DIESEL STILL FAST, FURIOUS AND COMPETITIVE
by Paul Fischer
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Vin Diesel’s star shone brightly with the successes of The Fast and the Furious and XXX, and then this career of his stalled. Now, it appears, the tough, funny and always fascinating actor returns to the franchises that kickstarted his career, and as we do each time we get together, Hannibal and other such projects are discussed in this free and loose conversation.
QUESTION: Same old crap.
VIN DIESEL: So they say, so they say. But do you enjoy it? You stayin’ alive? You’re still in the film business? You’re still haulin’ out here to talk to me and you talk to me so many times and you know me so well.
QUESTION: Only you could get a journalist to talk to you in a parking lot.
VIN DIESEL: Oh God, oh God. Why do I have a feeling this is going to go to Hannibal in a minute? I know somebody’s going to hit me with the “God dammit, where’s the Hannibal?”
QUESTION: Riddick 3.
VIN DIESEL: Yes, how did you know about the Riddick?
QUESTION: You’ve been talking about it.
VIN DIESEL: Have I? Where did I say something.
QUESTION: At the video game call.
VIN DIESEL: How do you know about the video game? That’s the problem. I talk to much. I talk to much. They were telling me, the Hollywood Foreign Press, they said, “Can we have the five second answer, not the five hour answer?”
QUESTION: Was this the right time to finally revisit this character?
VIN DIESEL: Absolutely. The timing was finally right. What led to that was a series of events. First and foremost, I had the luxury of working with Sidney Lumet. And boy does that absolve you from being too stereotyped because at least it’s on record, right? Though very few people saw the movie, it’s on record. It’s a departure from the franchise films. Finding an entry point to revisit this character is what took so long. Eight years, because you know, I don’t just do sequels in a reactionary way. It makes a lot of money, let’s do another one immediately without working out the story, as you know never worked. I take a little bit longer. I make sure that I can feel it. I make sure that there is an entry point for my character and that we really, really, really in a real way worked out the continuation of a story. Am I idealistic and feel like sequels should be more Coppola-like? Yes. So in that I am saying when we were able to work out a continuation to this story in an interesting way that could lead to its own story as you see in the end of this movie, I was ready to do it.
QUESTION: Dominic is motivated by love. How does love motivate you?
VIN DIESEL: Love motivates me in everything I do. It’s funny that you say that because I was talking to my mother who was at the screening. She said it was interesting that Dom was doing all of this in service of love and how rare that is in a film like this, a tent pole film like this. And said that because of that, he could do anything. There was nothing too great a task for him to do. In other words, that was probably the most important aspect of my character. It allowed me to do all these - - everything that I did in the character and you’re with him the whole way. You would think that love is the catalyst for all art, I would imagine, or the antithesis of that, hate in some way.
QUESTION: Having thought so much about the character, where do you see him now? Still a bad guy?
VIN DIESEL: Yeah, I don’t think Dom has a choice. I think he is that quintessential antihero. We’re probably not allowed to give it away where the continuation goes, but I will say that in times like these, in times like this recession that we’re going through, there often is born the Robin Hood-esque story. These fables are born from times like these.
QUESTION: You’re pretty sure there’s a fifth one?
VIN DIESEL: Well, you know me. You know me. I’m telling you that Hannibal’s going to be out every year and I dread the night before coming to the junket because I know it’s like I don’t have Hannibal for them.
QUESTION: Paul said you had ideas for going to Europe. Are you thinking ahead?
VIN DIESEL: Yes, I’m always thinking, which you probably know about me. I think a few pictures at a time. You remember with Chronicles of Riddick, I wanted to do three films at the same time. I’m ambitious like that. So I try to work out stories in service of what I was just talking about and in the way I approach sequels, in that Coppola way. I try to think out the story, even before we go to shoot the film that’s at hand. So yes, I have been thinking about it. I actually brought up the idea of shooting both of the movies back to back with Universal, with the president of Universal. He’s like what? We’re just getting our feet back together.
QUESTION: Are you relieved by the audience reaction at screenings?
VIN DIESEL: When did you see it? You probably saw it in a different environment. I saw it and Paul saw it at a Hollywood screening. Hollywood screenings, let me tell you the atmosphere of the Hollywood screening. You’ve got a percentage of people there that are just wondering if they’re going to keep their job. You’ve got another percentage of people that are self-conscious about the work that they’re in. You have another percentage of people that are jealous of the studio that has this film and hit and are downplaying their excitement. All to amount to usually not an overly excited crowd. In fact, when I was leaving yesterday, I was telling me family, you know, I ask one thing. Enjoy it and allow yourself to enjoy it. Don’t get hung up on the fact that you’re at the studio premiere. For some reason, when people at the studio premiere - -
QUESTION: Well, at the screening I attended it got a good reception.
VIN DIESEL: Well, that’s cool. It did get a good reception. You’re 100% right. It did get a good reception but in comparison…
QUESTION: It was fantastic in the regular crowd.
VIN DIESEL: That’s what I mean, so that’s evidence. You just confirmed it. You saw the difference. I don’t know why but yeah.
QUESTION: Does that make you excited about making another one?
