Usually the scariest thing about Vin Diesel is the amount of money his movies make. The Fast and Furious franchise has raked in more than $4 billion. Add in revenue from Guardians of the Galaxy and Riddick and you have a truly terrifying amount of money.
In his new film, The Last Witch Hunter, the raspy-voiced actor boasts, “You know what I’m afraid of? Nothing,” as he delivers scares playing an immortal warrior who must prevent evil New York witches from destroying the world. The 48-year-old is so convinced the movie will do well, he’s already announced that the studio is developing a sequel.
“The first one doesn’t hit theatres until October 23rd,” he wrote on Facebook in July, “yet they want me to commit and already block out time to film it.”
Before Fast and Furious made him Hollywood’s version of an ATM, Diesel made baby steps towards becoming a superstar. Director Steven Spielberg saw Multi-Facial, Diesel’s self directed, written, produced and scored über low budget short film and was so taken with the young actor he had the role of Private Caparzo in Saving Private Ryan specially written for him. The result was an effective performance that mixed physicality with poignancy. Winning the role, he says, was “like one of those Hollywood fairy tales that you never believed.”
Critics began to take notice. New York Times critic A.O. Scott said he, “may be the sexiest ugly man in movies since Anthony Quinn” as Diesel lent his distinctive gravelly voice to the title character in the animated film The Iron Giant and played streetwise stockbroker Chris Varick in the 2000 stockbroker drama Boiler Room.
His breakout performance came with the sci-fi film Pitch Black. “Richard B. Riddick,” he says by way of introduction. “Escaped convict. Murderer.” Artificial eyes allow Riddick to see in the dark, making him very useful when bloodthirsty creatures attack during a month-long eclipse. The character became a franchise for the actor, spawning sequels, video games and animated films.
“I know it sounds corny but I feel like I learn about myself when I play that character,” said Diesel. “Going to that dark isolated place produces some kind of vision or understanding about myself. He mirrors my own quest for identity, my eternal quest as a child.”
Movies like Knockaround Guys and Babylon A.D. played on his tough guy persona, but with The Pacifier he tried to switch from cracking ribs to tickling funny bones. Playing a Navy Seal assigned to protect a house full of out-of-control kids, he attempted to prove he was more than just a muscle mass that got lucky in pictures. The chaotic comedy made some money, but ultimately proved Diesel’s strength lay in muscle, not mayhem.
Since then he has stayed the course, pumping out action-adventure films — including the soon-to-be relaunched xXx — proving himself to be a great action star. Smarter than Stallone, younger than Schwarzenegger and with even less hair than Bruce Willis, his appeal transcends his biceps, as he also appears to have a brain in his head. Throw in a large dollop of charisma and look out Jason Statham, you’re about to be kick boxed into the old age home.