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xXx - 'The one thing I will probably never do is become pigeon-holed'

Feature by: Jack Foley

THE name Vin Diesel may now be synonymous with the action genre, but it is clear from spending time with him that he sees himself as far more than just ‘the new Sylvester Stallone’.

In town to promote his latest movie, xXx, Diesel unveiled plans to star in an epic version of Hannibal (based on Ross Leckie's 1996 fictional 'autobiography’ about the life of the 3rd-Century Carthaginian general), and is currently in talks with Nicole Kidman to appear in a remake of Guys and Dolls.

That’s on top of the xXx franchise, which already has plans for two more films, and a trilogy involving Riddick, the character he played in David Twohy’s Pitch Black.

For now, though, he is committed to talking Xander Cage, the new kind of secret agent who is designed to offer cinema-goers a tougher, more identifiable super-spy than 007.

Diesel remains committed to the project and was determined to do justice to the character in terms of appearance and ability, especially in terms of being able to reach the physical extremes of his on-screen persona.

He started training 10 weeks prior to shooting and was performing jumps on a motorbike on the first day he was asked to get on the saddle. But the star was seldom phased and confessed to wanting to do more, on-screen, than he was often allowed.

He explained: "The first day I was on a motorcross bike, I was already doing jumps, and we were in the training process and I wasn’t insured.

"My instructor blew out his knee going around a simple turn, so when the studio found out that he was on crutches for the next three months, it kind of marked the beginning of the Xander-Gibbons-like relationship I had with the studio.

"I was constantly trying to sneak away from the set to practise these jumps and then try to do things in the film that the studio would never have let me do, and Rob only partially let me do some of the things that I really wanted to do… usually after a long discussion and him telling me, you know, ‘you’re my friend, it’s not just about the film’. Or, ‘what would your mother say?’

"The training process for me was not like the training process I did here, at the Hatfield AirBase Centre, back in 1997, when I was in boot camp for Saving Private Ryan.

"It was imperative because, for my character, I go into this film as an extreme sports athlete and I had to understand what that was like and I had to pay homage to it."

Diesel confesses to not knowing much about extreme sports prior to shooting, but is now a huge fan.

"I did a lot of stupid shit in New York, as a kid, like holding on to the back of a New York taxi cab, going 50mph up 8th Avenue on a pair of rollerblades, which is not the smartest thing in the world.

"But now, after the whole 10 weeks of training, I love extreme sports. That was part of the thing that made me really excited about doing this film. The objective was to become an extreme sports athlete."

Yet as excited as Diesel gets when talking about the challenges of making xXx and working within the action genre - and though he may joke that he is only interested in films so long as he gets to ‘blow shit up!’ - it is clear that the star is determined not to get pigeon-holed.

He has already turned his back on another lucrative franchise - that of The Fast and the Furious - describing it as not powerful enough to warrant one, and he intends to make a name for himself in all types of films.

When questioned about the decision not to film a Fast and the Furious sequel, he agrees that it was a ‘ballsy’ move, but elaborates: "As a film-maker and an actor, it’s not exciting to take a reactionary stance towards sequels, where you wait until the film is showing and, if it’s a success, you say, okay, let’s just make another one.

"With xXx, we knew, before we even made the first one, that this was a character we wanted to revisit, and that this was a world we wanted to revisit, and we attempted to make the first one powerful enough to warrant a franchise.

"I’m sure there are a lot of people who would love for me to do the sequel to the Fast and the Furious, who might not understand why I wouldn’t do it, but I was really turning down all that money to keep the integrity of my films alive, or intact.

"The interesting thing about Riddick is that they were writing a sequel and it was just another planet, with more creatures.

"That wasn’t exciting, either, so I went to the studio and came up with this idea of trying to create a mythology, a trilogy, and David Twohy is now writing three scripts which he describes as being to Pitch Black, what Lord of the Rings is to The Hobbit - which should prove very interesting.

"The one thing I will probably never do, however, is become pigeon-holed by anything, so enjoy this action film now."

It’s hard not to admire Diesel’s attitude or believe that he will not succeed. The diversity of his forthcoming projects, for instance, speaks volumes, while he speaks with the confidence and humility of someone only too aware of how hard it is to succeed - and remain on top.

There is clearly much more to him than mere beefcake action man - and he is not afraid to praise those who have helped him get where he is, most notably his mother.

His press conference at London’s Dorchester even drew to a close on quite a touching note, as he explains.

"I grew up in an artists’ community in New York, so everyone was an artist. I grew up in a building that was government-subsidised. No one made any money, but they did art for the sake of art.

"My father taught theatre before he had to start raising the family and get a real job, so I was always exposed to it.

"But my mother has done some amazing things, aside from being the most supportive mother in the world. She’s magical. She’s given me little tokens; one Christmas, I think it was 1993, I had just got back from LA, having gone out there thinking I was going to be a big movie star and that my New York background was going to open all these doors for me.

"So it was a year later, and I had come back with my tail between my legs, having to face all the people I told I was going to be a big movie star. I went back to my mum’s and she gave me this book, called Feature Films At Used Car Prices - How To Make A Movie For $11,000 Or Less.

"What it lacked in practical/technical advice, it made up for in motivation. It was truly, truly empowering and was probably the most important gift I have ever been given, because after that I knew I could make movies and it was just a matter of money."

Now, however, he is earning the type of money that enables him to make movies such as the upcoming Hannibal project, and he is thrilled to bits - and rightly so!

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