding down the fort. It was like, “Come on!” And before we started making this one, Justin 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.” I was so happy that I was able to do that. It’s so gratifying, it’s so much fun. And then to be able to see that on screen was so amazing. I loved it.

It’s always difficult, though, the first time you do a stunt. Like, the first time you jump, or the first time you’re getting used to a rhythm. But then it gets really fun, and you’re like a kid in a candy store—“Let me do it again! I want to do it again!” [Laughs.] When we were shooting in Puerto Rico, though, I did rip my hand open, and I had to get stitches and I went to the hospital, but that was about it as bas as it got, which isn’t that bad. And now I have a nice scar on my hand, which I’m very proud of.

How’d you rip it?
Well, my hand got stuck in the metal roof, and then I was just dangling from my hand. We super-glued it initially.

Wait, you super-glued your hand? Aren’t they supposed to have top-notch medical units on big Hollywood sets?
[Laughs.] You’d think so, right? Well, I call it “super glue,” but it was actually something a bit more professional, though it was basically super glue. It was kind of like we just used Elmer’s glue. [Laughs.] There’s kind of this rule where after three hours it’s not worth getting stitches anymore, but we kind of broke that rule.

Aside from hand-ripping, what keeps the character fresh for you after all of these movies?
Just like any other human being, she keeps growing. She keeps evolving, which is awesome. She went from being a girl in her brother’s shadow, not completely knowing what’s going on, to being betrayed and having to forgive Brian [Paul Walker], and now she’s kicking ass on her own and she’s with the boys on the run, and she has a lot to protect. So to be able to play all of those things, and go on that evolution, is really fun.

You’ve been playing the character since 2001, so you can definitely take ownership of her at this point. Are you able to provide input to the screenwriters and help direct her storyline, or do you just leave it up to the writers?
Justin is really good about meeting with each of the actors before we start shooting, and he talks about where each character is going. It’s definitely a collaboration with Justin, which is amazing, and this was my third movie with him, so it’s really easy and wonderful to work with him at this point. He’ll ask me, “So, where you do you think Mia is at now?” And we’ll email back and forth. And also, working with the writer [Chris Morgan] was great. He was on set a lot, so that was awesome.

With Justin Lin’s direction, you can see such an evolution from when he directed The Fast And The Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006), particularly in Fast Five’s extremely ambitious action scenes. The vault sequence on the highway at the end, for example, is a knockout. How’s it been to see Justin Lin evolve into this legitimate blockbuster filmmaker?
Well, working with him on Annapolis, I was a huge fan of his movie Better Luck Tomorrow, and one of the things I loved about Better Luck Tomorrow was that there was so much frenetic energy and cool camerawork in that—he brought a lot of that into this movie. Of course it feels like a big-budget Hollywood movie, but, on the other hand, you feel like you’re with the characters. In the foot chase scene in Brazil, he used a lot of handheld cameras, and I think he stays close to that independent world in that way. It shows in the action scenes.

With that vault sequence, and a lot of the action stuff in general, they have this thing now where they can show you what you’re character is going to do; it’s this little animated version of your character. [Laughs.] They can show you what you’re doing in the car. It’s like, “Oh, great, I’m going to copy that.” That makes things a lot easier—they didn’t have that 11 years ago when we made the first one.

When you see that animated version of yourself crashing, do you have second thoughts? “Wait a second, there’s no way in hell I’m doing that!”
No, not at all! I’m like, “Man, that’s going to look amazing!” [Laughs.] It gets me really excited about it.

Were you able to get directly involved with any of the DVD/Blu-ray bonus features?
There were always cameras shooting us, getting behind the scenes, and showing us what’s going on in Video Village, which is where you get to see the takes played back and where Justin hangs out with the producers, watching what they’re shooting. So I can’t wait to see it—I haven’t seen any of the extras yet myself.

Hopefully we’ll get to see some of the animated Jordana Brewster.
[Laughs.] I know! She has bangs, actually—she looks very different from me. It’s hysterical.

Seeing the Fast & Furious movies with a packed crowd does them so much justice—the fans shout and cheer during every scene, and it’s this real communal vibe. Have you ever seen one of the movies in a packed theater like that?
Oh, yeah—I love doing that. I’ll call my parents and friends and ask, “OK, so what theaters have you seen it in?” I’ll get crowd reports from my friends. [Laughs.] “OK, how crowded was it? What were people saying?” That’s part of the fun of opening weekend, and the excitement of it.

The producers and everyone involved with these movies totally understand their audience, perhaps better than any other franchise out there, and they always deliver exactly what the audience wants and expects. Why do you think the franchise has been so good at that?
I think the action is awesome, and it keeps building on itself. And I think it’s the characters, the sense of family and the sense of code that they have amongst each other—people really like that, as well.

In terms of the next one, what would you like to see happen for Mia? In Fast Five, we learn that she’s pregnant, so there are various different directions they could go with her now.
Well, I’d love to see her continue to get involved in the action, especially now that she has the baby—I think the stakes are higher, and she has more to protect. She should get even more ferocious about protecting her family.

How many more of these movies can you see yourself making? Is there an expiration date for you?
It’s really hard to get tired of doing something so that’s so fun, so I can’t imagine that I’ll get tired of making these movies any time soon. If we get to Fast Ten, I’ll be all for it!

Interview by Matt Barone (@MBarone)