By STEPHEN SCHAEFER
14 February 2000
Multi-talented actor hopes to put a new multicultural face on multitude of film heroes
You can call Vin Diesel many things: actor, writer, director. Just keep it professional. For Diesel, 32, questions about who he is exactly have been with him his whole life. His rivals in Boiler Room, a film opening Friday, refer to him with a racial epithet for blacks. "It's funny, I enjoy filmmaking as the creative thing I do, it's something I'm challenged by," he said. "The acting is more therapeutic. With acting, it's on paper what the (expletive) I am. That's a huge burden taken off my shoulders. I am truly multicultural. I'm neither black nor white, and I'm apprehensive about talking about this and starting a nationwide search. You see, I've never met my biological father, and that's the God's honest truth." It's clearly an uneasy subject for Diesel, but one he confronts fearlessly on screen and off.
Diesel is an increasingly busy actor. He has two films opening Friday, the other being the sci-fi adventure Pitch Black. He's perhaps best known as the GI who dies trying to save a little girl in Saving Private Ryan. Less well known are the short films he's made himself. In Multifacial, Diesel played a mulatto character. He wrote the part for himself and directed it. His character is multiracial in Strays, which he also wrote and directed. "If anyone thinks I don't have any color in me that's crazy," Diesel said. "I am Italian, I'm a bunch of nationalities, and I've gone through many phases. The man who raised me and is my father is a black man. My father is black, but while he's not my biological father, he taught me how to be a man. I feel I'm disrespecting the person who raised me since I was a year old to say anything else. "My father taught theater and was a director when I was younger. I wanted to be like him."
Boiler Room, a Wall Street-style drama, refers to the carnivorous crews who make their money selling often worthless stocks by phone to unsuspecting suckers. First-time writer-director Ben Younger's cast is headed by Giovanni Ribisi, the doomed medic of Saving Private Ryan, as the compromised hero; Nia Long (The Best Man) as a secretary "turned" by the feds; and Ben Affleck in a showy supporting role as the gung-ho trainees' boss. For the lone boiler-room seller with a conscience Younger cast Diesel based on what the director saw in Multifacial. "Vin was in Australia filming Pitch Black," Younger said. "I couldn't meet him in person but I saw a short film he wrote and directed, Multifacial, where he is this actor auditioning as an Italian thug and then he leaves and goes to talk with his agent on the phone. From that I knew he could do this."
Like Anthony Quinn, a Mexican actor most famous for playing Zorba the Greek and an Arab sheik in Lawrence of Arabia, Diesel hopes as an actor to play almost any nationality. "When I was younger there weren't any multicultural heroes," he said. "There was no such thing as a person who could list down 10 different nationalities. I feel I've overcome some stuff. What used to be the most restrictive aspect about me attaining my goals is now my ally. I don't know if there's ever been an actor who's played black or Italian. And I've just done a Jewish character in a movie called Knockaround Guys." And he gets to battle alien bats this weekend with Pitch Black, a sci-fi adventure with a little bit of Mad Max. Which also, it turns out, adds to the multiple facets of Vin Diesel. "I always wanted to be an action star," he said.
Copyright © 2000 Boston Herald Inc.
Diesel steps into spotlight with role in Pitch Black
By IAN SPELLING
5 February 2000
Vin Diesel is a creature of the night. "I love the nightlife, I love to boogie," he says, crooning a classic disco tune, horribly off-key. "Really, I am a night person." It's virtual typecasting, then, that the imposing actor co-stars in the new sci-fi adventure Pitch Black - written and directed by David Twohy and opening Feb. 18 - as Riddick, a convicted murderer with shimmering, surgically enhanced eyes that enable him to see in the dark. That ability proves useful when Riddick and a group of space travelers crash-land on a desolate planet whose three blazing suns swiftly set, giving way to nightfall and the onslaught of ravenous, flesh-eating flying creatures.
Nearly as dangerous are Riddick's volatile relationships with his fellow survivors: Johns (Cole Hauser) is the lawman taking Riddick to prison, while Fry (Radha Mitchell) is the pilot who crashed the ship but now leads the group. Imam (Keith David) is a Muslim whose faith is put to the test by the crisis, and Jack (Rhiana Griffith) is a teen with a secret. Farscape star Claudia Black plays Shazza, a plucky geologist, with Lewis Fitz-Gerald as Paris, a selfish antiques dealer. "It's almost impossible not to retrace some of the steps taken by other sci-fi films, but we wanted to make Pitch Black as original as possible," Diesel says. "We did that through the characters.
"Riddick, specifically, is going on a journey to explore his humanity," the actor adds. "He comes off at first as a villain, beastlike and nefarious, but later we discover he may have more humanity than some of the characters to whom we've attributed heroic qualities." For those who can't get enough of Riddick or Pitch Black, there's Into Pitch Black, a Sci-Fi Channel special that will debut Feb. 20. The hourlong companion piece centers on the government's search for Riddick after the crash and includes original footage, scenes from Pitch Black and Diesel reprising his role as Riddick.
Diesel may not yet be a household name, but in millions of homes he's already a household voice: The actor, whose credits include Strays - which he also wrote, produced and directed - and Saving Private Ryan, put the words in the mouth of the title alien robot in The Iron Giant. "It was a very different experience," Diesel says. "We had to dissect little things that in live-action films you overlook. A 'hmmm' was something you did 20,000 times, 1,000 different ways. Then I had to do the guttural sounds, which were deeper than my voice. I had to perfect that, then keep doing it."
The Iron Giant actually carries a spiritual message, the actor believes."It preaches that the soul doesn't die," he says. "That's what I believe, and I thought it was beautifully done in the film. It was done without being as didactic as some of the Walt Disney films, but it was effective. It's a message you want kids to hear."
Copyright © The Houston Chronicle Publishing Company.
Diesel feels universal power
By CINDY PEARLMAN
13 February 2000
Versatility provides fuel for rising career of actor
Vin Diesel is firing on all pistons. He just won't be fueled by the hype. "For me, acting is far more than fame or money. It's therapy," says the 32-year-old New Yorker. "It's also the only time I'm sure of my identity." His identity has always been a big question mark. In Saving Private Ryan, he played an Italian. In the upcoming Knockaround Guys, he plays a Jewish New Yorker. In Boiler Room (opening Friday), he's everyman. In the new sci-fi flick Pitch Black (also opening Friday), he's African American. Of Pitch Black, he says, "The most satisfying thing is that the part was written for a white guy." Look closely and it's hard to figure out Diesel's background. And for first time in print, he is ready to talk about his past. For years, he avoided questions about it.
"I am multicultural," says the actor, who doesn't consider himself black or white. He admits that he didn't know his biological father. "I don't have the luxury most people do in that department," he says. "The man who raised me is African American. He made me who I am. As far as I'm concerned he's my father." That man was a director of black theater who got Diesel interested in the arts. He also told his son that he would struggle. He was right. Diesel logged nine long years as a bouncer in New York City. "That allowed me to work at night and act by day." He also moonlighted in telemarketing. "I loved it. I could be a different personality with each phone call," he says. "I would become whoever they wanted to hear from on the other end. I learned to manipulate my voice." That came in handy when he provided the pipes for the machine who wants to be human in the critically acclaimed The Iron Giant. Getting roles in front of the camera has been a bit trickier.
Diesel found the script for Pitch Black while at the Sundance Film Festival a few years ago. After a grueling casting process, he found himself in the Australian outback shooting the futuristic story about a spaceship that crashes on an unexplored planet during an eclipse that brings out deadly, nocturnal creatures. A prison convict (Diesel) is the only one who can help everyone survive. In real life, Diesel barely survived the shoot. "We shot in the same place they filmed the 'Mad Max' series," he says. "One bad thing is that it was freezing at night, and for one scene they had to keep spraying me with water to simulate sweat. "The entire crew was in huge coats with furry collars and I was running around half-naked. Let's just say the ornery, hostile attitude of my character came rather naturally."
The strange golden eyes of his character did not come naturally. "In the future, prisoners are sent to these mines," Diesel says. "There was no light. People learn to polish their eyes so they can see better." Diesel didn't go that far for his art. "I did wear these gold-colored contacts," he says. "It was like having tiny metal Frisbees in my eyes." After his first 14-hour day wearing the golden contacts, he couldn't remove them. "The film company had to fly in an opthalmologist from three hours away to take them out. It was so painful," he recalls with a moan. Another stunt called for a dislocated shoulder. "They created a $ 60,000 device to allow me to do it. I shocked the director by doing the shoulder trick without the device. But since they had spent all that money, I was forced to use the thing."
Few tricks were needed for Boiler Room, in which Diesel plays a driven, hard-selling yuppie working at a disreputable brokerage firm. "I met with people who worked in these stock-trading chop shops," Diesel says. "They used to come into the nightclubs where I was bouncing." He shakes his head and explains, "They're young hotshots in expensive clothes, but they have no money in the bank. They spend it all on image. When their chop shops are closed down, they go bankrupt." He chose the film for simple reasons. And familiar ones. "I liked that there was no reference to color. No one makes a big deal that a white guy dates a black girl in the film. They're just treated like two people." That's all Diesel wants, too. "Because of my lack of color, I can't be Morgan Freeman or Sidney Poitier," he says, naming those two as his role models. "I would love to do a film like Guess Who's Coming to Dinner and do the Poitier role, but it wouldn't have the same impact with me in it because I don't strike people as being black. The good thing is that with my look I can play many races.
"I think not being pigeonholed because of a look is why my career is going strong. This ambiguousness that was once my drawback is now my selling feature. I'm universal. People relate to me in different ways." Diesel can also relate to being a Hollywood hyphenate. He wants to add screenwriter to his credits, and to that end just penned Doorman, based on his years as a bouncer. "I wrote it for Brad Pitt, but because of the heat around Pitch Black, the studio has asked me to rewrite it for myself." He sounds shocked at this turn of events. Then Diesel sparks to his own good fortune. "I think I'm supposed to say I feel hot," he says. "I also feel blessed because I've overcome some stuff and I've come out on the other side."
Copyright © 2000 Chicago Sun-Times, Inc. Distributed by Big Picture News Inc.
By JOEY BERLIN and DON MCLAUGHLIN
Copley News Service
14 February 2000
Vin Diesel's looks are misleading. The New York actor appears to be a muscle-bound bruiser whose unmistakable accent immediately casts him as a certain type: a lug. In truth, he's an actor, writer, director and producer, a quadruple-threat talent. His big break arrived when Steven Spielberg caught Diesel's 1994 short, Multi-Facial, at the Cannes Film Festival. Diesel was then cast as the ill-fated Caparzo in 1998's Saving Private Ryan. Early on, Caparzo is killed by German snipers, but his compelling, rain-soaked death is one of the acclaimed film's most unforgettable moments.
