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Vin Diesel (born 18.07.1967) - American actor.

Vin Diesel/  He was born Mark Vincent on the 18th of July, 1967, in New York City. Never knowing his biological father, he was told by his astrologer mother Delora (holder of a master's degree in psychology) that he had many different cultural roots - African-American, Italian and possibly Cuban, amongst others. "I've always had less information than I would like to have had", he said later. Matters of identity were further confused by his twin brother, Paul, now a film editor, being blonde with blue eyes.

Young Mark was raised, along with Paul and two younger siblings, in the Westbeth project in Greenwich Village, a government-funded block peopled only by artists. Here he received a major grounding in the imaginative arts, not least from his adoptive father, Irving, an actor and drama teacher.

The kids would go swimming down at the Carmine Street pool, and play hide and seek on the broken-down piers on the Hudson River. And they'd get involved in the project's various projects. Mark made his starring debut onstage when only 5. He wasn't supposed to be the star, he was supposed to be a horse in a kids' production of Cinderella. But Paul, cast as Prince Charming, suffered stage fright after the first act and Mark, never slow in coming forward, stepped into the lead role.
Financially, times were usually hard. "Nobody had money", recalls Vin "so there was this underlying resentment towards money". Consequently, people would make their own entertainment. At 12, Mark became involved in a Sunday night game of Dungeons & Dragons organised by a friend's mother. He became heavily involved in the game and was still buying paraphernalia over 20 years later, when role-playing had become his career as well as his hobby.

At school, Mark was troubled by an ongoing identity crisis, not fitting into any particular group. He'd find some relief, by fluke, at age 7. With friends, he'd broken into Manhattan's Theatre for the New City, intent upon vandalism and a few laughs. After busting and scrawling a little, they were messing around in the mezzanine when, suddenly, a heavyset woman appeared onstage, under a spotlight. Convinced she'd call the cops, the kids froze in horror. But, instead, she handed each of them a script and some money, with the words "If you guys want to play here, come every day at 4 o'clock. Here's $20 a week. Know your lines".

The woman was Crystal Field, artistic director of the theatre, and dedicated to developing artists from low income groups and minority communities. It was she who'd be directly responsible for Mark's future development. He did turn up every day at 4, and took to stage-life with glee. "That was the first time I was ever able to make a whole audience laugh", he later recalled "without getting sent to the Dean's office". Perhaps more importantly, he enjoyed slipping into character. "I found there was something refreshing about having my identity be crystal clear".

In the meantime, Mark picked up a penchant for extreme sports that would also serve him well later. Along with the other kids, he'd strap on his rollerblades and hang on to the fenders of the city's notorious taxi-cabs, often achieving speeds of over 50mph.

Like many men with a confused sense of self, Mark looked for confidence in body-building. Up until the age of 15, he was just a tall kid with a big Afro and a bigger mouth, seeking attention wherever he could find it. At 15, though, he began lifting weights and hanging with an older crew. "I've worked out for years", he explained later "For a long time it was my only sense of gratification". He began to go out clubbing, attending Studio 54 and, later, the Danceteria. And it was clubbing that gave him the connections to get his first job - at 17, as a bouncer. This would provide cash while he acted with Irving's repertory company and in off-Off-Broadway productions. It would also give him his stage name. It was traditional for bouncers to choose rock-hard monikers for themselves. Vin Diesel was as good as any.Hoping to make his acting education official, Vin now applied for an elite drama course at the State University of New York at New Paltz, north of the metropolis, near Poughkeepsie (the town immortalised by Gene Hackman's feet-picking line in The French Connection). He was turned down, the first of many set-backs. Instead, he enrolled at Hunter College in New York City, majoring in English, but he wouldn't see out the full course, preferring to spend his days acting on stage and on local TV, and his nights bouncing at the hip likes of Mars and The Tunnel. By the late Eighties, though, times had changed on the door. Gangsta culture had sprung up and now it was necessary for bouncers to wear bullet-proof vests. Where before his peers had been college guys, keen and able to talk art and philosophy, now Vin's bouncer-brothers were less intellectually inclined. After 9 years on the job, having seen one friend shot and another have his throat cut with a razor (he survived, thankfully), Vin would jack it in for good.

Ever ambitious, he decided that his future lay in Hollywood, so he took off for LA, telling everyone he'd return a star. It wouldn't be that easy. For a start, he later explained, his years as a bouncer had given him a measured confidence that worked against him at interviews and auditions. Physically intimidating, focused and intense, he inadvertently gave people the impression that, if he didn't get the part, someone was going to get hurt. No one reacted well to THAT.

Beyond this, that question of race was raised again. Vin was deemed too black to play Italian, too white to be a homeboy. Supporting himself by using his natural charm to sell light-bulbs and gardening implements over the phone, he struggled on for a while. But it proved to be no good. He returned to New York, not a star at all.

Back home, he lived with his mum and dad, building himself what he called "a hobbit hole" on the landing between the first and second floors. Realising that he would have launch himself, rather than rely on some lucky break, he spent his days immersing himself in cinema, studying the work of Clark Gable (he loves It Happened One Night), Marlon Brando and Sidney Poitier. He devoured all the new art movies, all the independents, too, gaining new confidence all the while. "If a Henry Jaglom film doesn't make you feel confident enough to make films", he joked later "I don't know what will".

