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Interview with Vin Diesel

Aired August 2, 2013 - 05:30:00   ET





MONITA RAJPAL, HOST: It's the sixth installment of the high octane action series "Fast & the Furious," and once again Hollywood muscle man Vin Diesel takes on the character of hard talking street racer and ex-con Dominic Toretto.

VIN DIESEL, ACTOR/PRODUCER, "FAST & FURIOUS 6": Just like old times.

RAJPAL: It's a silver screen series that highlighted Diesel's strength in playing the tough guy roles. And after the original rake in a cool $40 million at the box office in its first weekend in 2001, the "Fast & the Furious" franchise sees Vin Diesel stepped firmly into the limelight to become one of Tinsel Town's A-list star.

Just six years earlier the former bouncer and struggling actor created this cinematic short about the trials of an aspiring actor.

DIESEL: I'm sitting down eating with my girl, and some guy walks in, a real pretty boy sits down the table behind me, right? I mean, come on, you know, what's this guys, kidding me or what?

RAJPAL: The film he wrote, produced, financed, directed and starred in. Yet this small-time production would catch the eye of big time producer/director Steven Spielberg. Impressed, Spielberg created a role of Private Caparzo in his epic "Saving Private Ryan" specifically for Diesel. Afterwards triggering a slew of other roles for the muscle man starring alongside a young Ben Affleck in "Broiler Room."



RAJPAL: Flexing his sci-fi muscles as the former mercenary Richard B. Riddick in "Pitch Black."


DIESEL: Like I said, it ain't me you got to worry about.

RAJPAL: And returning to his action root as a rebellion and extreme sports athlete and reluctant spy in "Triple X."

This week on TALK ASIA, we're in Seoul to catch up with Vin Diesel and find out who he really is.

(On camera): Who are you at home?

DIESEL: For my mom, I'm probably Michael Corleone.



RAJPAL: Vin Diesel, welcome to TALK ASIA.

DIESEL: Hello, Monita.

RAJPAL: Thank you so much for spending a few minutes of your time. You have a very busy schedule. Congratulations on "Fast & the Furious 6."

DIESEL: Thank you.

RAJPAL: An extremely successful franchise raking in what I understand over a million dollars?

DIESEL: It should be over $2 million (INAUDIBLE).

RAJPAL: What do you think has contributed to the success of the "Fast & the Furious" franchise?

DIESEL: First of all, I look at the six films as two trilogies. So the first trilogy, the first three, were made in the traditional Hollywood sense. And by that I mean when the film was successful and they want to sequelize it, and they didn't have a story to follow, they would more often than not just rely on the brand and not really think about how the two films would come back to one another.

And now since "Fast & the Furious" and since the numbers and the success really took off, the studio has been very conscious and mindful and prideful even about the ability to continue the story.

RAJPAL: You've taken ownership over this franchise as well. Producing these movies.


RAJPAL: What have you learned about the process and of dealing with studios in Hollywood?

DIESEL: Well, before I get into what -- I learned the whole idea of being a producer was to be more accountable for the overall picture. It was never good enough for me as actor to say -- to look at this picture and say, how was I in it? And if I'm good in it. That's all I care about.

Maybe because of the fact that I started in this business as a director. So after 20 years of licking stamps and sending out manila folders with my headshots and well articulated cover letters, pleading somebody to give me a shot, I kicked off into director a short film that went to Cannes and a feature that went through dramatic competition in Sundance.

My point is, being a producer allowed me to be more accountable for the overall picture. When you see "Fast & the Furious 6" you see that played out in its fullest. In the sense that all of our characters shine so well. That's a testament to wanting everyone in the cast to shine, wanting the director to be the best maybe.

I like walking away from a film and everyone in the film being applauded for doing the best work.

RAJPAL: Did you ever want to throw in the towel when you're auditioning, trying so hard to break this very difficult and hard barrier?

DIESEL: When I was a teenager, when I was a young teenager, I used to say, if I'm not a star by the time I get out of high school, I'm just going to go to college and get a -- you know, a vocational job. So I say when I'm not -- if I'm not a star by the time I'm 21 I will come up with another plan. And then I said I'm not a star by the time I'm 25, I will have to -- have to go (INAUDIBLE). I'm not going to be like everybody around me.


DIESEL: For incredible actors. The best actors I had ever seen. But none of them made a living and there were just local heroes.

RAJPAL: Tell me about this one conversation you had with Harrison Ford.

DIESEL: I was dong extra work in New York City and when I did extra work I would try to -- I would time in and then I would hide because I didn't know want the director to pick me for anything. Because I felt like if know I'm an extra, they'll never hire me for a real role.

But one time I did it because Harrison Ford was there and I -- at a young age I felt real strong about just the opportunity to talk to somebody, just -- I was a New York hustler. And so I'm at the craft service table and he's at the craft service table. And I couldn't play cool. I had a disaster. I just wanted to know what the secret was.