This year, Vin Diesel is a hot name in his own right. He's in two new films, Boiler Room, about ruthless telemarketers (re-uniting Diesel with Private Ryan co-star Giovanni Ribisi), and Pitch Black, where he actually plays the lead. A third feature, Knockaround Guys, is slated for later release. It's his moment, and the big guy is grateful. "I'm a very lucky kid," grins Diesel sheepishly. "As corny as it sounds, dreams do come true." Despite the sudden attention, Diesel still has nagging fears about his career. "I've got friends that say that I've hit the big time. I'm not comfortable with that. That's the last thing I'm thinking. Even while speaking here, I'm thinking about that next project, wondering how I'll get it made. It's always about the work. I learned that from Spielberg. He's a billionaire, with more money that God. Why does he make Private Ryan after succeeding with Schindler's List? He needs to make the magic. He doesn't think he's made it."
Pitch Black is likely to be the film where Diesel connects with the public. In this sci-fi nail-biter, he plays Riddick, a convicted killer being transported to a futuristic prison facility in deep space. Of course, everything goes haywire when the spaceship crash lands on a barren planet and Riddick has to be released. Not yet a name-brand actor, he had to screen test numerous times, but eventually won out. Despite a deep, rumbling voice and his pumped-up good looks, Diesel scoffs at the notion he's poised to become a significant sex symbol. "I'm not the good-looking guy in this film. I'm the dark spirit. All I wanted to do in this film is to appear cold, distant and untrustworthy, but with a little promise." When pressed to speculate on his prospects, Diesel offers up a surprising role model. "Before Braveheart, you'd have thought Mel Gibson could've done whatever he wanted. But he tries to get Braveheart made, and the studio doesn't want to do it. So, he does another Lethal Weapon and has to find a way to get Braveheart made. I identify with that."
Now in his early 30s, Diesel began acting at 7. "I wasn't earning a living or doing commercials, but I stumbled into a theater down in Greenwich Village," he recalls. "Actually, I went in with friends and started vandalizing the place. This woman emerged from a spotlight and said, 'If you kids want to play here, then come every afternoon at four o'clock. Here's your scripts and $20 a week!' To me, that's the most I ever got paid, even to today!" When he was 18, Diesel was already a veteran of the stage, but found the world of film mystifying and impenetrable. He made the requisite Los Angeles pilgrimage, convinced his New York credentials would blow the doors off the studios. Wrong. He took a job in telemarketing, selling tools to the unwary on the phone, just to make ends meet. Ironically, the experience made him an in-house expert on the set of Boiler Room. "As a New York hustler, I was very good at it," laughs Diesel. "Which is not something to be proud of. It's such a shameless job, but it's funny how it manifests itself in Boiler Room. I wasn't acting, but I was writing at night. I went back to New York, dejected, a failure. But I became a writer."
A Christmas gift from his mother changed his life. It was a book, Feature Films at Used Car Prices. "It's a guide to making movies for around $10,000," he explains. "I don't know where she had the insight to get me this book, but it's the most important book I ever read. I don't know if the information was all that practical, but the point is that it empowered me. Nobody in my family ever made money, but I found out I could earn enough to do a film in a few months. It gave me the tools for making my art." Then came Multi-Facial and Saving Private Ryan, and now Pitch Black and Boiler Room, and an apparently golden future. Thanks, Ma.
Copyright © 2000 Copley News Service.
By REBECCA ASCHER-WALSH
25 February 2000
As the killer-hero of Pitch Black and a hustling broker in Boiler Room, actor Vin Diesel shows that he can switch gears -- and puts his career in overdrive.
"It's a film that explores humanity, a life-and-death situation. The guys we perceive as heroes, the guys we perceive as nefarious -- what do they do?"
Vin Diesel, the mega-muscular, smooth-headed actor whose rich, gravelly voice makes Barry White sound like a castrato, isn't reminiscing about playing Private Caparzo in Saving Private Ryan. Instead, he's describing Pitch Black, a $25 million sci-fi thriller in which he stars as a psycho killer stuck on a planet with bat-winged aliens. But whether it's a film about saving the world, or a film about saving some other world, Diesel, 32, is determined to kick ass and take fame.
Raised in Manhattan, the son of a father who taught theater and an astrologist mother, Diesel (whose real surname is Vincent; he won't divulge his first name) dropped out of college to make Multi-Facial, a short about a struggling actor that screened at Cannes in 1995. Two years later, he entered Sundance with Strays, a feature he wrote, produced, directed, and starred in. While reaction to the films was mixed, Diesel's skillful self-promotion won him attention from the likes of Steven Spielberg, who, after watching Multi-Facial, cast him in his World War II epic. After Ryan, Diesel opted to stay in front of the camera, hopping from Pitch Black to the stock-scam drama Boiler Room (both films opened on Feb. 18).
Pitch Black may well make Diesel the terminator of the moment, but as director David Twohy recalls when he first learned of Diesel's interest: "I said, 'Good name, good look, but can he act?'" Twohy had heard rumors that Diesel "embodies the rampant hubris of young actors." (Diesel won't comment, but his demands got him thrown off Reindeer Games before filming began.) "That rep is really unearned," Twohy says. "Vin was always good energy for me."
Diesel was eager to follow up Pitch Black by playing a suburban Italian-American broker hankering for mainstream Wall Street acceptance in Boiler Room. "I wear a tank top in [Pitch Black], and I thought my next role had better be in a suit so I'm not [pegged as] Mr. Action," says the actor, who seems to bridge both worlds in real life, sporting a leather band on one wrist and a spanking new stainless-steel Cartier watch on the other. Diesel -- who has bought a villa in L.A. where he will live with his Staffordshire bull terrier, Winston -- is now revisiting his punkier roots, rewriting Doormen, based on his experience as a nightclub bouncer, for Interscope. Diesel says he was originally asked to write an ensemble film that could potentially star someone like Brad Pitt, but after Pitch Black screened, the producer called and said "'Just focus on your character.' That," says Diesel proudly, "was huge."
Copyright © 2000 Time Inc. & Entertainment Weekly.
Resilience Pays Off
By TONY MOTON
9 August 1998
There are a lot of jarring moments in Saving Private Ryan, Steven Spielberg's much-discussed World War II epic. Among them, for me, was seeing actor Vin Diesel in a leading role. I knew I had seen him somewhere before, but it wasn't until after the movie that I remembered meeting Diesel at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, in 1997. Diesel starred in a film titled Strays, a quirky romantic tale that represented his feature-length debut as a writer and director. He played a macho drug dealer searching for companionship in life. Strays was well-received by the audience that attended the film's premiere. His acting talents were impressive, and his chiseled physical attributes drew oohs and ahhs from women in the audience.
During an interview after the screening I asked Diesel if he had ever thought about doing an action film. But at that time he mostly was interested in getting a major distribution deal for Strays, which apparently eluded him at Sundance. Diesel graciously invited me to a private, post-screening party at a condo near the hub of the festival's activities. A native New Yorker, he was joined by fellow cast members and friends to celebrate the moment. Diesel, though surrounded by well-wishers, appeared genuinely humble about the fuss made over him.
Today the actor has a key role in Saving Private Ryan (he plays Private Caparzo, who dies shortly after trying to rescue a young French girl). I wondered how he hooked the part. Diesel's earlier work apparently won the admiring attention of filmmaker Spielberg. According to press information released for Private Ryan, Diesel previously had produced a short film, Multi-Facial, which was shown at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival. Spielberg reportedly created the role of Caparzo especially for Diesel. His nice turn in this major project is a happy end to the story. It is evidence that if young, aspiring - and talented - actors and filmmakers pursue their craft with confidence, they will get noticed.
Diesel wasn't the only budding film talent I had a chance to meet during my trip to Utah in 1997. At the Slamdance Film Festival, the smaller rival to Sundance, I literally bumped into a women who was pushing her film called I Love You...Don't Touch Me. We talked a little bit about the project, but I don't remember what the film was about. What I do remember is that I asked her for her baseball cap. She had been passing them out to people as a way to draw attention to her film, but the only one she had left was the one on her head. She reluctantly gave me the cap, which I still have and sometimes wear to the gym. Oddly enough, I happened to be thumbing through a recent issue of Vanity Fair magazine, which was themed "Hollywood 1998" and highlighted rising talent in the film industry.
Much to my surprise, the woman who gave me the cap off her head was pictured in Vanity Fair. So now I know her name - it's Julie Davis. Davis appears in a four-page photo spread with 22 other younger directors, whom the magazine dubs "The New Wave." Some of these people are well on their way to becoming household names, including Kevin Smith (Chasing Amy), Forest Whitaker (Hope Floats), Rob Bowman (The X-Files), Peter Cattaneo (The Full Monty) and Daisy Mayer (Party Girl). Wrote the magazine of this crop of shot-callers: "It takes more than overarching personal vision and knowing when to break for lunch to make a real movie director. It requires mastering a stare that shows you mean business. A 100-yard stare that cuts through (nonsense), silences the crew and says to the recalcitrant star, 'I don't care how messed up you are, come out of that trailer.'" And I guess it also helps if you're willing to hand over your baseball cap to a complete stranger. Just as I saw Diesel in Saving Private Ryan, I hope to see Julie Davis' work on the big screen soon.
As I have learned this past week, Diesel and Davis are positive examples that making it up the Hollywood ladder might come a little easier to those who know how to keep their egos in check when they're starting out as nobodies.
Copyright © 1998 The Omaha World-Herald Company.
Against formidable odds
By JAY STONE
19 February 2000
Vin Diesel is on a roll despite some bad press
You can forgive Vin Diesel if he feels misunderstood. The 32-year-old actor -- who has already made his mark with a small part in Saving Private Ryan and as the voice of The Iron Giant -- is breaking out with bigger roles in several high-profile films. The thing that connects most of his performances is that they are characters who are judged too quickly, who aren't what they first appear to be. Much like Vin Diesel himself.
If he's known at all, Diesel is famous as the poster boy for self-centred actors who want to rewrite films to meet their own demands. A story in Premiere magazine last year recounted how Diesel ''swaggered'' onto the Vancouver set of the upcoming film Reindeer Games ''as if the production were lucky to have him. Mr. Diesel was enumerating his demands before shooting had even begun.'' The story quoted director John Frankenheimer as saying, ''He came in and said, 'This is what I think about the characters, and we ought to change this and this.' Mr. Diesel's ideas had nothing to do with the movie we were making. The ideas were completely off the wall.'' Frankenheimer said he fired Diesel from the film.
