Vin Diesel is far more relaxed than the last time we met at the XXX junket. Far more at ease with his sense of humour intact, the smartly attired actor admits that while promoting XXX, he had good reason to feel stressed because “it was like this huge big thing ” while with A Man Apart – in which he plays a revengeful DEA cop, “at least is a film where I was really able to focus on the performance and went into it because it’s solely the performance,” says a smiling Diesel.
Wearing a sharp blue suit, Diesel strikes one as being genuinely modest. Fame has never come easy to this actor but he has worked hard to attain success. He was making his own films in order to make it in this fickle business, admitting gratitude but not overt surprise as to his development as a major Hollywood player. “Look, the politically correct thing would be for me to say: “Ooh, gee, golly, man, I feel like, I don’t know how it happened’,” he says self-mockingly. “But, the reality is, and probably more helpful for anybody that would read this, I planned to the best of my ability to be in this position. I paid to make movies before I ever got paid to make them, so, I would be making movies regardless of the budget, no matter what, right now. And, the budgets of the films that I’ve been making have gotten bigger and bigger and bigger, so I’m ecstatic about the ability to be able to be a part of that.”
As Diesel’s star has risen, so has his ability to pick and choose. Though billed as Hollywood’s X-Generation action star, Diesel wants you to know that he has no intention in being pigeonholed. Take A Man Apart, an unusually complex cop-against-the-drug lord film, in which Diesel gets to dance, cry, show real emotion, as well as pummel the bad guys. For the actor, who was predominantly all brawn in XXX, “it’s a good thing to play different types of or explore different types characters, even if you’re playing a character that still falls under the tough guy vibe.” He sees his DEA cop in Man Apart, a character ultimately driven by the murder of his wife, as “a different type of tough guy who believes in fidelity, so much so that he can’t even get a lap dance at a strip club, because he’s so hung up on his wife.” He doesn’t want audiences to see his latest film thinking that they’re merely going to get a conventional bad ass cop thriller with a plethora of mind-numbing action scenes. “I see this as kind of a thug love story, a modern day tragic love story, which you’re constantly reminded of. Even after this huge shoot out thing where my character loses it and kills a man with his bare hands, and the Lorenz Tate character has to cover that up by taking one of the guns that was lying on the floor, shooting a guy that’s already dead, you cut to this man alone, wiping off the blood of his wedding ring.”
Yet one wonders as to whether Diesel’s growing legion of testosterone-filled teenage fans, are ready to embrace this at times, kinder, gentler character type. Diesel says that he has to believe that his fan base “responds to honest work and I have to live by that. This is a different style of film, obviously than XXX, but a necessity,” he says quietly. “I think that it’s weird how life works. It’s almost as though this is a prerequisite to me playing a character with such anger and such emotion and a prerequisite to Hannibal, which everyone knows is what the objective is making this Hannibal sell.
Not Hannibal the Cannibal, of course, but the original ancient elephant man, the famed soldier who, by the time he was eighteen, already had his own army and was a general under his brother-in-law Hasdrubal. In his mid-twenties, Hannibal commanded approximately 100,000 men and had already won a number of battles, including the Battle of Saguntum which caused the Second Punic War. For years, Diesel has been driven by an innate passion to play this most extraordinary of ancient characters. Perhaps the actor could identify with the character. Or perhaps Diesel is just fascinated by ancient military history. “I think that the Punic Wars overall have been overlooked not to mention its relevance,” Diesel explains. “Hannibal was victorious because he preserved culture at the end of the day and he was the first successful person to amass a multicultural army, soldiers from all nations fighting together for one cause and to start the journey of this imperialistic force.”
Diesel knows precisely what he wants in his career, and doesn’t just assume he’ll get there. As determined as he is to bring Hannibal to the screen, he is also determined to take on the role of Sky Masterson in the recently announced screen remake of the musical Guys and Dolls. After all, if it was good enough for Brando to take on the classic gambler in the 1955 version, it’s more than good enough for Diesel who, like his predecessor, has no musical training. “Doing Guys and Dolls will be far scarier than anything else I’m about to do, precisely because I can’t sing.” Yet that not withstanding, Diesel says that not only is it likely he’ll get to do the film, it’s inevitable and is something that he’s always wanted to play “as it was one of those holiday movies at the house and the family favourite.” Diesel says that doing the film “is an opportunity to do a musical that feels natural for me, like a Good Fellas version of Chicago. It’s that musical which calls for a pretty formidable character and Sky Masterson has to be a credible formidable character. It’s something that intimidates me because of the singing, and all that, that will entail,” he says smilingly.
Diesel says that the inevitability of Guys and Dolls being a reality has as much to do with the resurgence of the screen musical, as Diesel’s own star power that can lead to the film happening with him in it. “I think the musical is a celebration of a certain style of show making, a style of storytelling. I think there are a lot of things that probably attribute to our newfound interest in musicals that present an opportunity to be really liberal in our artistic expression. Chicago and Moulin Rouge were films that didn’t comply with any rules, and that’s what made them special.”
Diesel hopes that audiences will readily embrace this all-singing, all-dancing actor, but before either Hannibal or Guys and Dolls reflect his diverse passions Diesel is well on the way to create a galaxy of hard-edged characters that collectively will cement his career as one of Hollywood’s elite superstars beginning with another pet project, The Chronicles of Riddick, which begins shooting in Vancouver shortly. “I’m ecstatic about it. I just did the camera test yesterday and I can report that there’s a little anxiety there cause they wanted to try out these new contact lenses and the first experience wasn’t all that comfortable.” But he’s looking forward to getting into the character, confidently admitting that “we’re going to have fun and we’re going to try to deliver a trilogy that kicks ass,” Diesel further admits, with a genuine sense of boyish enthusiasm, “how lucky I am to be able to play a pivotal character of futuristic mythology that explores mortality.” Diesel has also confirmed actual start dates for Hannibal [early 2004] and that inevitable sequel to the blockbuster XXX [Summer 2004]. Not bad for a guy who, not that long ago, recalls “telemarketing, taking bullshit money and saving it to make films which was my whole game.” These days, the game is more exciting and the stakes are higher but Vin Diesel wouldn’t have it any other way.