As the "Fast & Furious" franchise continues to rev its engines with no signs of stopping any time soon, one man continues to play a vital role in Dominic Toretto’s infamous crime family: Roman Pearce. First introduced in "2 Fast 2 Furious" as a sort-of replacement for Vin Diesel, Roman has undergone one of the larger character shifts in the now-packed franchise. Viewers have witnessed him go from being a curt tough guy to an overly talkative smoothie.
Just as capable as any other member of the team, Roman brings an element of comedy to the franchise that would otherwise be wall-to-wall strong silent types. Say what you will about the heroes within Dom’s family, but there’s not a ton of charm there to carry a movie forward. That’s why Roman, played by Tyrese Gibson, is around to pull off scenes with fumbling aplomb. It gives the audience a few chuckles before they’re slammed back to watching Diesel silently pummel big bads.
Still, for all of his failures as the group’s resident "talker," there’s actually a lot more to Roman than meets the eye. Unlike some of the other characters who return to the franchise in "Fast Five" after years away, Roman has a lot of backstory and depth to his character that’s worth exploring in its entirety. This is Roman Pearce’s story, from his origins in Barstow to his wide-open future.
Roman’s character growth
Roman has undergone perhaps the biggest character change in the franchise. When the audience is introduced to him, he’s a very angry young man who has a massive problem with authority, particularly the police. It’s revealed that he did some time behind bars over crimes committed in his youth, but it quickly becomes apparent that his problem with cops has little to do with that experience. In fact, his animosity is rooted in the betrayal he felt when his best friend turned his back on a life of crime in favor of a career in law enforcement. Roman’s anger comes from a lack of trust in anyone, especially the system.
However, after the events of "2 Fast 2 Furious," audiences catch up with Roman years later, after he’s had some time to mellow out in Miami and spend the small fortune he stole. Where once he was a man looking to solve all his problems with his fists, Roman now returns to the game as its resident "talker." He understands that his fists can only bash down some doors — others require a quick wit and a smooth smile to grease the hinges.
That’s not to say he’s lost his way in combat; it’s just not his go-to move anymore. However, while he is a skilled fighter, sometimes his propensity to over-talk lands him (and the mission) in trouble. Roman has experienced failure — what sets him apart is that he’s okay with it.
A troubled kid
Not much is known about Roman’s youth, but it can be inferred that a life of crime was pretty much always in the cards for him. Born and raised alongside Brian O’Conner in Barstow, California, Roman and Brian were predisposed to getting into trouble. In high school, their only wholesome activity seemed to be sports. However, it wasn’t long before all that dried up, and the duo found their way on the mean streets by being particularly good with cars.
However, somewhere along the line, the dynamic duo separated. While Brian decided to pursue a life in law enforcement, Roman took the completely opposite path and got way more into his local criminal operations. One day, police raided his garage to find he was keeping some stolen cars inside. He always wondered if Brian ratted him out — in fact, he spent years behind bars and then under house arrest asking himself that very same question, over and over again. Slowly, he lost his trust in other people.
Fortunately, Roman is able to shake off his long-held grudges when his old friend returns with a pretty juicy deal to help get him back on his feet.
Only his homeboys call him ‘Rome’
After the events of the first film, Brian O’Conner ends up on the run from the law. He makes his way to Miami, where he is eventually picked up by the FBI in the street racing community. Fortunately, his skills make him more useful in the field than behind bars, and he is offered the job of posing undercover as a driver for notorious drug kingpin Carter Verone.
It’s unclear if his past with Roman weighs on his conscience, or if he just plain knows he’s the right man for the job. Regardless, Brian insists on bringing his old buddy back into the fold. So, he travels back to Barstow to find his friend under house arrest, competing in a demolition derby. After three years behind bars, Roman now lives in a trailer and gets by winning the regular competition.
Brian offers him a chance to get off house arrest and have his criminal record wiped clean. Roman ignores the deal at first, but becomes enraged when Brian has the gall to call him by his nickname, "Rome." The two fight, and Brian is able to submit his old friend, who reluctantly agrees to take the deal. It isn’t the last fight that Roman loses in the franchise, and it certainly isn’t the last thing he reluctantly agrees to do for Brian. With that, he’s back in the game, but at a much higher level.