Now, a few months after that story and on the eve of the opening of Reindeer Games, Vin Diesel has managed to construct a career anyway. He's the star of Pitch Black, a sci-fi thriller that opened yesterday, the same day as a second movie, Boiler Room, in which he co-stars with Ben Affleck, who is, coincidentally, the star of Reindeer Games. In yet another movie, Diesel has a part in Knockaround Guys, with John Malkovich and Dennis Hopper. And Diesel has his own version of the Reindeer Games story, one that makes him more a victim than swaggering actor. ''It's pathetic,'' Diesel said in a phone interview, his distinctively growly voice making it sound even less attractive than that. ''He's supposed to be this big, super director, and he is wasting his time talking about a young new actor.''
Diesel said he was asked by Bob Weinstein, the chief of Miramax, to take the part in Reindeer Games, and that Miramax wanted him so badly he offered him a deal to make a second picture when that was over, a deal that was both lucrative and high-profile. And when Diesel still balked because he did not like the role, Frankenheimer called him at home ''and he told me all these things he was going to add to the character, and how he was going to make this character come alive, which is a classic Hollywood story. ''And once I got up there John Frankenheimer just basically said, 'I'm too old, too busy and too rich to have to honour anything they said.' And I just knew at that point -- it was during rehearsal -- that they should hire somebody else. So I did the unconventional thing, which was walk away from all that money, the second picture deal.''
Diesel says he thought the parting was amicable, and he felt ''blind-sided'' when he read Frankenheimer's attack. ''Acting is a very serious thing, and I take pride in it. Every character I've ever played I believe in, no matter how small it is. Even if I only have 20 lines, like Iron Giant. I love the projects that I've done. And I don't want to compromise that, not until some day I have to. And I don't have to yet.''
Being misunderstood in real life is itself a metaphor for Diesel's movie roles, most clearly exemplified in Pitch Black. Diesel plays Riddick, a convicted murderer being transported to a punishment colony in a spacecraft that crashes on a strange and hostile planet. Riddick, who is at first one of the perils of the planet, later becomes the man the other survivors turn to for help. ''I think it deals with the idea of being pre-judged and rising above the limitations set on you by others,'' Diesel says. ''Whether it's showing more humanity than those around you expect or being the underdog that becomes the hero, or whatever.''
Diesel, who grew up in New York, got interested in acting early and studied English at college so, he says, he could write screenplays ''if I had to take a more proactive approach to the whole industry. And lo and behold, that's exactly what got me to where I am. '' He wrote, directed and starred in the short film Multi-Facial, which screened at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival, then wrote, produced, directed and starred in the future film Strays, shown at the Sundance Film Festival in 1997.
''Multi-Facial got me noticed by Steven Spielberg (director of Saving Private Ryan), and then Strays is how I met Ted Field (executive producer of Pitch Black).'' Field also hired Diesel to write, direct and star in Doormen, a film based on his experiences as a bouncer in New York City. Diesel is an imposing figure who -- speaking of pre-judgment -- looks a lot more like a bouncer than a filmmaker. ''It's a relatively rough job, and there are a lot of casualties,'' he says now. ''I think the novelty wore off after the first couple of years.''
While he was in London shooting Private Ryan, he heard about the animated movie Iron Giant. When director Brad Bird saw Multi-Facial, ''he would walk around the office imitating my voice. Saying, 'Where's Vin Diesel?' And the next thing you know I'm the Iron Giant.'' Like Multi-Facial, or Pitch Black, Iron Giant is another movie about identity and about people's expectations against the reality: the gentle soul inside the formidable physical presence. ''Yeah, it's been kind of a theme throughout the films,'' Diesel says. ''I don't know if it's something I actively ... I'm sure there are no accidents and it's something that I'm working out. Something that I'm attracted to. I guess it's a rebellion against judgment and the idea that formidable characters can also be human, or in Iron Giant, be sensitive. I think that is kind of the theme.''
Does he feel himself pre-judged? ''I think we all do. I don't know anybody who doesn't.''
Copyright © 2000 Southam Inc.
Some Heavy Italian Machinery
By JENNIE PUNTER
20 February 2000
Vin Diesel. The name sounds like it belongs to a European heavy-metal band, or ''some kind of Italian machinery,'' as the New York actor who owns the name suggests. That suggestion comes in a measured, laconic rasp with a built-in reverb and a baritone frequency which makes a whole room vibrate. Diesel used his vocal gift to great advantage playing the title character of last year's highly praised animated feature The Iron Giant, about a huge metal robot that falls to earth and develops human emotions through his friendship with a young boy.
Both the voice and accompanying body land on the big screen again Friday, in two independent films, the sci-fi thriller Pitch Black and Wall St. flick Boiler Room. In the former, Diesel stars as Riddick, a convicted murderer who is one of a handful of survivors after a spacecraft crashes on a seemingly lifeless planet. In the latter, he co-stars as Giovanni Ribisi's aggressive mentor at a shady brokerage. The two films mark the first time Diesel has appeared on screen since his memorable performance as Pvt. Carpazo in Saving Private Ryan. It was a role director Steven Spielberg created for the actor after seeing Multi-Facial, a short film Diesel wrote, starred in and directed. Multi-Facial screened at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival, and his first feature, Strays (same credits), was selected for competition at the 1997 Sundance Film Festival.
Late last year, Diesel, in actor mode, was in Toronto filming Knockaround Guys, a film about ''the next generation of gangsters'' in which he co-stars with Dennis Hopper and John Malkovich. Two months later, on an icy February morning, Diesel is back in town to talk about Pitch Black, written and directed by David Twohy (who also helmed sci-fi films The Arrival and Disaster In Time). ''Unlike many sci-fi films, this one I think successfully explores humanity and what different characters will do in a life-or-death situation,'' says Diesel. ''Riddick was the best character I've read in any script I've been given. What was appealing to me was that he is the least likely to be a saviour, the least likely to rise to the occasion.
''He's instantly vilified by the other characters, although he hasn't done anything. As far as motivation and preparation, I like to find a parallel similarity. So although I can't go around killing people, I have dealt with being pre-judged. We all have. So it's a case of taking that feeling and amplifying it for a performance.'' Pitch Black was shot in Australia, and no one in the cast felt more like a fish out of water than Diesel. ''I'm from Manhattan, the metropolis of the world, and all of a sudden I'm in the outback,'' he says. ''It was supposed to feel foreign and it certainly did to me. There were these huge plates of gypsum rock scattered all over this vast desert. The climate was brutal, hot in the day and freezing at night.''
Diesel started acting as a kid - ''Off-off-off-Broadway'' - and studied English and creative writing at college. While continuing in theatre, he also worked for nine years as a bouncer in New York city (his experiences are the basis of his latest writer-director project, Doormen) and still looks the part. ''I've always trained - weight lifting, boxing, lots of macho sports,'' he says, laughing. ''And for Pitch Black I started yoga, to help me adopt a more panther-like movement.'' But there was one part of his feline character no training could have prepared him for: Riddick's unnaturally glowing, near-white eyes.
''It was not a special effect, those were contacts,'' he explains. ''And they were a prototype that had never been worn before this film. After the first day I put them in to test them on camera. We had to fly an optometrist out to remove them because I drenched them with saline and they wouldn't come out. ''I ended up having to go to the hospital because my eye was scratched. We kept using (the lenses), but I demanded that the optometrist be there. I guess the director was able to convince me it was all for the sake of art.''
Copyright © 2000 Toronto Star Newspapers, Ltd.
Actor Vin Diesel's road to success
By GARY ARNOLD
11 February 2000
Makes room in busy schedule to write, too
"I love action films," the young actor Vin Diesel says, partially explaining why he can be found next weekend playing a rugged customer called Riddick in the would-be science-fiction thriller Pitch Black. As a matter of fact, next weekend will be something of a Vin Diesel movie festival: He also has a principal role in Boiler Room, a topical comedy-drama about young telemarketers trained to lure people into parting with their savings by investing in dubious securities.
The contrast suggests something of the versatility Mr. Diesel hopes to maintain while pursuing careers as both a mainstream movie actor and an independent writer-director. He and Boiler Room cast member Giovanni Ribisi benefited enormously from playing soldiers under the command of Tom Hanks in Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan. Mr. Diesel was Pvt. Caparzo, the first of the D-Day survivors to meet his doom while searching for the elusive Ryan. Moviegoers also got an invisible sense of Mr. Diesel as a science-fiction strongman in last summer's animated feature The Iron Giant, because he dubbed the voice of the title character, a towering superweapon from outer space.
Booked into a suite at the Four Seasons Hotel in Georgetown while promoting Pitch Black and Boiler Room during a day in Washington, Mr. Diesel combines a muscular appearance with a distinctively rumbling, gravelly voice. Shot in Australia, Pitch Black allowed him to tread some of the badlands that served as suitably desolate locations in the favorite action epic of his adolescence, The Road Warrior. There were other favorites. He singles out Conan the Barbarian, Star Wars and Alien. For personal gratification, though, those movies didn't quite measure up to Mel Gibson's encore as the embittered, vagabond Mad Max in The Road Warrior. "I love the way all those movies seem to empower you when you're a kid. But as far as 'that's my guy,' Road Warrior is the one," Mr. Diesel says. "So it was a kick to be on his turf, or close to it, creating another sort of renegade heroic archetype."
Although Mr. Diesel was not cast in an upcoming costume saga titled Gladiator, he sees himself as being eminently eligible for that branch of make-believe. "I'm available," he announces. "I think the opportunity is there for some new actors to make an impact with adventure films. You don't know if Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sylvester Stallone plan to do many more. Probably not. Even Mel Gibson and Bruce Willis may be less inclined to specialize in them. On the other hand, do you want to fall into a Jean-Claude Van Damme trap? No, but luckily I have some credibility in other areas. I made a short film, Multi-Facial, that got invited to the Cannes Festival. I made an independent feature, Strays, that got invited to Sundance. I'm working on a feature of my own called Doormen. I can afford to do a Boiler Room for no money, because it's a strong piece of material. I like the liberty that goes with having alternatives as an actor and filmmaker."
Mr. Gibson is the perfect professional model in Mr. Diesel's eyes. "He does Mad Max and kind of vaults out of obscurity in Australia," Mr. Diesel recalls. "Then he does lots of character-driven parts in classy things like The Year of Living Dangerously and Mrs. Soffel and The Bounty - even a little Shakespeare to contrast with his Lethal Weapon franchise. One thing leads to another, and he gets a chance to direct a movie of his own credibly, Man Without a Face. Then he can promote a project as seemingly ludicrous as an epic about a medieval Scot warrior and folk hero, Braveheart, where he wears a skirt for the whole picture. He not only gets it made, but directs it brilliantly. Braveheart is just a show-stopper of a film. A career is all about getting to the place where you can do the show-stopper."
