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.
Thats 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 Twohys 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 wasnt 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, youre
my friend, its 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
"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
"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
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, its
not exciting to take a reactionary stance towards sequels, where
you wait until the film is showing and, if its a success,
you say, okay, lets 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.
"Im 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 wouldnt
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 wasnt 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."
Its hard not to admire Diesels 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 Londons 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. Shes magical. Shes
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 mums 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!