March 2003
A Man Apart : An Interview with Vin Diesel

A Man Apart: An Interview with Vin Diesel

Vin Diesel is riding high and fast these days. Since making his mark as one of the soldiers in Saving Private Ryan a few years ago, he has nothing but solid roles. After a supporting role is Boiler Room, Vin then captivated audiences as see-in-the-dark prisoner Riddick in Pitch Black, so much that a sequel is being planned. Last year, he made a big leap in the leading men status as he took XXX to new heights. A sequel is also being discussed. In the meantime, Vin shows a softer and darker side in his latest film directed by F. Gary Gray (Friday, The Negotiator). In an interview with, Vin talks about his romantic side in A Man Apart.

AH: How are you?

VD: Iím healthy at the moment. Things can change. Iím right about to go shoot The Chronicles of Riddick and there was a screen test yesterday. It was hours of them playing with my eyeballs, testing out these new contacts. The first time I did Pitch Black, we shot it in a place called Cooper Peety which is in the outback of Australia. It as a modest production, a $20 million production, and they got these contacts out there, and now this is in the boon docks, itís in the outback. Very dusty, thereís dust in the air, and they put these contacts in my eyes. Now, I never wore contacts before. Next thing you know, Iím in the hospital and theyíre trying to take these contacts out. Iím like Agghhh. So, yesterday was like, for three days before, I was like, ĎOh, no, not the contacts.í

AH: Is it cool to go back to Riddick?

VD: Itís so much fun. Itís really- - Iíll tell you. Itís really cool to go back to Riddick when the studioís excited about doing it, making a trilogy out of that character. Thatís a really gratifyingly cool experience.

AH: When do you start?

VD: We start shooting- - I go to Vancouver in two weeks.

AH: All in Vancouver now?

VD: Itís all in Vancouver now.

AH: Any travel concerns with the war going on?

VD: Thank God weíre only going a couple hours away, which probably isnít a bad thing. But, weíre going to go do this and weíre going to create this huge universe. And the studioís excited about doing their kind of futuristic Lord of the Rings, and Iím excited about exploring this characterís purpose in this universe and what his whole deal is.

AH: Contacts are better?

VD: Weíve upgraded from hard lenses to soft. I pulled the weight on it. I had to. I had to pull some weight on this.

AH: We see your romantic side in A Man Apart, how was that?

VD: Part of the reason why I did this movie was that it was a very dark look at a romantic picture. The love story exists throughout the movie, but in a painful, tragic sense. He loves his wife. I wanted to play a character that had as good as a relationship could be, a semi-perfect relationship with his wife, a feel good relationship. And I play a character that upholds that fidelity to his wife even after sheís gone. And play with the psychoanalytical breakdown. This is a performance. This is something that was attractive because I was able to play this very dark, dark, dark energy, this character that loses his soul so to speak. Someone showed me the cave and walked to the grave, and it takes the whole film for me to just get off the road and go to the grave and confront the new reality.

AH: How are you romantic in real life?

VD: [Blushes at this] Flowers. Flowers have done well for me up until now. I hope no oneís expecting a car or anything.

AH: Where did the emotion come from?

VD: I pulled from the idea of abandonment, which is a theme that I played with here. And I pulled from all that harbored anger we all have and lock away in a vault and keep it there locked so we can function. I just kind of unlocked that vault, which made for a very tough shooting experience because I was never that successful in leaving the character on set so to speak. Itís a little bit harder for me, maybe because Iím dyslexic or Iíve got ADD or all those other wonderful things. Itís hard for me to commit so much to a reality, the reality of a character then detach myself from that commitment on the off hours. So, what ends up happening is you live these three months in this reality, in this dark reality, you donít want to do those films every year because theyíre taxing. I started smoking a lot of cigarettes.

AH: Do you do that on each film?

VD: It depends on what kind of film Iím doing. If Iím doing a XXX, then Iím having a lot more fun. I get to be this grown up kid and in a kidlike way being rebellious and adventurous, being indifferent in the way that kids are, like who cares about whatís going on in the world? So, the XXX experience was a lot more fun. Films like this and Iím scared shitless of what Hannibal will be. Iím already prepping all my friends and family, saying, ĎThereís going to be a time in the next 18 months when I go to shoot this Hannibal character, and Iím going to do my best to channel the character, not even play the part, but literally channel it if that makes any sense on a spiritual level, channel this forgotten character, or all but forgotten character. This third century B.C. Carthaginian general. Iím going to be channeling a lot of anger but different than the Sean Vetter anger or the anger thatís associated to a cause, a greater cause, a cause of a whole civilizations.

AH: How will you core fans respond to you playing a cop in A Man Apart?