Mr. Diesel, who grew up in New York City's Greenwich Village, became a stellar work in progress about 25 years ago, when he began playing juvenile parts at age 7 in a company called Theater for the New City. He wants it known that he was not a "working child actor, taken around for commercials by my mom." His father, who was on the theater arts faculty at New York University, also occasionally directed plays "off-off-off Broadway." Mr. Diesel is the oldest of four siblings. His mother became an astrologer while raising children and earning a master's degree in psychology. According to the son, "People always ask if that works out for you. Do you get to, like, skip school if your moon's over Venus? Not with my mother, you didn't. She's so whatever is natural is natural, so que sera, sera."
Mr. Diesel attended public schools but failed to make the audition cut at the High School of the Performing Arts. He also attended a private school in the city and majored in English at Hunter College. Instead of going on to graduation, he took a lucrative job as a bouncer at the Tunnel, a fashionable downtown nightclub. That experience provided the backdrop for his Doormen script. Self-taught as a filmmaker, he began writing screenplays systematically after his mother bought him a how-to volume, "Feature Films at Used Car Prices," one Christmas. Mr. Diesel put a few thousand dollars of savings into Multi-Facial, essentially a performing showcase for himself, and then agonized over the footage for about a year. His father urged him to get it finished and shown, "whether I had anything or not." He did, and it came to be known.
A preview at Anthology Film Archives in New York led to other screenings and an invitation to the 1995 Cannes Film Festival, where Mr. Diesel accompanied his entry and tried to raise money for Strays. Eventually, he had to plow about $50,000 in savings into his feature debut. A prospecting journey to Los Angeles on the strength of Multi-Facial attracted no backers inside the industry for Strays, so Mr. Diesel returned to New York, "rudely awakened, my tail between my legs." He discovered he had a knack for making money as a telemarketer. His line was tools rather than the shaky stocks of Boiler Room, but he believes he brought some genuine expertise to the movie because of his telemarketing interlude.
Strays didn't secure a distributor after its Sundance unveiling, but Mr. Diesel may get to reinvent it as a dramatic series on MTV. Belatedly, Multi-Facial led to his Ryan breakthrough. Mr. Spielberg was impressed and decided to create a role especially for Mr. Diesel. Although the first to perish on the Ryan hunt, Pvt. Caparzo was the last member of the squad to be inserted into the movie's screenplay. Mr. Diesel recalls reading that screenplay for the first time while on a plane to Ireland to begin shooting the D-Day sequences in Ryan. He describes the conditions as "grueling," but notes that the weather more than the workload seemed a burden.
He would like to volunteer as a director for one or more episodes of the Band of Brothers miniseries that Mr. Hanks and Mr. Spielberg will be co-producing this year. He has one other completed feature that will be released in 2000, Knockaround Guys, which reunites him with Ryan sharpshooter Barry Pepper. Having stockpiled some titles, Mr. Diesel hopes to spend the year picking a fresh batch of desirable roles and resuming his parallel career as a director. He also needs to settle in as a genuine Hollywood resident. He has acquired a home of his own in the Hollywood hills. "I haven't even picked up the keys yet," he says. "I move in right after this press tour."
Copyright © 2000 News World Communications, Inc.
By JOHN HORN and CHRISTINE SPINES
Once, studio heads were the unquestioned kings of the movie business. Then directors, producers, and power agents called the shots. No longer.
Most young actors would give up smoking, hock their Ducati cycles, and shave off their goatees for the opportunity to work on a project as promising as Reindeer Games. The script was so hot that Miramax's Dimension Films division shelled out a company-record $42 million to make it, and hired Ben Affleck to star and The Manchurian Candidate's John Frankenheimer to direct.
Vin Diesel was unimpressed. The Saving Private Ryan alumnus - whose soldier, Carpazo, takes the rescue squad's first fatal bullet - swaggered onto the Vancouver Reindeer Games location as if the production were lucky to have him. Diesel, who had written and directed the blink-and-it's-gone Sundance entry Strays, was enumerating his demands before shooting had even begun. For starters, he wasn't about to reveal his buff arms for Frankenheimer's cameras, because, he said, he saves that showstopper for "Vin Diesel movies." And another thing: He wanted rewrites to beef up his character. Not just a production polish, but a fade-in-to-fade-out overhaul. Delete text. Create new document.
"He came in and said, 'This is what I think about the character, and we ought to change this and this,'" Frankenheimer says. "Mr. Diesel's ideas had nothing to do with the movie we were making. The ideas were completely off-the-wall. And I said, 'Whoa, wait just a minute. Before we start this movie, this is the script we're doing. And we're doing it this way. Now you either buy into that or you don't. If you don't, the best thing for you to do is leave.'"
Like his Saving Private Ryan soldier, Diesel was Reindeer Games's first casualty. "We got rid of him before the movie ever started," Frankenheimer says.
Excerpted: Click here to read the complete article.
Copyright © 1999 Hachette Filipacchi Magazines.
This time, success had Diesel's number
By LUAINE LEE (Knight Ridder / Tribune News Service)
18 February 2000
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. - Actors find all kinds of ways of preparing themselves for movie stardom, but few of them try what Vin Diesel did. Diesel, who's co-starring in two movies opening this weekend, Boiler Room and Pitch Black, is probably best remembered as the muscular Pvt. Caparzo in Saving Private Ryan. Though he's been acting since he was 7, Diesel put in nine years as a bouncer in one of Manhattan's trendy nightclubs before he made an inroad into showbiz. "I started bouncing when I wasn't old enough to drink," he says. "I started bouncing because . . . you need to have your days free to go and audition, rehearse, to be involved in theatrical productions. The best job in the world was one that started at 10 and ended at 4 in the morning," he says.
"It was also a great job for someone at college. I don't think I was ever servile enough to be a waiter. I was always attracted to that nocturnal world. I grew up in the Village," he says, his shaved head dusted with a slight tint of gray, his large arms resting on his lap in a hotel room. Diesel also spent his days writing and shooting his own movies. His first 20-minute short film, Multi-Facial, sat in the can for eight months because he ran out of money to finish it. His dad, who at one time was an off-off Broadway theater director, advised him to finish the picture no matter what. He did, and when he held his first screening for 200 people, he says he knew his life would never be the same.
"I heard the roars and heard the symphony," he grins. "It was just beautiful, and I knew, at that moment, my life would change." He later made a feature-length movie called Strays, which failed to sell at the Sundance Film Festival. He was licking his wounds in his bedroom on a Saturday morning when the phone rang. "I got a call saying: 'Steven Spielberg saw your short film, and he's doing a film called Saving Private Ryan. It just so happens he wants to write a role in the film for you."' In spite of his hefty physique, Diesel jumped up and down on his bed screaming. "I said, 'Stop! Breathe! Did I hear that? Is it true?' "
It was true all right. Since then Diesel has been working nearly nonstop. In Boiler Room he plays one of the young telemarketing sharks who hawks questionable stocks over the phone to unsuspecting customers. Diesel says he visited a "chop shop" (as they're known) 10 years ago with a friend "before I knew they were illegal." Actually, Diesel, 32, also tried his luck with Hollywood 10 years ago. "I was $10,000 in debt and had never lived on my own. I came out here and thought I'd just nail the jobs. Hey, I'm a New York actor. I got back to New York with my tail between my legs a year later. Everything in my life has somehow manifested itself as a positive later," he says.
One of those positive turns was a casual encounter with Harrison Ford. Diesel was working as an extra on one of his pictures, when he mustered up the courage to approach Ford. "I said, 'Can I ask you a question? How did you do it?' As a doctor you do your doctoring. As a lawyer you can talk to a lawyer, but to be a success in this industry, to be like Harrison Ford, you can only go to Harrison Ford. "He said, 'I'll tell you how. I went out to L.A. with a group of my friends 15 years ago. Two years went by, and two of my friends went back to our hometown. Another three years went by, another friend went back. Another two years went by - it's seven years now - four friends went back to their hometown. I never went back to my hometown.' I said, 'Got it.' I think that was special. It was microscopic, it only took a moment, but it was super, super impactful, empowering," he says.
On that first ill-fated trek to Hollywood, a friend got Diesel a job telemarketing. "He said, 'You can make a lot of money.' I start winning awards. There are very few things in life I've ever been good at. I was just good at that. At first, it seemed like a negative 'cause I got lost in the money-making idea of it. Every minute counts in telemarketing, so if you work 12 hours a day you can make 300, 400, 500, 600 dollars a day. That's huge for a kid who was making $100 a night bouncing. I quit after about eight months 'cause I was too good at this, and it was robbing me of my dreams," he says. Dreams intact, next up for Diesel is Knockaround Guys with John Malkovich and two more projects he's writing and hopes to direct.
Copyright © 2000 The Seattle Times Company.
by DAVID KIRBY
Madison Magazine March/ April 2000
"I'm much more of a teddy bear than a tough guy," Vin Diesel murmurs in a deep, calming voice when I talk to him in Toronto, where the buzz-cut New Yorker with the ironclad moniker is acting in "Knockaround Guys", his latest big picture about (what else?) touch-talking, rock-'em-sock-'em New Yorkers enamored with the modern day mob.
I'm a bit skeptical. First, there's that name. I mean, a teddy bear named Vin, maybe. But, Diesel? And the photos I've seen of him- shaved head, massive frame, rippling arms and perfect white teeth- make him seem much more bear than teddy. Then there are those roles: a lowly grunt in "Saving Private Ryan"; a broker of shady stocks in "Boiler Room"; a night-visioned thug-of-the-future in "Pitch Black"; the steely voice of the animated "iron Giant".
Big Vin is about to get bigger. But it's not entirely clear he's ready for what's coming. The 32-year-old actor, write, director oozes the easy charm of a star, but without a hint of the underlying uptighness that most famous people give off- at least not yet. In conversation he's casual, not calculated, often ending a statement with deferential questions like "Does that make sense?" or "Oh God, did that make me sound like a moron?" He should relax. With his deep voice and lazy brown eyes, the high-octane Diesel is well poised to become the sex symbol for the new century.
And though he could easily be one of those typical, meteoric movie stars who become overnight egomaniacs soon after the first royalty check arrives, it's not long before I'm convinced that this actor, generous of spirit and time, is really what he claims to be: one of those increasingly rare creatures in Hollywood- a good guy.
Diesel's disarming ability to make you believe he has balls of steel is, of course, the mark of a good actor. Chameleonhood, after all, is the thespian's art. And it's something that Diesel does very well. He can and has played Italian, Jewish, Latino, black, just about any role you could dream up. In his first film, "Multi-Facial", a moving and hilarious short that he wrote, produced and directed, Diesel plays an actor playing every shade under the sun, just to get a part, any part.
