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February 2005
The Pacifier: An Interview with Vin Diesel

The Pacifier: An Interview with Vin Diesel

By Todd Gilchrist

Of the past five years, Vin Diesel has been known for hard-hitting action movies like "XXX" and "The Chronicles of Riddick". In 2005, however, Diesel plans to bring his audience to a new frontier: the family movie genre. In "The Pacifier", he plays Shane Wolfe, a Navy SEAL assigned to protect a witness' family- including five kids between the ages of nine months and seventeen years- from enemies who want to steal his secret invention. Diesel recently spoke to blackfilm.com about his departure from the genre he worked so hard to rule (if only temporarily), and explained how much of a thrill it was to trade barbs- rather than barbells- with a motley crew of children.

The film was originally conceived for Jackie Chan. How did it change to suit you, and how much remained the same?

Vin Diesel: When I first got the script, I wasn't aware of the people who were attached, or if there was anyone attached to it beforehand. I kind of bought into the whole script because it played on people's perceptions of some of the roles that I've played before, and found a way to fold that into the story line in an interesting and funny way. It's interesting that you pick up on the similarities with Jackie Chan, because my fight coordinator, my fight choreographer I used on "The Chronicles of Riddick", I brought in on this; these little comedic fight scenes were packed with real fight coordinator know-how, and my fight choreographer is from the Jackie Chan camp. So you'll see some similarities because he used to do fight coordinating for Jackie Chan.

What prompted you to move towards comedic material?

VD: This is the first time I had done a comedy, a real, out-and-out comedy. I try to make films like "XXX" funny, so that you're laughing in "XXX", but it's not sold as a comedy, which is a whole other thing. So I was a little anxious going into a new genre like that, but like I said before, the story was cleverly playing on people's perceptions from previous roles, and it was about kids. I had a cast of veteran comedians that protected me- you want an ensemble of guys that are going to make people laugh; then, they say you shouldn't work with kids or animals. Really, you shouldn't work with kids or animals if you've got an ego. If you don't, you move aside and let them shine, because the kids will shine every single time, so you have to do very little when you're in a cast; kids always have the most organic talent.

So you felt comfortable working with children?

VD: I felt more than comfortable working with kids. It was the first time that I had done a film where over the weekend I wanted to get back to work just to hold the seven month old babies. In order to pull something like this off, the bond that you have with a nine month old co-star has to be real, because they can pick up that the relationship isn't real and then you won't get a shot in there. That's where the saying comes in, that if you work with kids, you won't be able to get your production dates out. To prevent that, you've got to bond with the babies.

Are you concerned your core audience- mostly teenagers- will support a family-oriented picture like this one?

VD: Well, they should support it, and in droves (laughs). I think that there's a way that we do this that we include the action fans, because we're laughing at the genre together. It's like there's a way that you could have done it where you excluded the public from the joke; this film, because it's an Adam Shankman film, and he's so comedically brilliant, includes the public, includes the fans, the fourteen year olds, fifteen year olds. They get a kick out of seeing this character have to raise a family and have to deal with stuff that they are familiar with. In writing the script, I thought they were clever in creating a role that identifies each stage of growing up, and I think that's going to be the draw to teenagers.

How challenging was it to move from a strong-arm role to a more sensitive one in the course of the same film?

VD: That was the key- that character arc was the key- and the key was not to make it too obvious, and more importantly, to stay consistent in Shane Wolfe's disposition. Even though he's slowly starting to feel for the kids, he still had to keep a level of 'Navy SEAL' there present throughout the whole film.

How much of that was in the script, and how much was developed by you?

VD: You know what? That's a good question for any movie I do, and I never know what the answer is. Like I could say, 'you know, twenty or thirty percent,' but I think when we go into it, we take a collaborative approach to this and if it works, it works for all of us.

Did you identify with any of the children in particular?

VD: That's interesting. Probably the toddler. Probably the three year old, because I'm a twin, and we had twins on set, and I saw my twin brother in that.

Do you have a family yourself?

VD: I don't have a wife yet. I'm looking. Any ideas?

How much did you connect with your character's detachment from familial connections?