I had known at that time that I was going to be a big movie star.

RAJPAL: You knew back then?

DIESEL: And so many people say that they knew. And you never know it. I knew it more than a human could not. I used to say I don't know if I'll ever have the white picket fence. I don't know if I'll ever get married. I love women too much. But I know sure as breathing I'll be the biggest movie star in the world.

I don't know what gave me that cards because I was doing too well. I mean I didn't -- I started acting at 7, I should have popped off a lot earlier but I really -- I can't stress enough. I mean if there's anything you get from this, please know that there wasn't a hair of doubt. It was the weirdest thing. And my friends, even my friend would think I was crazy when I said it.


DIESEL: One Saturday morning I got a call from my agent. And she says, you're not going to believe this but Steven Spielberg saw your short film.




DIESEL: My dad was a black actor. They wanted me to go one step further. He wanted me to be an actor. Just an actor.


RAJPAL: When you directed/wrote -- directed/produced your first short film, "Multi-Facial," I remember watching it and seeing this guy, the character, Mike, that's very open, very honest, very accessible, very real guy, and there's a line in the monologue where he talks about his father and saying, he wanted to be not -- to be seen not as a black actor but as an actor, tell me about, I guess, the kind of auditions that you had to go through.

DIESEL: Well, when I was in --

RAJPAL: It gets to that.

DIESEL: That's so true. The irony of "Multi-Facial" is it's a short film that explains why you can't cast a multi-cultural actor and in the '80s and the '90s there weren't any multi-cultural actors. And there was no promise of there ever going to be a multi-cultural movie star. So even at that time, even in the '80s and the '90s I had envisioned, you know, the dream of some day being the first multi-cultural superstar. What that would be like.

RAJPAL: This small short film that cost, what, $3,000 to make?

DIESEL: That's right.

RAJPAL: Lands in the lap of a really big-time Hollywood director. Tell me about that.

DIESEL: Well, I just came back from the Sundance Film Festival with "Strays" and I thought that I would sell it then. I'd been (INAUDIBLE). And then one Saturday morning I get a call from my agent and she says, you're not going to believe this but Steven Spielberg saw your short film. I just started jumping up and down. And I remember I jumped on my bed. I was jumping up and down on my bed like a kid on Christmas. And the agent said, can you shut up for a second, Vin? I have more to tell you.

He wants to write a role for you in "Saving Private Ryan."


DIESEL: That's never happened in any -- any form of reality from -- I'd never seen that happened in the -- I'd never seen that happened to the sea of actors I grew up with. I've never seen that happened. I didn't even know if it could happen.


DIESEL: I didn't believe it. And she said, yes, he wants to meet you, he wants you to go to Universal. So I remember like being in my closet and -- trying to pick out what shirt to wear to meet Steven Spielberg, and I have been over the white T-shirt, go figure, and I walk on to the set of a film he was filming at the time and the whole time I'm thinking, well, I don't want to say something so obvious like I'm a huge fan of your work, he probably gets that all the time, he probably wants me to be a lot cooler than that.


And he comes over to me and says, Vin, I'm a fan of your work.

RAJPAL: Oh my god. Wow.

DIESEL: My heart just opened up and I was just -- that sense I was -- I didn't mean anything more.

RAJPAL: How did that change you? That moment. How did that change you?

DIESEL: How did it change me? It -- I guess the fact that my colleagues -- it really changed my -- my colleagues had changed. It was no longer the thespian that would, you know, be rehearsing with me at the park, it was now Steven Spielberg. And he said, you know, I want you to meet Tom. And I said, Tom who? And he said -- laughing, and said, and looking me like, you don't know what you're here for? Kind of like, do you know anything about this industry? Tom Hanks.

And I said oh, and so I felt so -- at that moment embarrassed and he said, no, no, no, that's a good thing. Don't lose that. He was speaking to keeping that New York -- or keeping that integrity, period.

RAJPAL: And have you?

DIESEL: It's not easy. It's easier just to hit your mark and say your lines. But that just wasn't me. I had failed for two decades hitting mark, saying lines. When I was on the set with "Saving Private Ryan" I would come to the set 20 minutes early and literally talks Steven Spielberg's head off about everything in the script. I was critiquing the script of "Saving Private Ryan" with Steven, I was still nothing. I thought, you know, had this --

RAJPAL: But he thought you were somebody and that shows who he was as a person.

DIESEL: Yes. Yes.

RAJPAL: Not a director but as a person.

DIESEL: As a person. He thought that I was somebody. If -- if anyone gets that credit for giving me the first paid acting job, I've never made $7,000 in a year which was what the qualification was at that time. We get health benefits.

So I would go to the set early and I would talk to him and I would talk to him -- I remember one day he said -- I was talking to him about something in the third act about Tom Hanks' character, and he looked at me with the most puzzled look on his face like this guy is crazy. Vinny, you die in the first act. You're not even in the third act.