"It's rare to have such versatile looks," Diesel admits. "It's a huge asset and I feel so lucky that I'm this concoction of so many different races. I think I represent a certain future. That's why I named my company One Race Productions. It speaks to the human race being the important and relevant race.
Though I am loathe to ask him about his racial roots, the question has been begged:
"Tell me about your parents. What's their background?"
"My parents are United States citizens."
"But what's their ethnic background?"
""My parents are United States citizens."
"I hope the question doesn't offend you."
"I'm not at all offended. It's just that it's a very complicated thing.
"Let's hear it."
"It's not nearly as simple as 'Let's hear it.'"
"Yeah, really. Trust me. That's a whole other interview. I'm thinking of saving it for the book. There are some
interesting things that I'm still trying to uncover, if you know what I mean."
"Not really. Any highlights?"
"Just put down that I'm very much a New Yorker. A typical, nondescript New Yorker. And I am, at the root of it, probably extremely multicultural. But there's a lot of ambiguity in that area."
But doesn't he get asked this all the time?
"The great thing about acting, and the trick to acting, is to eliminate as much of your personal and private life as possible so you can successfully become the person you are trying to play," he says evasively. "It's why I've loved acting from a very early age. It's the one time I am fully, truly clear about my identity. Does that make sense?"
I try another tack. "What kind of name is Diesel anyway?"
He laughs. "Who sent you? What are you trying to do, get me deported?"
"But it is an unusual name. Surely you must have been asked that before."
"It is an unusual name. And the response that I've used in the past is..."
"None of my goddamn business?"
"Right. Privacy is a big deal for me. And the more you are in this business, the less privacy you are going to have. The big stars I've befriended, they all stress the same thing: Protect your privacy as much as possible. That is advice I respect. And I take it gladly. Because once I start getting attention, I start getting more introverted, which is totally bizarre, because I craved attention when I was young..."
"But, Vin. The name..."
"Well, when you've got a family tree like mine, there's a million different names you can choose from. I think that's the best way to explain it."
Diesel's tree, whatever its genus, is deeply rooted in New York. He was born and raided in the Westbeth artist's housing project in the West Village. His father directed "off-off-off-off-off-Off-Broadway plays," and his mother worked as a psychiatrist and astrologer.
At five, Diesel ran with the fast pack. "I remember seeing nine year ols hanging out, smoking and drinking coffee, and I was in love with these adults," he says. When he was seven, cruising the Village with his pals on a fleet of banana-seated Sting-Rays, they broke into an old theater and trashed it. "All of a sudden, this lady appears in the spotlight, very surreal, and says, 'If you want to play, come here everyday at 4 p.m.' And she gave us scripts. It was a brilliant thing to do. But that was the energy of that time. Today they'd just call the police."
Once he was onstage, the ham in him was hooked. "For the first time, I could make people laugh without being sent to the principal's office," he says. He continued acting throughout his youth, even when, in high school, he spent nights as a bouncer in a number of Manhattan's most notorious nightclubs. "You weren't allowed in if you weren't a hoodlum," he says. But the tough-guy bouncer had a softer side: "I used to find a quiet spot in the club and read Camus."
After studying at Hunter College, young Diesel went West for fame and fortune. But Hollywood was having none of him. "I'd never done feature films, just some theater in New York. So in their eyes, I was never validated," he says. " I thought being this guy who had completely invested in his art would carry some weight in Los Angeles, but I was totally wrong." So he returned to New York and started writing screenplays and learning about filmmaking," as an insurance policy for my future."
Wise move. Diesel made "Multi-Facial", which he shot in less than three days for about $3000. "When I wasn't writing music for the tracks, I was making pasta for the crew," he remembers.
But, after showing the film to just one person and getting a mediocre response, Diesel, humiliated, put "Multi-Facial" away for a while and began developing his next project, called "Strays". It's premise? Tough-guy New Yorkers can also have a heart. (Sound familiar?)
Then at his father's urging, Diesel resurrected "Multi-Facial" and showed it in the East Village one night in 1994. "The
audience roared," he recalls. "It was the most gratifying thing in the world, so impactful. I was never the kid who won awards, never called up for accolades. So this was such a special moment for me. I'd finally got something right! I know it sounds stupid. But it's true."
"Multi-Facial" was accepted at Cannes, and Diesel went off to France, where his little film was warmly received. Emboldened, he returned to Los Angeles and renewed work on "Strays", raising $50,000 by telemarketing tools to midwestern mechanics. "Everything changed," he says. "I got an agent and finished the film, and then another miracle happened." "Strays" was accepted at Sundance.
But it didn't sell. Diesel returned to New York a bit dejected. Then, early one Saturday, his agent called. Spielberg had seen "Multi-Facial" and liked it. "I'm freaking out, and then my agent says, 'Hold on, there's more.'" Spielberg liked Diesel so much, he had a role written especially for him in "Saving Private Ryan".
Next thing he knew, Diesel was flying to Ireland, script in hand excited to play tough-but-sweet Private Caparzo. But the elated actor was unprepared for what was coming: weeks of boot camp in freezing Irish drizzle. He and some other actors, like his friend Giovanni Ribisi, threatened mutiny. But their captain, Tom Hanks, kept the boys in line. "Tom became like a mentor figure to me," he recalls. "I'm still very close to him."
The idea was to break the actors, and it worked. "We were so committed to bringing honor to these soldiers that by the time boot camp ended, we almost resented being actors again," he says. "We'd formed a huge appreciation for soldiers. We showed up in character, beaten and bruised but having weathered the storm. We were like ,'Fuck you. You have no idea what we just did.' It was a very empowering feeling of manhood and pride that we took into that film, and it shows."
Then things got really busy. Diesel missed the Private Ryan premiere because he was in Australia to star in "Pitch Black", a science fiction thriller in the best tradition of H.G. Wells, complete with horrifying creatures that live underground, fly through the sky and gobble flesh like giant piranhas. Diesel plays Riddick, the space-age antihero, a convicted killer with a heart of stone who can see the toothy predators in the dark.
"Riddick was the best character I'd read in a long time. He's a remarkable creature with a complex personality, especially for science fiction. And the writing was so on point and it was so exciting, because I finally got to be the character I always loved as a kid. You know, Conan and the Terminator and Mad Max."
On his return, Diesel landed a role in "Boiler Room". He plays Chris Varick, "a sort of Al Pacino type" who works, again with Ribisi, in a shifty Long Island brokerage house. Then came an offer for his latest role in "Knockaround Guys", produced by Lawrence Bender (Pulp Fiction, Good Will Hunting, Anna and the King, among others), starring Dennis Hopper and John Malkovich. It was filmed in Toronto last fall. Diesel says the film has "a super-cool script by the guys who wrote 'Rounders'." And he adored working with Malkovich. "it just blows me away," he says. "Here I am, just some bubblegum New Yorker working with the likes of Malkovich. I always thought of people like him as larger than life, but then you learn that they're human and have this beautiful modesty. John is the hest, the greatest guy in the world. I love him dearly."
Diesel is currently developing "Thing of Beauty", in which he'll play a macho Navy SEAL whose mission goes terribly awry. "He returns to his small town and has to rediscover his masculinity without the aid of the military," Diesel says. "It's a love story."
He is also working on "Doormen", a story based on his bouncer days, and, he says, "about five other things at once, so my plate is definitely going to be full."
But is that an acting, directing, or writing plate? "I hope all three," says Diesel. Does he have a preference? "When I'm acting, I feel like I'm playing an instrument. I understand the concept behind it, and I know which doors to open to get to the place I want to be. But writing is like being trapped in a labyrinth."
And directing? "The great thing about directing is you can do it forever. Tom [Hanks] told me that when you're between 30 and 40 is when you create your great body of acting work. So I've got almost a decade to explore roles and learn."
So what will Vin Diesel be when his decade is up? "I hope to understand more about what it means to be a man, to have more maturity. And to continue doing projects I'm passionate about. To be part of the storytelling process in a way that makes a difference, but without becoming the kind of artist who must do everything for social reasons. I hope I will have created something of important and made some logic out of all this outrageous good fortune. Does that make sense?"
Hunter of the Park
by MARK SHAPIRO
Starlog 2000 (Feb. #271)
It didn't take much for actor Vin Diesel to internalize ""Pitch Black""'s vicious anti-hero Riddick. Nothing more than a few minutes shooting a scene.
"It was freezing cold in Australia," recalls the actor, who made his studio feature debut in "Saving Private Ryan" and his genre debut as the voice of the "Iron Giant". "Everybody else had snow coats on, and I was running around in a tank top, being sprayed with water. That was enough to make me very angry and not so pleasant to be around."
Diesel, a muscular six-foot-plus actor with a gravelly New York voice and attitude, is much happier these days. Back in warmer California climes, the actor, who has spent years scuffling as a director-writer-actor in the independent film world, is downright mellow as he savors the good word of mouth on "Pitch Black" and the prospect of launching a career as an action hero. "I like the possibilities. I like action. The Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone films were important for me growing up in the 80's. I would leave the theater feeling empowered. We've had great action movies, but we haven't seen bad mothers, in those movies for a long time. I wouldn't mind being that guy. If Schwarzenegger bailed, I would love to be in Terminator 3."
The actor's portrayal of captured psychopath Riddick is certainly part of the driving force behind "Pitch Black". Intense, menacing and downright evil, Riddick is a smoldering, mercurial tough guy whose unexpected character arcs easily to elevate the B-movies-ALIENS storyline to something more. This was immediately evident to Diesel the first time he looked at writer-director David Twohy's script.
"I had never read a character with such a great arc," the actor reveals. "It's so much deeper than your standard science fiction picture. I saw some great levels in Riddick. You had this guy who you feared and disliked, but who you ultimately had no alternative but to put your trust in if you were going to survive. It was something I could identify with. I've always been this formidable kind of guy. I've always had people look at me as more menacing than my heart really is. In that respect, I identified with Riddick very much."
In fact, Diesel had a thoroughly understanding of who Riddick would be when he auditioned for "Pitch Black"- perhaps too thorough. "I could see that Riddick was all over the place. In some scenes he was kind of like Hannibal Lecter, in others he was Mad Max or the Terminator. I was at a loss as to which element to give them in the audition. Luckily, they wanted three different scenes so I gave them all three characters. I felt good about what I did, but, as anyone who has been in Hollywood for a while knows, feeling good about an audition usually means you don't get the part."