VD: Even inside a comedy, you have to make sure that their dreams are real, and I'm an artist, so who knows in the grand scheme of things why we gravitate to certain roles, or what that says about our own personal development. It's very fascinating, though- it's an interesting parallel- because I had been all about, as you know, as you've seen in the past ten years, all about moving in one direction and working as much as I can, grateful for the opportunity to make films, big budget films, small budget, everything. And it's interesting that this film stops for a second and says, 'the mission may be the family. The mission may be lying in suburbia.' There is an effect that nine month old babies have on you after a while when you come and set up every day and you come on set every day and they're the first thing you're looking for. Not the director, not the cast, not your work, nothing. The first thing you're looking for is that baby to smile at you. Or when you're in your trailer and you get a knock on your door and you think your scene is up and it's not; it's an A.D. saying, 'Vin, we need you on set- the baby's crying.' That's a good feeling. It definitely starts to kick the paternal instincts into high gear.

How tough was it to move from playing an ass-kicker to being the one whose ass is kicked, so to speak, by these kids?

VD: I think because it was kids it was so easy, because kids should kick my ass. That's what they're supposed to do. The kids made it very easy to do that. The secret for working with kids, for anyone who ever works with kids, is just get out of the way and make them feel as comfortable as possible. To me, it was all about us coming together and making the best movie we could make.

Did you accept this role to break that label you've worn as an 'action hero'?

VD: Well, you're not going to win a purple heart hiding in a foxhole. It's an old Navy SEAL saying we like to say back home. I did this role because it was an opportunity to work with kids, and I haven't been with kids, much less this many kids. It was an opportunity to do a Disney family comedy, and what that means for me is that I'm making a movie that the whole family can come and see. I have nieces and nephews who are saying, 'when are we going to see your movie, Uncle Vin?' They're six and eight, so this is the first movie since The Iron Giant that any kid can see, and I wasn't even in "Iron Giant", so they can't even tell their classmates that it's me. But the other very important thing to me was the idea of making a film that the whole family can come and see together. The reason is because when I was younger, the movies that stand out- even moreso than the movies, the experiences, the filmgoing experiences that stand out- are the ones that the family as a whole liked to do. Whatever movie we were experiencing, if I went to see a movie with my whole family, for some reason it was a much more impactful event and important. So this is the first movie that a whole family can see together, and that's kind of cool for a family outing experience as opposed to a "Chronicles of Riddick" 'go with your girlfriend' or 'go with your buddy' experience.

Are you worried that people might say you can't pull this off?

VD: I've never worried whether people said I can't act. Have you seen "Multi-facial"? Have you seen "A Man Apart"? "Boiler Room"? "Knockaround Guys"? I've been acting since I was seven years old. That feeling that other people have like, 'I'm worried that other people think I can't act,' that's not my thing. I've been an actor since I was seven years old; by profession, I started working in theater in New York City at seven. My father taught theater before I was born, so it's a craft that runs in the family. I didn't make health benefits until I was thirty years old, though- it was a very, very long journey. When I came out to LA when I was 23 years old, I came out here and I failed. I went back to New York a year and a half later, and I didn't even get an agent. I was worried then what people thought. I went back to New York and I started directing and writing because I really couldn't worry. I did a short film and I did a feature film and then Steven Spielberg wrote a role for me in "Saving Private Ryan". The first short film I ever directed went to Cannes in 1995. The feature film that I directed for $47,000 was in dramatic competition at Sundance in 1997. If you don't see a picture of me at that time, I'm just an independent filmmaker, until you say, 'oh, this guy can do action films.' Then I did "Saving Private Ryan" and then I did "Pitch Black" and then the action films start. Doing something like "The Pacifier", doing something that is a comedy is really self-explanatory because it is a Disney family comedy- that's what it is. It's not a rated-R dark film where the characters are deep and brooding and introspective and dealing with existential issues. It's a funny film; it's a funny film with kids, and it was an easy shoot for me. It was just an enjoyable process because it was funny all of the time, as opposed to the roles that I play that are dark, and for me specifically, if I go into a role that's dark, I don't break out of that at the end of the day. I stay in that mode throughout the whole production, so if you look at three months of being melancholy or three months of being in a dark place, three months of a reality where your wife is dying and you're living with that every day in the film experience, you compare that to three months of 'goo goo- gaa gaa,' it's a vacation.

What was your reaction to the finished film?

VD: (whispering) I haven't seen the movie yet.

Do you think you can win a new audience without losing your old one?

VD: Well, the idea was to do a family comedy, so that is a new audience, because they haven't been able to see any of my movies. The reality is you don't need to hire the babysitter because the babysitter is in the movie.

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