Back in the game
Although Roman is no stranger to the type of driving that this undercover mission requires, he’s definitely in over his head when it comes to the police work. In his dealings with Verone, he’s combative, mouths off, and even demands more money, in a move that could absolutely sour the deal they’ve worked so hard to achieve.
Still, he manages to get hired alongside Brian for a job running cash for the criminal. However, they both quickly realize things aren’t what they seem. After discovering trackers in their cars put there by the feds and learning that officers plan to use them as bait for Verone, knowing full-well that he plans to kill his drivers as soon as the job is done, they realize they have to take matters into their own hands.
The two boys from Barstow hatch a plan to get everyone in the Miami racing community to conduct a big "scramble" of cars, to cover their exit once the police inevitably start pursuing them and the money. Their plan works, but it turns out that Verone had given them a dummy drop-off location in the event they tried anything clever.
Roman escapes clean, but he knows that Brian is caught in the hands of a madman with no backup. This is when he makes the decision that changes his life forever: Roman goes back for his friend, despite all the hard feelings he has about getting arrested, all those years ago.
The first family member
Family never leaves a brother behind. Roman crashes his car into Brian’s, saving him from getting executed. The two then pursue Verone on a yacht by jumping their car directly into it, causing Roman to break his arm. Fortunately, they’re able to take down Verone and make good on their deal with law enforcement, even though they were planning to leave them for dead.
With their criminal records expunged, Roman reveals that he hid some of the money on his person, rather than turning it in for evidence. With that, the reunited friends ride off into the sunset. While the ending of this movie may look like a simple moment of two friends reconciling, "2 Fast 2 Furious" ends up meaning more in the context of the larger franchise. It’s generally agreed upon that the "Fast & Furious" films are about the "family." One could thus make the argument that Roman is the very first family member.
Sure, Brian and Dom are kind of the core duo. But they bond over Brian letting Dom go at the beginning of the first movie, which he reveals in the sequel was a move he was motivated to make out of guilt over what happened to Roman. So, one could argue that the origin of the family is rooted in Roman and Brian’s friendship, rather than Brian and Dom’s. If Roman hadn’t been such a sloppy criminal, the group may well never have formed.
Fastest gums in the south
Roman goes on ice for a bit while Brian heads off to join the FBI and reconnect with Dom over the investigation into Letty’s murder (which turns out to not be a thing, but that’s another story). He doesn’t return again until Brian and Dom are fully back together as criminal partners on the wrong side of a wanted poster in Brazil. When a local crime lord pins the murder of a DEA agent on them, they decide to use a stolen computer chip containing the crime lord’s secrets to rob him of $100 million. However, they need help.
Among the crack team members they bring in for the job is Mr. Roman Pearce, the resident "talker." Now, Roman is way more than just a mouth. He’s proven he can fight, drive, and is up for the crazy stunts the group decides to pull off, even if he is often the most reluctant to do so.
Speaking of Roman’s reluctance, he plays an important role in forming the group by doubting the motivation behind the score. He’s unafraid to stand up to Dom and suggest that the job they’re going to risk their lives for is personal. This forces Dom to get real with the people he brought in and, despite the roughly $11 million they all stand to gain, be completely open and transparent with them going forward. It’s also on this job that Roman’s friendship with fellow Miami car enthusiast Tej becomes apparent.
Roman has everything he needs after their success in Brazil. He’s fabulously rich, owns a private jet, and even has access to rare, flashy, and expensive cars. Moreover, by this point, he’s a full-fledged member of the family. So, even though he doesn’t know Letty, he travels to London to help rescue her. Fortunately, Brian works it out so that he and everyone else can get full pardons in exchange for working with the U.S. to stop the criminal enterprise that Letty has fallen in with. For Roman, this means fighting a tank.
The group eventually realizes the leader of Letty’s new gang, Owen Shaw, is trying to attack a heavily armored convoy. Roman is out in front of everyone when a tank is revealed. Although he’s typically considered the reluctant and cowardly one in the group, Roman steps up in a major way in this moment. In fact, he nearly sacrifices his life by getting out in front of the tank and drawing its fire. Luckily, he’s a skilled driver, and manages to dodge the blow. With his car disabled, he makes a daring escape by linking the dead-weight car to the tank and knocking it off a bridge.