But Diesel did get the part and immediately set about creating Riddick. "I wanted Riddick to be this kind of Gothic panther in terms of his movements. I came from a weight training background, but I felt it wouldn't work if the audience got the impression that I was just another professional bodybuilder rather than a really bad mother. Riddick is a guy who can dislocate his joints and who has a certain quickness and smoothness to his movements. So I felt I had to redefine myself physically. I went away from the weight training, got into yoga and began to listen to classical music to get myself into a Riddick state of mind."
While preparing himself for the role of a ruthless killer, Diesel also paid attention to the casting process, realizing when such talented actors as Radha Mitchell and Cole Hauser were hired that everybody was taking "Pitch Black" very seriously. "They were assembling a cast of unknowns who had not sold out," he remarks. "I sensed when they cast me that potential box-office appeal was not the filmmaker's concern. I felt we were taking the approach the first ALIEN did- hiring real kick-ass actors rather than familiar superstars. I knew this was going to be a big special FX
monster movie, but I was also seeing that the characters and their arcs would be more important than the FX."
"Pitch Black" may seem like ALIEN on the surface, but it's very much its own film. And Diesel felt that Twohy was the right man to tackle this project. "I was so impressed with the script and character arc that everything else was gravy. I felt the technical aspect of the film was so original that this guy must know what he was talking about. I knew that when we started shooting he would take a very theatrical, character-driven approach to making the film."
Diesel didn't know that "Pitch Black" would be lensing during the Australian winter. But he realized it in a cold second the first day he reported to the set, looked around and saw most of the crew dressed in heavy duty snow coats. "The first day was absolutely freezing, and Radha and I were in tank tops. It was already cold, but the scenes we were shooting required us to be sprayed with water, and so we only got colder. I was unbearable, trying to act while trying not to shake. It was like shake, shake, shake and they would say action and we would have to compose ourselves."
Cold was only part of the problem for Diesel. He willingly did almost all of his own stunts, which resulted in his body regularly taking a beating. "I did this leap during one scene and I ended up throwing my shoulder out. There was a scene where I had to yank this tarp and I ended up destroying my rotator cuff."
Throughout the shoot, Diesel created a mental graph in which he outlined each scene in terms of how much humanity would be exposed. The very Method actor recalls that, as shooting progressed, he became tough to be around.
"I would be friends with the other actors when it was OK to be friends with them," he explains. "But, during the early scenes, when Riddick is at his most evil, I caused a lot of tension on the set. There were times when I felt people were looking at me like I was the arch-criminal. And I didn't really work hard to change that. During that portion of filming, I was building on a lot of insane energy."
And though insane energy is often hard to keep track of, Diesel's descent into madness was facilitated by Twohy's fairly sequential approach to shooting. "It was tough to keep up with what my character had to be doing because he was all over the place," Diesel admits. "Thank God we went pretty much in chronological order. We did all the daytime exteriors first, and then the nighttime interiors and exteriors. The blue screen stuff didn't come until near the shoot's end, which was good for me. Playing off imaginary stuff early on would have instilled a sense of unreality in my performance. Doing everything else first made it easy to play all this fantastic stuff as real."
Diesel's other genre outing, the voice of the title character in the "Iron Giant", came about shortly after he took his producing-directing-writing-starring vehicle, the esoteric "Strays", to the Sundance Film Festival in 1997. "A woman who had been my assistant at Sundance had gone to work for director Brad Bird, who was putting "Iron Giant" together. She told him that she knew this actor who was perfect for the "Iron Giant". She sent over an earlier film of mine, "Multi Facial", and he loved my voice. Initially, they were going to use one of the A-list actors at Warner Bros., but the director liked my voice and started campaigning for me. I was a movie I was dying to do."
It was Diesel's first-ever voice-over assignment, but his tried-and-true approach of rehearsal and immersion, he quickly came up with the "Iron Giant" voice, a slight variation of his low-register speaking voice. He was an immediate hit at the studio. "I did this voice for the director and the producers, and they said 'Oh my God! We thought we were going to have to change your voice. We can't believe you can do this guttural sound.' So I did this voice for 6 to 10 hour sessions. Unfortunately, it was at the expense of not being able to talk for three hours after each session. But it was worth it, because one of these days my kids will be able to say, 'My daddy is the "Iron Giant".'"
Born and raised in New York, Diesel's interest in theater grew from childhood, courtesy of his father, a theater director turned drama teacher at New York University. Instead of football games, Diesel's father would take Vin and his younger siblings to the movies. "I think I was destined to do this regardless of any influence from my father, I wanted to do this before I understood what it was."
Diesel's professional acting breakthrough when the seven-year-old and his friends were riding their bikes through lower Manhattan, happening upon a small hole-in-the-wall theater company called the "Theater of the New City". They ran into the theater running amok, trashing props and basically raising hell. "Suddenly this woman came out to center stage and yelled at us to come to her. I was thinking, 'I'm in trouble now.' But she said, 'If you want to play here, you be here everyday at 4pm.' She shoved a script in my hand and said, 'Here's $20 for the first week,' And just like that, I was a professional actor."
Following his debut for the Theater of the New City, a play called "The Dinosaur Door", Diesel continued to act, eventually hitting the Off-Off-Broadway circuit at places like Amas Rep, La Mama, and Riverwest. "I wasn't doing anything major," remembers Diesel. "Just a lot of real acting without real money. I was always playing at being this artist."
And because he was playing the artist, Diesel needed a way to make ends meet. At age 17, the already buff and burly actor began working as a bouncer for several hip clubs. For $100 a night, Diesel would spend the next nine years busting heads for a living.
"I was intimidating, but there were a ton of intimidating guys out there. I always had this protective streak, though- kind of this good guy thing going on. There were times when I would pull other bouncers off who were completely destroying somebody, and then I would end up getting into it with them. I never wanted anyone to get too hurt. I hurt people to a certain degree, but never wanted to go completely overboard. As far as I was concerned, when a guy went down, it was over. I sent people to the hospital and knocked people out. I had the experience of fighting every night, and when you're fighting every night, that's real."
Despite his boorish night job, with a wealth of acting experience, Diesel eventually enrolled in Hunter College to major in theater. But, at the last minute, his father convinced him that being an English major was a better idea. "My father and his friends convinced me not to waste my time on a degree in acting and theater. They told me to get in something else. I'm thinking, 'What the hell else would I want to get a degree in?' Then I started thinking about my long-range goals and that, at some point, I might have to learn how to write some screenplays."
Diesel lasted three years at Hunter College before making a fateful decision to drop out. "I said, 'I need to make my own film, I don't have anymore time to waste.'"
His first short film, "Multi Facial", landed Diesel at the Cannes Film Festival in 1995. Two years later, his first feature, "Strays", made it to the Sundance Film Festival. By that time Diesel's reputation as an actor made its way to Steven Spielberg, who cast him in "Saving Private Ryan".
"I was one of eight guys who were selected," he explains. "That was heavy. I guess, in a sense, it was validation for me. I mean, this was Spielberg. I would have gotten coffee for the guy just to see him work. I was used to making films where everything had to be checked to see if it were in budget. With "Saving Private Ryan", I was working in a blockbuster in which the filmmakers were able to do everything they wanted to do without having to worry about budgets. It was an eye-opening experience to work in a movie that big."
While citing Stallone and Schwarzenegger as major action influences, Diesel has plans that mirror the career of another action star, Mel Gibson. "What Gibson has done is cool. He has paid his dues and built up his bankability, and now he can do an action thing or a non-action thing; whatever he wants. That's the position I ultimately want to be in."
And Diesel reasons, "Pitch Black" is the first step in becoming bankable. "People who have seen the movie are saying they like Riddick, and there's a sense that they would like to see him come back. I would think that any sequel would focus not on the creatures. I would imagine they would put Riddick on another planet and another adventure with bounty hunters trying to find him or something like that. Get back to me the week "Pitch Black" opens, and I'll have a better idea of whether or not Riddick will be back."
Not that he needs that sequel. Vin Diesel, who plays a more sedate role as a salesman in the upcoming film "Boiler Room", definitely feels that there's more action in his future. "When I was a kid, I would come out of a Stallone and Schwarzenegger movie wishing I could be like those guys. So if I could go on and be an action guy, it would definitely be a dream come true. I would be honored to be the next Schwarzenegger."
Copyright 2000 Starlog Magazine No infringement intended
Pitch Black's Vin Diesel: A High-Octane Actor
by JAMIE PECK
Vin Diesel faced the horrors of World War II in Saving Private Ryan and now single-handedly takes on an otherworldly menace in the outer-space thriller Pitch Black. It's a diverse combat roster, but one indicative of the actor's imposing physical stature: With a hulking frame, huge biceps and a cavernous voice that sounds like Barry White crossed with a subwoofer crossed with a sack of gravel, he's as buff and gruff as they come. And people are starting to notice.
"I have seen the future of hotness," gushes Internet film critic Sarah Kendzior, "and its name is Vin Diesel. Six-foot-plus of onomatopoeic glory, [he] is the thinking woman's alien-slaying bad-ass."
So how does Diesel respond to the rave reviews? With a disbelieving, self-effacing chuckle, actually. He seems especially entertained by the way his guttural vocal capabilities seem to always merit mentioning alongside his acting talent.
"I never thought I'd get that much play on this voice," he muses between husky laughs. But it's an increasingly infamous commodity after he lent it to the title character in last summer's critically-praised The Iron Giant — an animated tale of a boy and his robot — without modulation.
As a soldier in Tom Hanks' rescue battalion, Diesel was part of Saving Private Ryan's acting ensemble, but he's front and center in Pitch Black. He stars here as Riddick, a psychopathic murderer stuck on a strange desert planet with his captors after the spaceship transporting him to jail crashes. The upside: He escapes. The downside: The place is inhabited by fierce creatures that only attack in the dark, and a total eclipse is moments away.
It's Aliens with an added paranoid twist: Which predator — man or monster — will pick off the survivors first?
"I love the idea of playing a character who's that multi-dimensional and original," Diesel says of the dichotomy of his role, which he feels falls neither into the villain nor the hero category. "I was always a huge fan of Road Warrior and Terminator and Blade Runner and films with these very interesting protagonists."
It's ironic that he should allude to the Mad Max series because Pitch Black was filmed on the same location as George Miller's 1979 original: a remote dirt- and gypsum-covered region of South Australia known as Coober Pedy. When it's not being used as a movie set, Coober Pedy functions as an Aboriginal sacred ground where people reside mostly in sub-earth caves. "Everyone lives underground in this town," Diesel recalls. "I grew up in an apartment building [in New York City] with 3,000 people. Little bit of a culture shock there."
