In a relatively short period of time Paul Walker, 29, has emerged as one of Hollywood’s major players. But the young star, taking a break while filming the John Singleton-directed sequel to the high octane Fast and the Furious sequel in Miami, is unconcerned about his celebrity status especially amongst teenage girls.
Relaxed and fit, wearing jeans and a red t-shirt, the fast-talking star says that nothing much has changed despite his elevated star status since the surprise success of the first Fast and the Furious. “The only thing that’s really changed, is that I think a few more people from Hollywood seem to know who I am and I am on more people’s radar,” the actor says. “Aside from that, back home I still hang out with the same people and I still do the same things I always do but just avoid malls.”
Walker happily concedes that he enjoys the perks of being a celebrity “but a celebrity or famous person is never really a big draw to me.” He just loves to act and make movies because “that’s one of the few professions or careers that really allow you to live more than one life. Aside from maybe possibly selling real estate and being a fireman, there really aren’t too many other professions that you can have and so I get to have my cake and eat it too,” Walker says laughingly.
It was Rob Cohen’s high energy actioner The Fast and the Furious, that put Walker well and truly on the Hollywood map. While co-star Vin Diesel opted not to return to the anarchic world of illegal drag racing, Walker recalls that “the contract from the first one had an option on me”. Initially, there was no script to speak of because “the future was pretty uncertain as to whether or not Vin was going to come back.” Nor was director Cohen likely to return behind the camera.
In the meantime, Walker starred in Richard Donner’s upcoming Timeline before The Fast and the Furious 2 came into shape. Initially Walker says that he was “bummed” not to be working with Cohen or Diesel, “just because I had such a good time with them and I felt like we made it happen the first time around.” Replacing the pair was controversial director John Singleton behind the camera and singer Tyrese Gibson playing a character called Roman Pearce. “I liked Tyrese right away because he was real and seemed to me like a kid that was really excited to have the opportunity to potentially be in a movie.”
In the sequel, Walker reprises his role of Officer O’Conner, now stripped of his badge, on the run, and is now recruited to infiltrate the Miami street racing circuit in an effort to redeem himself. “I’m like Vin’s character in the first one”, Walker explains. “Police don’t fare too well in prison and that’s what I am potentially looking at so I take off immediately. I use the skills that I’ve acquired being a cop to have more or less figured how to live underground, such as coming up with an alias.”
Walker is as keen on cars off the screen as his character’s is on, a passion that began well before The Fast and the Furious came his way. “I was always into cars; my grandfather raced factory cars before in the 1960s and my father was always a gearhead. Growing up, Walker recalls, “there were always Motor Trend, Car and Driver and Automobile magazines around the house, and in high school, I used to go to the drag races all the time.”
But not to race, not then anyhow, as he laughingly recalls adolescence “that was really dominated by the Mustangs or my Vanilla Ice days, rolling in my 5.0, you know, as imports just arrived on the scene. I wasn’t really racing at the time, because I didn’t have the money to do it.” These days, money is no object as he talks excitingly about his Nissan Skyline which he drove in the first movie, and now owns a newer version. “Wow. I mean, that thing is so fast. The steering wheel is on the right-hand side, an exotic, and something I’ve never seen before.” Now he says that The Fast and the Furious has turned him into a semi-professional circuit racer. “I’ve gone into circuit racing and I’m actually going to be licensed just shortly after finishing this film,” Walker says, excitingly.
If cars aren’t adrenalin-charging enough, shooting here in Miami has meant that the actor can indulge in his other love: Surfing, catching waves early in the morning before getting down to acting. “surfing is my escape and my anti-drug because it’s the only time I really find peace in myself and that’s the simple truth. When you’re out there, it’s like my church.”
Family also remains of importance to the actor especially his four-year old daughter Meadow with girlfriend Bliss Ellis, whom he met in April 1998 during filming of “Varsity Blues” in which she appeared as an extra. The actor admits that he has tried to cut down on some of his physically demanding extra curricular activities since being a dad. “I used to skydive quite a bit as well as do bungee jumping etc and I just cut it out completely because you do find that you check yourself. I was laughing when people told me when I was younger, that you know you’l find that when you have kids, it really affects you in the way that you think and I said, yeah whatever. It’s like one of those things, you know, they say that when you get older, you become more like your parents? Well it’s so true,” he says, smilingly. A doting father when he’s not surfing or car racing, Walker has managed to keep his acting life well and truly separate from his daughter. “she really has no clue what I do for a living. Her mom would not allow her to come on set and initially, I kept on asking why and I realized that I don’t want her to know because I just want to be daddy, that’s it.”
Paul couldn’t be happier, and while his good looks may overshadow his abilities as an actor, Walker is unconcerned. “I mean some people think that I’m good looking and that’s why I am where I’m at. But up until recently, I just thought I was the luckiest guy in the world and it was just a matter of time that people found me out and I wouldn’t be doing this much longer, but after having worked with Dick Donner and with the success of the first Fast and Furious, I’m like whoa, man, I think you should really start enjoying this now because if you want, you could potentially stay around as long as you like.” No wonder, he adds, he is taking his career “much more seriously” than he did before, agreeing, that like his character in the new Fast and the Furious, “I see that I’ve evolved and that surfing is not everything.”