VIN DIESEL: I’m not the studio so the studio gets excited about making another one. There’s a difference. I get excited about the appreciation of the work, first and foremost. That is like, when I’m thinking about going back and doing Dom Toretto so many years later after everybody knows I said no the past two times, it’s loaded, right? If you guys were my reps, it would be an interesting conversation. You’d be like, “Well, I don’t know, Vin. Do you really want to take that chance? You said no so many times. You come back now, you’re setting yourself up. The odds are going to be stacked against you.” We’ve had that conversation. So am I relieved that people enjoyed it? That feels good. It’s less of a - - the studio deals with that [panting out of breath] getting relieved kind of thing. Me, I revel in the idea that people appreciate the work. I revel in the idea, you know I love it when somebody says they pick up on a subtlety or a nuance or a spirit or a theme of character or when somebody can pick up on the comment on society and where we are. All those things are riveting and charge me. But not in the relieved kind of way, although as I just said two seconds ago, if we were all talking about this before the fact, and we were all representative, managers and agents, we’d be thinking, “Huh? You wanna really go for this one, Vin? It, uh, it’s kinda, you know, you said no to the other ones. You dragged it out this long and now you’re going to tell everyone you’re ready? You know.”
QUESTION: If this movie is a big hit, will that finally get Hannibal off the ground?
VIN DIESEL: Very good question. We hope, right? I mean, in theory, yes. But I don’t know if it’s really that. To be 100% honest, I think, and this is really candid, I think the studio might be a little bit, as I can understand, apprehensive about giving me a budget that big to direct. So the question has been and probably what’s held back the film from being realized, do I have to direct it? And then my question, that’s the age old question.
VIN DIESEL: I would ask you that. Do I have to direct it or do I produce it, get my voice on it, put my mojo on it and let someone else direct it that a studio would feel comfortable with that size budget? Understandably. I haven’t ever done something that big. I’ve done, I’ve directed independent film.
QUESTION: And an 18 minute short.
VIN DIESEL: And an 18 minute short. Have you heard about this new short? Justin calls it the anti-Fast with pride.
QUESTION: Did you make that during filming?
VIN DIESEL: The day after. The day after we wrapped here, we went down to the Dominican Republic. I had promised the president of the Dominican Republic while we were working on the film program - - you know about the One Race Global Film Foundation program which is basically a foundation that I started to bring film education to underdeveloped communities and basically get inner city kids and in four weeks teach them how to become filmmakers, all spawned from I guess the success that I’ve had that followed Multi-Facial, that first short film that I did, essentially giving them a voice, giving these kids a voice. We’ve gotten some really interesting films out of these kids and part of that in that whole thing was me telling the president I would bring a franchise film down there, which is why Dominican Republic’s even mentioned in the film in the first place. It was all part of the deal, which is why when you saw the cameo, Los Bandoleros is playing when I enter screen, which is so deliberate and leads into this film now that you’ve seen the film.
QUESTION: Would this third, smaller scale Riddick close the trilogy?
VIN DIESEL: Well, you remember when I had talked about Riddick, I talked about Riddick as being The Fellowship in the Tolkien series. So I was using Pitch Black as Hobbit as the independent story that introduces you to the world of Middle Earth, and then taking the Chronicles of Riddick and treating it as a trilogy that goes from the story that you saw to the underverse and ultimately to Furia in the third film.
QUESTION: Twohy’s writing it?
VIN DIESEL: He’s currently writing the third. It’s hot, but to answer your question specifically about the scaled down aspect, yes. There is a scaled down portion of this that goes back to the Pitch Black style of telling the story.
QUESTION: But it’s still the 2nd, not the third?
VIN DIESEL: Yeah, absolutely. That’s exactly what I’m saying. So if you think of Pitch Black as an introduction to the world. If you think of Lord of the Rings and I’m just using it as a parallel. You’re thinking of Lord of the Rings, there are three books, a trilogy. You would think of The Chronicles of Riddick as the first in that trilogy and there will be two more to follow.
QUESTION: How hard is reviving XXX when your scalp was blown off?
VIN DIESEL: Ain’t that America? That has been recti[fied.] Rob Cohen found a way to, has incorporated that into the story years ago. It’s just now that he’s implementing it. It’s now that he’s using it. It’s a good question.
QUESTION: Do you want to?
VIN DIESEL: Should I do it? That’s all I need to hear. That’s all I need to hear.
QUESTION: Will you let someone else direct Hannibal?
VIN DIESEL: The reason why I didn’t answer the question and you’re 100% right wasn’t because I was skirting. It’s because I was waiting on your answer. Give me one second. I’m not done.
QUESTION: Do whatever it takes to get it made.
VIN DIESEL: Okay, that’s real. Any other - - talk to me.
QUESTION: Make the movie.
VIN DIESEL: That’s what my father would say.
QUESTION: Make it the way you want.
VIN DIESEL: And that’s the other thought. It’s those thoughts.
QUESTION: If you have a script you’re happy with, the director will…
VIN DIESEL: I know.
QUESTION: You’ll never be 100% happy with someone else taking over what you’ve been wanting to do.
VIN DIESEL: I know, that’s the thing. You know, once I do that, once I abstain from directing the thing, I mean, I don’t know guys. You’ve got to help me with this one because if I can fold, but if it’s not folding, if it’s in service of telling a great story, there’s merit to that. There’s something about that because at the end of the day, you just want to see a dope - - you want to see this incredible Hannibal. You want to see it realized and you go, “I can see” and you hope that even if I’m not directing it, all of that work, the development that’s been put into it will shine and that you will see that and that will speak to you. The message and the integrity behind the story and the passion that I held onto that you know has driven me to hold fast to telling that story is present. The hat trick is now, if we’re really thinking about it, is how can I maintain that and make a studio feel comfortable?
Paul Fischer is originally from Australia. Now he is an interviewer and film critic living in Hollywood.
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