The extensive special effects involved in bringing Black's alien behemoths to scary life also acquainted Diesel with new territory — like his reacting to and interacting with adversaries that would later be produced by computer technicians, emoting against nothing but a plain green-screen backdrop that makes the effects easier to fill in. "There were some computer-generated elements in Saving Private Ryan, but nothing that had to do with [the actors]. It was more adding [scenery] to the Omaha Beach sequence," Diesel explains.
But even with all the CG imagery, he's quick to defend Pitch Black as containing more than just goo, gore and thrills, claiming that one of director David Twohy's objectives was "to create a film that could stand on its own, independent of the special effects and the sci-fi. Hopefully that translates."
"Thank God they saved the green-screen element until the end of shooting to prevent the actors from feeling too artificial about anything, which was a real smart way to approach [the material]," Diesel notes of the production's priorities. "They waited until the last three days, after we had developed our characters and the relationships between them, and then implemented the green-screen stuff, so we never lost sight of what we were there for."
Speaking of losing sight, the contact lenses specially designed for Diesel to wear — Riddick boasts night-vision eyes, the result of prison surgery — nearly hurt him. "When I wore the contacts, they'd never been tested before," he says. "They put them in the first day, and they weren't able to take them out, so they had to fly in an optometrist from three hours away to remove the damn things."
A small ocular abrasion and a hospital visit later, all was fine. Of the fiasco, he jokes, "We do have to do what we have to do for art, don't we?"
In a weird twist of the February release schedule, Pitch Black hits theaters the same day as Boiler Room, a contemporary drama about a corrupt brokerage firm that pitches bogus stocks via telemarketing. It features a supporting turn by Diesel, and performing in the comparatively low-budget and low-key movie took him back to his days as an accomplished independent filmmaker and the appeal of those kinds of films in general.
"I love the physicality of action," he says, comparing the two films. "But to balance that out, Boiler Room had the Glengarry Glen Ross potential, and that's attractive — going back to raw acting. I think it's good to mix it up a little bit."
Diesel's debut, a 1995 short called Multi-Facial (available through (818) DVD-MAGS), played at Cannes; once Steven Spielberg saw it, he gave Diesel the part in Private Ryan. His 1997 feature Strays (scheduled for DVD release later this year) screened in official competition at Sundance.
"I thought, while I was making [Multi-Facial], that there probably wasn't going to be any upside to it other than satisfying some kind of artistic desire," he remembers. "And what's so bizarre is that the film has proved its value 20,000 times over."
Boiler Room reminds Diesel of a different kind of past work, too. "I telemarketed to earn money for Strays," he confesses. "Telemarketing is such a shameless job that I almost did Boiler Room just as a form of redemption, in hopes to convey the message that, if anyone ever [calls and] asks you to buy anything, you hang up the phone."
Currently, Diesel is getting in touch with yet a third early career, polishing a project named Doormen that's based on his experiences as a New York club bouncer. As with Multi-Facial and Strays, he plans to act in and direct Doormen in addition to penning its script.
"I'm in the process of rewriting it and combining the protagonists," he says. "Initially, they wanted me to write it with, you know, a Brad Pitt in mind, but now, after coming back from Pitch Black, they're saying I can bankroll a film on my own."
Brad Pitt as a New York club bouncer? Nah. Sounds like a part tailor-fitted for Vin Diesel.
© 2000 Jamie Peck
by JAMES PAINTER
Issue: Feb, 1999
Vin Diesel once worked as a bouncer in New York and he has written a script - Doormen - about his experiences. Right now, his talents are opening doors for him in Hollywood. After Steven Spielberg saw Multi-Facial, a short film Vin Diesel wrote, directed, produced, and starred in, he had a role created specifically for the thirty-one-year-old in Saving Private Ryan - that of the G.I. who takes pity on a child and is shot by a German sniper. Like Spielberg's war opus, Diesel champions such ideals as honor, dignity, and loyalty among men.
JAMIE PAINTER: What kinds of peer pressures did you experience growing up in New York?
VIN DIESEL: There's a certain level of machismo that most New Yorkers have ingrained in their personality. At fourteen, if you're still a virgin you've been lying about it for the past four years. The whole idea is to be as tough as possible. I grew up not only with the idea of wanting to be respected, but wanting to be successful - and those two don't always go hand in hand. Some of the people I grew up with - who were further along on the respect chart - ended up in jail or were killed. That's not to say those are the only kind of people I grew up with. I also grew up with people who were extremely artistic and cerebral. My parents were both very educated and always emphasized the importance of education.
JP: What was the most significant value your father passed down to you?
VD: My father taught me how to be a stand-up man, a man who fights for what he believes in. To me, my father is the pinnacle of what a real man is. In fact. it's hard to live up to him. He used to direct theater, but he put that dream on hold to raise a family. That's admirable - and a lot less selfish than I would be.
JP: Besides something as traumatic as war, what binds men together?
VD: I'm big on loyalty. That's why I have a small circle of friends. When it comes down to that real close circle, you don't have to be family; you just have to be loyal.
JP: It's often said that men don't share their most intimate feelings. Do you agree?
VD: My friends and I talk about everything. I've heard more women say that they can't confide in their female friends or they aren't to be trusted.
JP: When did you make the transition from boyhood to manhood?
VD: I don't think I'm a man yet. I'm learning and I'm getting a little bit closer every day, but I'm not there yet. I've still got immaturities. Being a man is an abbreviation for having ideals, being the best that we can be. That's a hard thing to learn, but it's a beautiful, sweet goal to aim for.
JP: What's the most admirable quality a man can possess?
VD: People can have all kinds of talent, but without conviction you'll never go anywhere. One of the most admirable things is honor, because honor never dies or grows old in a man - that's a quote from a man named Frank Perrone, who was a cop in the Bronx. I'm actually hoping to write, direct, and star in a film based on his true story. He's a man I respect. He stood up for his beliefs but never ratted.
COPYRIGHT 1999 Brant Publications, Inc.
COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group
by JOE FORDHAM
Cinefantastique April 2000
Rising star and sci-fi fan on his cross between Mad Max and Terminator
While the first member of Tom Hanks' PRIVATE RYAN rescue squad was being gunned sown on screens across the States in the summer of 1998, Vin Diesel, the performer who brought Private Caparzo to life as his Hollywood debut, was pulling 14-hour days, light years away, on location in Coober Peedy, Australia, in his role as Riddick, the main male lead of PITCH BLACK. "It was tough," Diesel admitted. "I wish I could've been been part of that premiere." But the RYAN adventure was undoubtedly one that Diesel valued--he referred to his time with Spielberg as "probably one of the most rewarding and validating experiences of my life"--and it has made the young New Yorker one of the hottest and distinctive new names in town.
Diesel earned his stripes in Hanks' platoon on the strengths of his self-produced 1994 short MULTIFACIAL. The 20-minute film caught Spielberg's eye after its appearance at Cannes in 1995. What attracted Diesel to PITCH BLACK was the script by David Twohy. "He was probably one of the best written characters I've read in years," said Diesel. "The character arc was amazing. He was a prototype in many ways because he's like a Terminator, but has elements of Hannibal Lector, elements of a vampire, elements of an Elia Kazan-created character, all these different,
wonderful dimensions. The story starts out where nobody trusts him and then at the end of the film this guy you've feared all along is perceived totally different."
Twohy's script kept Riddick's background deliberately sketchy, as it did with all the characters, yet what little it provided set the roots for his transformation and distinguished him from the group. "I don't have a fear of the dark," Diesel explained. "Actually, Riddick is more comfortable in the dark. He's got nocturnal vision. He has spent so much time in prison that he is actually more intimidated by the sunlight. It's not as bad as Gollum in LORD OF THE RINGS but he's got that kind of Ring Wraith fee. He's a nocturnal beast. So when nighttime comes, that's when he shines.
"I did a lot of interesting things in creating Riddick's character. I studies the movement of Apex predators. He also wears protective goggles because his eyes are so sensitive to light, so I had to rely on body language, the tone and pitch of my voice. What help was I'd done an animated film called THE IRON GIANT, where I played the Giant. When you do a character in an animated film that's all you've got, your voice. You have to try to bring something out from the inside and put that out there without using your eyes which are the actor's number one tool."
Other peculiarities of genre filmmaking were also new to Diesel, and initially daunting. "Fighting creatures that are not there is something that you have to do to create these characters and tell the story. It was a little weird. I actually feared the idea of working with a green screen more than I probably needed to. After the tenth take you forget the fact that you've got this green curtain hanging behind you and you can't move an inch out of the designated direction."
Technicalities aside, Diesel confessed this project was a boyhood dream come true. "I grew up with Moorcock and Tolkein. I was playing Dungeons and Dragons at 12 and religiously altering the game until we took it to a master's level. Literally, if you would have asked the five-year-old Vin Diesel what he wanted to be when he grew up, he would have said a superhero." Diesel gave his distinctive, big, cackling laugh. "That's what was so cool. I always wanted to be The Terminator. Riddick is the 1998 version of that Terminator character. The bad hero dude! He's Mad Max and Terminator!"
Speaking of his career ambitions, Diesel also referenced a couple of real-life heroes, "I think Nicolas Cage has a wonderful career. He's able to do THE ROCK and he's able to do LEAVING LAS VEGAS. I could probably end up filling that Arnold/Stallone void, but I'd like to compound that with dramatic pieces. That's what all my training has built up to." And in terms of his filmmaking pursuits, "I admire Mel Gibson's career. I'll be able to do a lot more directing when I'm older. Right now I have to use this window of opportunity and be strategic about my business to put people in seats. I still write and, god knows, I still direct, but the more immediate thing right now is the acting."
DIESEL ON STEAM
Dutch Magazine "Revu"
With a name like fuel many thoughts are there to be found. Vin Diesel helped the headhunters a little by changing his name into Diesel while he was still working as a bouncer in a NewYork club.
Then he made a short film called Multi-Facial which drew the attention of Stardirector Steven Spielberg. Spielberg casted him in Saving Private Ryan as Carpazo who dies before the movie even starts.
Vin didn't care that it was a short thing , his name was made. With a voice that would even irritate Barry White and a care fully pumped up body Diesel mainly gets casted as the bad- guy in action films.
As in the sci-fi film "Pitch Black" where he is a cynical killer who ends up being a hero on a planet where he and his travel mates are stranded.
As the killer Riddick,Diesel isn't afraid to dislocate his shoulders in order to escape from his painfull position. But rumour has it that Diesel refused to be seen topless in the movie "Reindeer Games" and was fired before it was even shot.
What Vin doesn't want is to become the new Arnold Swarzenegger.
