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Interview: Vin Diesel for "XXX"

By Paul Fischer Monday August 5th 2002 12:45AM
Vin Diesel for "XXX"

There was a time when you could not shut up Vin Diesel. The 35-year old native New Yorker, who first attained recognition through his work in the likes of Saving Private Ryan and Pitch Black, is now more guarded and surprisingly introspective.

More questioning than he once was when the actor first began giving interviews for Ryan, Diesel enjoys responding to one's questions with another question. That, it seems, is Diesel's new media trademark, a way perhaps to deflect attention away from the star, or a means to seek approval from a prying press. His latest film, XXX, casts Diesel as an initially reluctant secret agent in the visceral Hollywood actioner.

When asked if it's perhaps his coolest film that he has done thus far, Diesel's smiling response is a mere ?hat do YOU think'? Cool enough, but with women screaming for more when the hunky actor takes his shirt off in the movie, Diesel begrudgingly admits "that's not a bad thing, right?" Perhaps he is a bit embarrassed by the kind of attention that Diesel is attaining. As the song goes, he's come a long way baby. A long way indeed, since the ex-bouncer's foray into screen acting with Saving Private Ryan. Diesel admits that he never expected to be in the position this most reluctant of stars finds himself in, complete with sex symbol tag and all.

"As a kid I wasn't a pretty boy and was never being chased by women, so I guess it's a different thing having that happen to you later in life." Recent magazine articles have consistently defined Diesel as Hollywood's first multi-racial hero, the big, new action star, Hollywood's latest sex symbol and that he's poised on the brink of superstardom. Labels, he says, that are flattering but which he tries not to take too seriously. "Look, I literally just go and make movies that I hope will take you out of your reality for a couple of hours," Diesel insists with a hint of exasperation in his voice. "That is my sole objective, as an actor and filmmaker and as someone who's been dedicated to this for almost 30 years. All of those labels don't really matter much to me; the key is, that I have the ability to make movies." As to the suggestion that Diesel is taking the mantle from the likes of Stallone and Schwarzenegger, Diesel expresses genuine surprise at the similarities. "In some ways it's amazing, because first of all Rocky is one of the best movies of all time and Schwarzenegger made movies that empowered me as a kid."

Successor to those guys or not, Diesel's star is likely to rise even further once his latest film, the fast and furious spy actioner XXX opens. Diesel stars as former extreme sports athlete Xander "XXX" Cage, notorious for his death defying public stunts. Betting he can succeed where other conventional spies have failed, Xander is recruited by NSA Agent Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson) to become a different kind of undercover agent. Enlisted for a dangerous covert mission, he must use all his extreme skills to combat a clever, organized, and ruthless enemy far beyond the scope of his experience. Though comic book in tone, Diesel admits to an understanding of the anti-establishment spy character he plays here.

"When we create these characters, during that process of character construction, we have to pull from parts of our own personality, however minute they are," Diesel explains. "Have I ever felt like a nihilist as times? Maybe and then I take that and expand it to this type of character." For XXX, however, Diesel put more into this character and movie than anyone was expecting, including "being far more involved in the stunts than the studio would have liked," he admits, smilingly. "Which was an issue on certain occasions." Diesel, a sports and physical fitness fanatic, was at least able to fulfil certain fantasies, by learning how to motocross and engage in other extreme sports activities.

Tough as it was, he thrives on that arduous preparation, for the sake of the work. "What I thrive on is getting the character right, because even in the training process I took more liberties than I normally would have." That's because, Diesel argues, he wants "this character to sing, to live and be believable. I want this character to know what it's like to spin a bike around." Of course, it wasn't all hard work. Shooting on location in Prague, a city known for its good beer and exuberant nightlife, when asked if he took advantage of what the city had to offer after hours, Diesel merely grins broadly/ "Oh, I was an awfully good boy."

Born in New York City, Diesel was drawn to acting at a young age and made his stage debut at age 7. Surprisingly, the young would-be actor was a self-confessed Dungeons and Dragons fan as a child, and admits to still using that role-playing ethos in his approach to acting today. "I've used that part of me that was a huge fan of that as a child in the storytelling aspect of moviemaking", explains Diesel, who has also directed both a short and a well received feature film. That was then, this is now, and Diesel's life could well change dramatically as a result of the likely success of XXX. In trying to communicate how he feels about the exploding celebrity status which a blockbuster such as this could impose on the actor, Diesel begins to question just that. "That's a good question. How COULD I prepare myself?" he muses. "I wish there was a book or something to prepare your fucking self because I just don't know", he says with a genuine frustration in his voice.

He even tried asking advice from stars he had worked with, such as Tom Hanks. "Their advice isn't that good", he laughingly admits. "I don't think there's anything you can do and to be honest, I don't think about that. You have to believe that what I care about is doing the work." This is why he won't read what is written about him. Too many misconceptions, he insists. "Too many for me to mention", he insists, smilingly. "The best thing about being in this new-found position is the ability to get films green-lit." Films as diverse as the biography of Hannibal, who is far away from XXX as one can imagine.

Or Diesel's revisiting of his Riddick character in not one, but two films based on Pitch Black, to be possibly shot in Australia later this year. "Pitch Black will serve as the prequel the same way as The Hobbit was a prequel to Lord of the Rings", Diesel says. "The two films will form part of a Riddick trilogy." Diesel may be Hollywood's reluctant star, but at least he is having a good time going back to his Dungeons and Dragons days, reliving a childhood fantasy that remains inherent in Diesel's boyish psyche.

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