‘Fast And The Furious 2′ Rolling Fine Without Diesel, Ja Rule

Ludacris, Paul Walker, director John Singleton confident in sequel despite loss of major players from original flick.

MIAMI — So, how do you make a sequel to a hit movie when the director isn’t participating and you can only get one member of the ensemble cast to return? Well, when you’re the people behind “The Fast and the Furious,” you thank Paul Walker for sticking around, replace Rob Cohen with “Shaft” director John Singleton, throw Tyrese and Ludacris into the mix and hope for the best. (Click to see exclusive photos on the set. )

Debate has raged for months as to whether Vin Diesel isn’t in “The Fast and the Furious 2″ because, as he says, he has too many franchises going already (see “Vin Diesel Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere: ’Pitch Black,’ ’XXX’ Sequels In Works” ), or because his reportedly $20 million asking price was too high. Either way, despite being offered a larger part in Diesel’s absence, Ja Rule opted not to return without the beefy “XXX” star’s presence (see “Ja Rule Talks ’Pitch Black’ Sequels, Nas Collaborations” ).

Speaking in between takes on the set of “The Fast and the Furious 2,” Walker doesn’t mince any words about making the sequel without the guy he shares an MTV Movie Award with for Best Onscreen Team (see ” ’Lord Of The Rings,’ Nicole Kidman On Top At MTV Movie Awards” ).

“You gotta understand, I mean straight up, my feelings were hurt,” Walker said. “I wanted to work with Vin again and it just didn’t happen. But you know, it’s one of those things, it’s a business thing, and that’s what I have to remember.

“[But] now, with the way things are … I wouldn’t change it for the world,” he added. “Tyrese and I are getting along really well. We hang out all the time when we’re not filming and that doesn’t happen too often. We’re rolling out — he was just shooting a music video this weekend, we had softball practice the other day. I’m having a good time, it’s a blast.”

“We’re introducing so many characters that we may end up going on to do other films,” said Singleton, who directed Tyrese before in “Baby Boy” and also helmed Ice Cube’s first movie, “Boyz N the Hood.”

“I wasn’t nervous about doing this picture without all of the original cast because, hey look, I made a career off of directing new people,” he added. “All of the people I’ve broken were nobody and then I put them in the movie and they became huge, so I was confident about the prospects of the film. Bringing Paul back, Tyrese coming in, who’s a friend, Cole Hauser, who people don’t know worked with me on ’Higher Learning’… It’s like everybody who’s anybody in this movie are gonna be the next.”

“My man John Singleton told me to try out for the part,” Ludacris said. “He said he liked all the videos, all the energy, the creativeness. So I tried out for it, I nailed it, and that’s why I’m here right now. It feels good, man — straight up.”

It’s been argued that the real appeal of “The Fast and the Furious” wasn’t the chemistry between Vin and Paul, or even the sexy allure of Michelle Rodriguez (who is also absent from the sequel), but the cars. “The Fast and the Furious” may have changed a few faces and moved its story line from California to Florida, but Singleton promises a picture that will still deliver the goods — and then some — when it comes to street-racing stunts and glamour.

“I actually have two cars in this flick,” Ludacris boasted. “One is a truck and another one is an Acura NSX, and it’s crazy. Both of them Louis Vuitton’ed out. The paint job is Louis Vuitton, it’s ridiculous.

“We went to driving school,” he added. “It was the most fun I’ve ever had in my life, I’m here to let you know. We went out to the airport, nothing but wide-open space. We were in Corvettes, we were in Hondas, they put out the cones. I’m ready to run the police out. I can run the police out right now. Matter of fact, when we leave set, I’m about to start speeding. I want the police to follow me and I’m getting home, nobody’s catching me — I’m outta here. No matter what car I’m in, I know how to do it all right now.”

Speaking of police, Walker reprises his cop role from the original, who’s out to redeem himself for his multiple procedural faux pas in the original by infiltrating a new gang of criminals.

“I play a guy by the name of Ted, who is basically like the ringleader of this whole automobile circus,” Ludacris said. “If anybody wants to race, he’s collecting the money and he is getting things started. If you need the hook-up on anything, he’s got it.”

“Ludacris is gonna shock the world with his performance in this movie,” Tyrese said. “I guess with music videos as well as just being a confident person just really pours over into movies … He’s got a really strong presence … And he got a perfect character in this role. It will be big for him.”

Singleton is confident that the movie will be big for all of them. “The whole atmosphere of this film, it’s like nothing anyone’s ever seen before. It’s like the movie’s not even a sequel. It’s like a whole other movie. I wouldn’t call it a sequel as much as I call it just a continuation.”

—Ryan J. Downey, with additional reporting by Nick Zano