"Fast" Track to Box Office Glory
By TODD McCARTHY, Daily Variety Chief Film Critic
Friday, June 22, 2001
HOLLYWOOD--The Fast and the Furious (Street racing drama, color, PG-13, 1:47)
"The Fast and the Furious" has nothing to do with the 1954 Roger Corman production of the same name, but it's a picture that would have done the B movie meister proud in any era.
A gritty and gratifying cheap thrill, Rob Cohen's high-octane hot-car meller is a true rarity these days, a really good exploitationer, the sort of thing that would rule at drive-ins if they still existed. As it is, young viewers and working class audiences should still pack in for this smartly made programmer-style Universal release, which promises to show renewed acceleration down the line as a home entertainment attraction.
Like solid, unpretentious Westerns did in a previous era, this story of speed-crazy grown-up kids trades shrewdly on many long-established movie conventions: Primal passions, elemental rivalries, testosterone-charged confrontations, youthful male preoccupation with top dog status, iconic posturing and behavior and the sheer excitement of action. Pared down to the basics, Cohen's direction and script by Gary Scott Thompson, Erik Bergquist and David Ayer keep the picture speeding down the straightaway where it belongs, while an attractive cast led by an imposing Vin Diesel keeps the personal scenes quite watchable.
Many will consider the picture's pedal-to-the-metal antics a guilty pleasure, but they should be persuaded to give up the guilt and enjoy the unostentatious nature of the sort of film that used to be a Hollywood staple but is now in short supply. Point of entry into the world of L.A. street racing is provided by Brian O'Conner (Paul Walker), the only blond, blue-eyed guy in sight amid the multi-ethnic stew of blue-collar Los Angeles. Attracted to lunch counter girl Mia Toretto (Jordana Brewster), Brian turns up with his computerized, fuel-injected Mitsubishi Eclipse at a nocturnal industrial area to take on Mia's brother Dominic (Diesel), the undisputed local champ.
Tough and intimidating, Dominic is also willing to accord respect where it's due, and after a blistering race in which Brian almost blows his car apart while giving Dominic a run for his money, Dominic welcomes the outsider into his circle, much to the consternation of redneck a-hole Vince (Matt Schulze), who also has the hots for Mia.
Bonding over their love of cars and both having done time in the joint, Dominic and Brian have to contend with one violent enemy, Chinese hoodlum Johnny Tran (Rick Yune), whose goons ride around on "crotch rockets," or superpowered motorcycles, shooting up anything in sight. For Brian, however, Johnny holds a special interest: Brian's actually an undercover cop on assignment to infiltrate the street-racing scene in order to nail the culprits responsible for a rash of big-money truck hijackings, daring and skilled jobs that would seem to bear Johnny's fingerprints.
But as his superiors push Brian to quickly crack the criminal ring, the young man becomes more deeply enmeshed in the lives of his new friends. While working a day job at the neighborhood's No. 1 auto supplies outlet, he starts fixing up an old junker at Dominic's shop in order to repay a debt, and launches into a romance with Mia. Vince, Brian's rival for the latter's attention, suddenly suspects that Brian's a cop; it's something Dominic doesn't want to believe, but the seed of doubt is planted nonetheless.
Once Brian's cover is finally blown, tempers cross the red line, but even then the dramatic dynamics remain nicely conflicted, as Brian, stepping out of his cop's role, takes an extreme risk to help Vince, of all people, escape certain death when the latter is plastered on the cab of a speeding big-rig while the driver is trying to aerate him with a shotgun. Reminiscent of "The Road Warrior" without feeling like a ripoff, this tense and roaring sequence reps the film's action high point, although there's even more to come after that as Brian and Dominic must try to settle their complex account.
Unlike last year's arch, phony and sentimental "Gone in Sixty Seconds" remake, "Fast" gets down in an honest and direct manner and at least gives the feel of being rooted in a certain subculture's genuine obsession for hot wheels, a preoccupation that defines the characters' way of life. The ethnic diversity on view here is so thoroughly mixed as to render conventional labels all but meaningless, with the exception of the "white bread" represented by Brian. One-dimensional psychological profiles are provided -- notably Dominic's youthful trauma of having watched his father die in a racetrack crash -- but nothing is permitted that slows down the forward momentum.
Having been noted on the fringes over the last few years -- in "Saving Private Ryan," "Boiler Room," "Pitch Black" and his own indie drama "Strays" -- Diesel herein emerges front and center as a strong but intriguingly ambiguous leading man. Shaven-headed and seriously pumped but readily expressing sensitivity and an emotional intuitiveness, Diesel conveys a suggestive good-guy/bad-guy combo that augurs well for future action roles as well as for more complex parts. Although he's playing the ostensible toughest guy on the block, it's also amusing to see him express real fear when put in the powerless position of being Brian's passenger during some particularly hair-raising driving moments.
As the "snowman" who must prove himself to the 'hood-hardened local boys while keeping his true identity a secret, Walker simmers strongly in a low-keyed way. Brewster is looking good and doing a better job here than she did as a searching teen in the recent "The Invisible Circus," but "Girlfight" sensation Michelle Rodriguez is wasted in the thoroughly undeveloped part of Dominic's girlfriend; just a day or two of specific concentration on her part in the script stage might have given her something to do, but the character is utterly superfluous to the central action. Schulze is menacing as the civility-challenged Vince, while Chad Lindberg seems to be channeling Giovanni Ribisi in his role as a geeky mechanics whiz.
Cohen's direction is all energetic, no-nonsense efficiency, backed up by rough-and-ready, determinedly unslick tech contributions. Score is composed of a combustible combination of techno and hip-hop sounds.
Brian O'Conner ....... Paul Walker
Dominic Toretto ...... Vin Diesel
Letty ................ Michelle Rodriguez
Mia Toretto .......... Jordana Brewster
Johnny Tran .......... Rick Yune
Jesse ................ Chad Lindberg
Leon ................. Johnny Strong
Vince ................ Matt Schulze
Sgt. Tanner .......... Ted Levine
Edwin ................ Ja Rule
Agent Bilkins ........ Thom Barry
Harry ................ Vyto Ruginis
A Universal release presented in association with Mediastream Film of a Neal H. Moritz production. Produced by Moritz. Executive producers, Doug Claybourne, John Pogue.
Directed by Rob Cohen. Screenplay, Gary Scott Thompson, Erik Bergquist, David Ayer, screen story by Thompson. Camera (Deluxe color, widescreen), Ericson Core; editor, Peter Honess; music, BT; music supervisors, Gary Jones, Happy Walters; production designer, Waldemar Kalinowski; art director, Kevin Kavanaugh; set designer, Maria Baker; set decorator, Florence Fellman; costume designer, Sanja Milkovic Hays; sound (Dolby Digital/DTS/SDDS), Felipe Borrero; sound designers/supervisors, Bruce Stambler, Jay Nierenberg; visual effects supervisor, Michael J. Wassel; special visual effects, Syd Dutton, Bill Taylor; associate producer, Creighton Bellinger; assistant director, George Parra; second unit director/stunt coordinator, Mic Rodgers; second unit camera, Jonathan Taylor; casting, Ronna Kress. Reviewed at the Universal Studios Cinema 18, Universal City, June 14, 2001.
Copyright 2001 Los Angeles Times
Cool Guys, Hot Racing Cars
By Svenja Hadler
In the US, "The Fast and the Furious" brought in 141 million dollars with an action spectacle. Right in the middle of it – Vin Diesel. TV Movie editor Svenja Hadler met the rising star.
Watch out when they step on the gas! The wheels start burning; the streets of L.A. start smoking. Hard-as-nails Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) shoots through the night, together with his guys, and the car freaks do illegal battles on the asphalt with each other in their souped-up cars. Unless they're occupied with breaking into trucks – at least that's what the police think; therefore undercover cop Brian O'Connor infiltrates Toretto's gang. He's supposed to gather evidence, and gets a good hiding: Toretto hammers him down to the ground with his bare fists. Brian can't do anything but flee...
An hour on the sofa with the superstar
It's exactly that guy named Vin Diesel (34), who lashes out that brutally in his latest film "The Fast and the Furious", who is going to sit across from me in the Park Hyatt Hotel in Hamburg straightaway. I'm waiting for him curiously. Then the door flies open, I turn around – and I am surprised: instead of the grim looking giant I expected, a whirlwind (height: 1,88m) who is in a brilliant mood skips in, belting out Michael Jackson's "Smooth Criminal", his muscles hidden under a white T-shirt. "What an incredible hotel," the Hollywood star calls out and throws himself onto the sofa. "I'll engage the architect; I'd like him to embellish my house in L.A." Incredible! This is said to be the same guy who doesn't smile a single time and scares everyone to death in the Australian sci-fi shocker "Pitch Black"?
Action hero has the wind up
At least as surprising as Diesel's appearance is his choice of cars: in "The Fast and the Furious", he thunders across Los Angeles in souped-up racing cars, but in private life, the New York born actor prefers to chug along in a slow truck; that way, it's much easier to "overlook the street and keep to speed limits". Did he do all the stunts in the film himself, at least? "God no – just a few of them. I'm not suicidal. Although once I had to half climb out of the side window of my car at 70 miles per hour."
The door to the room opens, and the hot chocolate he ordered is served; he launches into a short song of thanks. Does action man Vin Diesel now even intend to become a pop star? No, no, he doesn't. He doesn't have the time for such things anyway; first of all, he has to concentrate on his newest project, the thriller "Triple X", in which he plays an extreme sportsman. Is he afraid that people want to see him in action films only? Vin Diesel becomes thoughtful: "Yes, you have to be careful with that. Fortunately, I've come to Hollywood in a different way than most of my colleagues."
Suddenly, Spielberg was on the blower
You can say that again: [he was] on a theater stage for the first time at the age of seven, and after [finishing] school [he worked as] a bouncer at several clubs for nine years. He spent his salary on drama lessons. Since no one gave him any roles, he made his first two films himself – he wrote the scripts, directed, and played the lead roles as well. And since he did it that well, one day Steven Spielberg called and offered him a part in "Saving Private Ryan". "No one gave me anything for free. It was hard, sometimes even unbearable. But in the end, it was worth it. Although I'm now considered to be an action star, I see myself as a character actor."
Neck massage made in Hollywood
What does Vin Diesel actually think of Arnold Schwarzenegger, the prototype of an action hero? "For a bodybuilder, Arni has achieved amazing things; with a single sentence like 'Hasta la vista, Baby', he became unforgettable. Even Anthony Hopkins doesn't manage this." He still can't grasp his rise himself: "I try not to brood too much over success; I prefer thinking about new projects. But sometimes, my career just floors me."
He laughs, jumps up – and gives me a short neck massage, completely out of the blue. Incredible – this man is really good for any kind of surprise...