VD: Well, this character is as rebellious as you can get and still have a badge. He goes through that whole process of losing his badge and losing his place in a brotherhood that he felt so comfortable in. I grew up with all kinds of people. I grew up with people on both sides of the law, and I always thought it would be interesting to find a way to merge the two, find a way to get some of the guys that are on the wrong side of the law fighting for the right side, fighting for the cause and all the effort that goes into drug dealing, the idea of taking someone from that world, that speaks that language, and having him be a proponent for the fight against drugs. I hope that people- - Iím pretty sure that Sean Vetterís pride in being a positive force in his neighborhood, he ultimately- - the statement that he makes by being a cop is that he is from the street and wants to make that world that heís from a better place.

AH: Is this a modern Dirty Harry?

VD: No, because itís not. It would be flattering to call it a modern Dirty Harry, but I think that this film deals more with the loss of his wife than the traditional revenge vigilante films. I think you feel throughout the picture that this guy is struggling with a real loss, and thatís his motivation whether itís good or bad. His actions arenít always heroic and his actions cost lives. The scene at Butroís, the big shootout scene where he beats a man to death and thus puts his whole team in jeopardy sets this whole thing into motion. Just because he didnít like what somebody says, which we can all identify with, but from the outside view of this whole operation, Seanís anger has affected him so much so that Demetrius has to take a gun from these bad guys and shoot Harpo just to mask the fact that Sean just beat him to death with his bare hands.

AH: How was working with Larenz Tate?

VD: Always been a huge fan of Larenz Tateís and it was amazing. It was probably the best thing about working on the film, working with Larenz and becoming great friends. I think he lends credibility to the whole film because itís almost as though heís Old Dog with a badge. His character from Menace II Society, he takes all that street wisdom and applies it to his job. I thought it was interesting to create a friendship that really depicted friendships. When tough guys are friends, theyíre not tough with one another. Theyíre much more emotional in their own crew. That toughness is something that they save and store for everybody thatís outside of the crew.

AH: When did you shoot this?

VD: I had just done The Fast and the Furious and I got a script from my agent, a script about a guy whoís from the street who is working as a DEA agent and then ends up having an interesting relationship with the cartel that he took down. I thought that was fascinating, that very unlikely relationship. Through most of the second act, the cartel leader has become somewhat his confidante. I thought that that was interesting and I thought the idea of doing kind of an edgy, tragic love story was interesting. I did it right after The Fast and the Furious and then I did XXX.

AH: What do you spend money on?

VD: I havenít ever been able to break this habit. Iíve reinvested into film. So, Iíve spent my money so far this year in two documentaries, one about the Calypso carnival in Trinidad, which features all the greats in a Buena Vista Social Club kind of way. Then I did another documentary on my friend who has never seen his father. And, tracked down his father in Venezuela. Itís called Life is a Dream I think I have a poor mentality that I canít shake. I just canít shake it.

AH: What do you do for fun?

VD: Film is my hobby, so I will work well through the night to develop films, whatever film Iím doing or dream projects I have. I havenít changed much. 10 years ago, or less than 10 years ago, six, seven, eight, nine years ago, I was staying up all night just writing either Multi-Facial or Strays. I was spending all day telemarketing on the phone to make the money to make these movies. I guess why Iím saying that is because before I was getting paid to make movies, when there was no money involved, then the financing of these movies had to come from a bouncer. I was either working to make the money for movies or trying to pull off the impossible and shoot a movie for $50,000 or $3,000. So, what I do for fun is film. Do I play ball, yeah. Do I love chess, yes. But it always feels like whatever Iím doing, Iíd rather go back to somehow developing a project, whether itís creating creature characteristics and attributes for Chronicles of Riddick that you wonít see until scene two or scene three, whether itís researching on the internet to explain negative matter where these villains in the Chronicles of Riddick come from, these Necromongers come from, and their scientific existence, explain that. I built a Hannibal tent in the back of my backyard. I go elephant training. I ride elephants. Itís very odd.

AH: What is that like?

VD: For a New Yorker, itís like the only thing I ever rode was the A train. So, riding the largest elephant in the country is a weird feeling.

AH: Where do you do that?

VD: Thereís a place that has the largest African elephant in America. Itís two hours outside of L.A. I just go up there and practice riding this elephant. Itís really bizarre because no one knows this, but elephants have killed more animal trainers than any other animal. Itís just me and this one cat, and Iím riding this elephant back and forth and Iím looking at this guy going, ĎYou can do nothing if he decides to flip over.í Heís got his trunk all in my face. A beautiful experience. But even the hobbies somehow relate to the greater hobby which is film. So, I love riding, I enjoy that, but itís also part of the Hannibal character which I wonít shoot for another 12 months. Some long lead stuff.

AH: Will you take Roman to Vancouver?

VD: Iíve got to find a way to get him there. I got to bring him. The next time we do a nice big press junket, Iíll have him on display. Heís wonderful. Timbo the elephant.