That’s right: The car thief from Barstow almost single-handedly brings down a real-life tank on a highway in Europe. Like everyone else in "Fast & Furious 6," Roman graduates to a whole new level of crime and world-saving.
Abu Dhabi’s finest
After narrowly avoiding being sucked into a jet engine while taking down Owen Shaw, Roman and the rest of Dom’s family are finally allowed to return to Los Angeles. Life is grand … until Owen Shaw’s brother, Deckard, blows it up.
That’s when Roman and the others are recruited by Mr. Nobody to help find a piece of life-changing tracking technology, in exchange for revenge on Deckard. Always the skeptic, Roman finally voices that he’s tired of taking orders and insists on revamping the government’s plan. However, the plan gets away from him, and Roman chickens out when tasked with parachuting out of an airplane to attack an armored convoy. Fortunately, Tej helps him find his bravery by manually ejecting him, allowing a reluctant Roman to foil Deckard’s plan to stop the crew.
Roman proves invaluable to the crew yet again in Abu Dhabi when Brian, Dominic, and Letty desperately need a distraction. Tej asks him to "shine brightly, like only Roman Pearce can do." With that, Roman picks up the microphone and successfully distracts the crowd with an impromptu speech, before being accosted by security. Fortunately, by that time, he’s helped the team cause enough of a ruckus to escape with Letty undetected. As a result, he’s able to join the team back in Los Angeles. There, his knowledge of the streets he grew up on proves useful in outfoxing the terrorists using the tracking system. Thus, Roman Pearce saves the day once again.
At this point, Roman and the rest of the gang are a well-oiled, world-saving crime machine. That’s why he doesn’t think twice about accepting a call from Dominic to get the band back together to steal an EMP in Berlin. However, he is blindsided by Dominic betraying them and running off to deliver the EMP to a new enemy named Cipher. For a man who previously touted himself as the "double alpha" to Dom’s "alpha," he finds himself strangely up a creek. Add onto that the utter disrespect he feels at coming one shy of joining his teammates on Interpol’s Top 10 Most Wanted list, due to the EMP caper, and it’s clear that Roman is really struggling with this particular mission.
He is the first in the franchise to suggest bringing in Brian, but he’s reminded that the group agreed to leave him out of their lifestyle from now on. Once again, Roman reluctantly agrees to let Mr. Nobody and Letty call the shots as they chase Dominic to New York City, only for his vehicle to be disabled by Dom.
So far, Roman has seen his best plans under Dom collapse, and his best plan against Dom ruin his favorite Bentley. Although his relationship to Brian helped start the family, it’s hard not to wonder what’s keeping him going. The ultimate answer appears to be his deep sense of loyalty — the same one that made him feel betrayed by Brian in the first place.
Next stop, space?
After taking on the entire Rio police force, a cargo plane, an armored convoy, a literal tank, and a whole heck of a lot more, Roman doesn’t turn his back on his family. He accompanies the others to Vladovin, to rescue Dominic from Cipher. Admittedly, the deal has been sweetened a bit in that he’s allowed to drive a sleek Lamborghini Murciélago LP640. In what are by far the most daring conditions Roman has handled a vehicle in yet, he takes the bright orange sports car out onto the ice as he attempts to outrun a moving submarine. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work out, and he loses yet another car. But he is able to take down a decent number of enemies before he’s rescued by Tej, and they’re able to successfully save Dom and the world once again.
Just when it seems like there’s nowhere else for Roman to reluctantly go, an old enemy from Dominc’s past returns and forces the gang to new heights — literally. In 2021’s "F9," Roman and Tej get even more experimental than they already have by attaching jet engines onto a car and taking it into the atmosphere. One wonders, as the movies continue, how much further Roman’s story might go, as the sky is clearly not the limit. Could the troubled young kid from Barstow’s ultimate destination be outer space? Only time will tell, but if the past proves anything, it’s that Roman Pearce is going places.