But he was so encouraging that when I wasn't shooting he even let me operate a 35 millimeter camera.

RAJPAL: You couldn't buy better education than that.

DIESEL: I couldn't -- I used to say all the time, I would say to anybody, to take this advice. I would have brought him coffee every day and he -- he wouldn't have to pay me. That access to working professionals, what I was longing for. I just wanted to be around them. I just wanted to see what they do and learn from what they do. And because it was all foreign to me.


DIESEL: I went up to the woods for about four months and just isolated myself to play that character.




UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Many fans in Korea, how do you feel?

DIESEL: It feels incredible. It feels like validates the work you do. It means that when we do the next film you work that much harder because you know people are out there expecting it and waiting for it. And you know it's special for them. So it gives you more pride in your work.


RAJPAL: Let's talk about roles. There's this great line in "Fast & the Furious 6", the character, Owen Shaw, says this code you live by makes you predictable. In our line of work predictable means vulnerable.



LUKE EVANS, ACTOR, "FAST & THE FURIOUS 6": This code that you live by makes you predictable. In our line of work predictable means vulnerable. I could make you out and break you whenever I wanted.


RAJPAL: Could that be said about Hollywood as well? If you're predictable you're vulnerable?

DIESEL: I suppose. I mean I -- there have been an argument that you could make that comparison, I never thought of it in relation to Hollywood. I only thought of that in relation to the character archi-types in "Fast" and we had been -- you know, we were so vocal about the theme in "Fast 5" that the natural next step would be to create a villain that could expose the downside of what we have been promoting in "Fast 5."

And so the concept of -- behind Owen Shaw's character was to do that very thing.

RAJPAL: Perhaps those are the things that put you in a different sphere than other actors, because you actually think that way.

DIESEL: Absolutely. Absolutely.

RAJPAL: I'm curious to know about the character Richard Riddick.


RAJPAL: Pretty dark character.


RAJPAL: Very different.

DIESEL: Very different.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where the hell can I get eyes like that?

DIESEL: By killing people.


DIESEL: (INAUDIBLE) slam when I tell you never see daylight again. You take up a doctor and you pay him 20 Menthol cools to do a surgical shine job on your eyeballs.


RAJPAL: What kind of a place did you have to put yourself into? What did you tap into in order to play him?

DIESEL: I went up to the woods for about four months and just isolated myself to play that character.


DIESEL: To the part where (INAUDIBLE) were coming, to the part where (INAUDIBLE) were visiting me, the crisis at (INAUDIBLE), and it's a hard process to describe and it's going into a dark place, a hopeless place. And now as a family man, I'm a little uncomfortable watching "Riddick" because he's so dark I get embarrassed that I could even go to that place. And when I'm watching "Riddick" on screen I almost feel sorry for whoever's playing that character that they came to have that anger and fury in them. And that cold -- you know, coldness about them.

It's interesting.

RAJPAL: Who are you at home? Are you Vin Diesel at home or are you Mark Vincent at home?

DIESEL: I'm Dabby.

RAJPAL: To your mom? What about your mom?

DIESEL: To my mom, I'm probably Michael Corleone.


RAJPAL: The true hustler.


RAJPAL: How does being a dad changed you?

DIESEL: Oh my god. Being dad allows you to be the goofy person that you are. Being a dad allows you to be the loving person like you are. You can -- you have open invitation to be as loving as you are. That's the perk of being a parent.

RAJPAL: What's up next for you? Tell me about the projects. I hear that there's --

DIESEL: So many.

RAJPAL: Well, one in particular, "Kojak," and I have to say is one of my dad's favorite characters.


RAJPAL: Yes. I'd watched it when I was a kid, the series.

DIESEL: My grandmother loved Kojak. And when I was really young, we would Kojak when we were up my grandmother's house in Queens. At the core, Kojak is a New Yorker and all that comes, all the perspective that comes from being a true concrete raised New Yorker and we got Universal -- I take my hat off to them. They got Purvis and Wade who wrote "Skyfall" to write the original story of "Kojak."

And the fun spin of it is a New Yorker that's gone through -- a New Yorker that's survived the Twin Towers. And the way that they are writing it plays to my history so I watched the towers go up and I watched the towers come down. And as a New Yorker on that island that's a big deal when the biggest thing on your island is both built and destroyed in your upbringing and in your life.

RAJPAL: If you could talk to your younger self, knowing what you know in those days when you thought maybe it's not going to happen, what would you tell yourself?

DIESEL: Play it cool. I'd say, I'd say play it cool and learn as much as you can because everything you learn you're going to need. You won't have enough time to learn. Everything is an education.

RAJPAL: Vin Diesel, it's a pleasure.

DIESEL: Thank you, Monita.

RAJPAL: Thank you so much.

DIESEL: Thank you.