Fast & Furious 9: Vin Diesel Reveals Paul Walker Inspired John Cena’s Casting

Fast & Furious franchise star and producer Vin Diesel says a sign from late co-star Paul Walker inspired him to cast John Cena as Jakob, the brother of Mia (Jordana Brewster) and Diesel's Dominic Toretto, in F9. Walker's character, Dom's brother-in-law Brian O'Conner, was written out of the franchise in 2015's Furious 7 following Walker's death in a car crash at the age of 40 in 2013. According to Diesel, who named four-year-old daughter Pauline in Walker's honor, Diesel knew he found the "right person" to play his on-screen brother when Cena was sent by his off-screen brother:

"[Cena] came to meet me at my gym right before we were shipping out to make the movie, and I put a post on Instagram that said, 'Thank you Pablo,'" Diesel told ET Online. "Because I felt like someone had brought me the right person to play Jakob."

In the Instagram video published April 25, 2019, Diesel said he's "always thinking Fast and thinking about the responsibility of making something iconic and deserving of your loyalty."

"I know this sounds crazy but every blue moon, I feel like Pablo up there sends me someone. Another soldier for the fight for truth," Diesel said in the selfie video. "And today, someone came by the Toretto gym that speaks to what Pablo would have brought me. All love always."

The first F9 trailer, released Friday, revealed master thief, assassin, high-performance driver Jakob — Dom and Mia's never talked about brother. The sibling rivalry between Dom and Jakob is strong, but it's cyberterrorist Cipher (Charlize Theron) — who previously menaced the Toretto crew in The Fate of the Furious — who is pulling the strings.

Despite the bad deeds committed by Jakob in the film's explosive trailer, Cena says it's "not true" he's playing the Fast franchise's newest villain.

"We'll leave it for the audience, we'll leave it for the Fast family around the world to decide who's bad and who's good," he told ET. "Keep in mind, the trailer shows just enough for you to have a ton of questions — and me not to be able to answer any of them!"

That summation is "fair," added Diesel. "You're going to have to decide. Like, all the characters in this saga, they are multidimensional and there are no cookie-cutter characters. They all have layers, as we've seen... But we're so excited about this!"

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In a separate interview with Extra, Diesel said the loss of Walker "drives you to make the most powerful film you can make."

Fast & Furious 9 releases May 22.