Eventually, his mother stepped in with a little common-sense help. Presenting him with a copy of Rick Schmidt's book Feature Films At Used Car Prices, she set him on the path to self-help. With an idea for a short screenplay, he bought a word processor, wrote the piece inside 30 days, and took the WP back to the shop, it still being within the guaranteed return period. On a budget of $3000, Multi-Facial was shot in 3 days. In it, Vin starred as, well, as himself, really, playing a multi-ethnic actor who, deemed suitable for neither black nor white roles, tries a different ethnicity for each audition and fails every time.
Released in 1994, Multi-Facial was shown the next year at the Cannes Film Festival, causing something of a stir. On the strength of this, Vin returned to LA and, telemarketing once more, managed to raise $50,000 for his next effort, a study in misogyny called Strays, once more starring and directed by Vin himself. The movie was accepted by and shown at the Sundance Film Festival in 1997, but did not sell well. Vin returned to New York once more, wondering what the hell he had to do to make it.

Then, out of the blue, a call came through, a dream call from Steven Spielberg. Spielberg, impressed by a viewing of Multi-Facial, said he was writing a part for Vin in his next epic, to be titled Saving Private Ryan. Thus 1998 saw Vin employed in Tom Hanks' band of brothers (alongside fellow newcomers Barry Pepper and Giovanni Ribisi) as they crossed war-torn France in search of Matt Damon. It was a brief part, Private Adrian Caparzo being the first of the platoon to die, but it was an absurdly impressive big feature debut. Vin's second major role, too, was Multi-Facial-inspired. Director Brad Bird was also taken by Vin's performance and had him provide the voice for the titular monster in The Iron Giant, an animation based on a story by Poet Laureate Ted Hughes, co-starring Jennifer Aniston.

And it wasn't just Multi-Facial that was catching the eye of the industry's prime movers. Strays, too, had had an effect. Producer Ted Field had seen the movie at Sundance and made contact with Vin. He was particularly keen on Vin writing a screenplay based on his experiences as a bouncer. Vin, in turn, was interested in a movie Field was developing, a sci-fi thriller called Pitch Black. He hounded Field till allowed to audition - and thus won the part that would make his name.

Having been turned down by Joel Schumacher for the part of Robert De Niro's transvestite voice coach in Flawless due to his physique (as he said himself: "I have obviously spent my life celebrating masculinity"), having turned down a villain-role in Shaft, and having walked off the Ben Affleck-starring Reindeer Games due to his part not being enlarged as promised, Pitch Black more than made up for the disappointment. Here he was Richard B. Riddick, a condemned murderer being transported between planets and jails. Unfortunately, the space-craft is hit by a meteor storm and forced to crash-land on a planet previously colonised, but where all the inhabitants mysteriously disappeared during an eclipse. Another eclipse is coming and, being as they last for years, things are not looking good, especially when the survivors realise there are creatures here that live and feed in the dark.
It was a superior thriller, interesting in that it deliberately blurred the edges between good and evil, with none of the characters being obviously likeable. And Vin stood out, so much so that the script, which originally had him die in the finale, was changed to allow Riddick to appear in a sequel. This made all the pain of the shoot worthwhile. With Riddick having had his eyes polished and lasered in jail, Vin had to wear contact lenses that gave off a weird metallic glow. After the first day's shoot, lasting 14 hours, the lenses fused to his eyes, forcing the producers to fly in a specialist from a town three hours away - the shoot taking place in the Australian outback, where Mad Max had been filmed two decades before.

Despite the Reindeer Games fiasco, Vin now found himself starring alongside Ben Affleck (and Ribisi) in Boiler Room. Here Ribisi played a young hustler who gets drawn into a shady world of illegal brokers, led by Affleck, who's playing much the same character as Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glenn Ross. Diesel shone once more as one of the young stars of the firm. Drunk, violent and a bad, bad lad, he's nevertheless the only one with any honour. A complicated character, as all Diesel's characters would henceforth be.

Pitch Black and Boiler Room were released on the same day in 2000, immediately marking Vin as one to watch. Critic Roger Ebert noted his potential in his review of Boiler Room, saying "Diesel is interesting. Something will come of him".

How right he was. For a start, New Line, noticing the inroads made by Vin and by his Private Ryan co-star Barry Pepper with We Were Soldiers, released Knockaround Guys, a movie completed in 1999 and then shelved. Here several sons of Brooklyn mafia bosses attempt to recover a bag of money lost in a small Montana town. Vin put in another unusual performance. Though a tough guy and a fighter, his Taylor Reese also possesses a "wise sadness about human nature".

Knockaround Guys wasn't a hit, but it didn't need to be. By the time New Line released it, Vin had already carried his first mega-hit, The Fast And The Furious. Here Paul Walker played an undercover cop who infiltrates a street gang prone to stealing and racing flash cars at improbable speeds, trying to out-do rival gangs. Vin was Dominic Toretto, gang leader, who befriends Walker, thinking him to be a new kid on the block. Packed with super-stunts and concerning love and loyalty, it was like Point Break with cool motors.

And it was a monster. Taking $41 million in its first weekend, surpassing its $38 million budget immediately, it crushed the challenge of Dr Dolittle 2 to take the US Number One spot. Director Rob Cohen was quick to praise Diesel's input, telling the Toronto Sun: "He has the power and physicality but what I didn't know, when I cast him in The Fast And The Furious, (was) how deep he could take things and how a kind of charm emerges. In the past, action heroes have basically been killing machines who can make a joke. Vinny, on the other hand, has the courage to be overwhelmed and uncertain and sometimes to be almost nakedly needy". High praise for a guy who wasn't even in the lead role.

Now Vin was in the big league, and he knew it. Approached to play the lead in another SFX-fest, he went on holiday, telling his agents not to call him unless the producers offered $10 million. They did, and so he came to star in xXx. Here he was Xander Cage, a charismatic extreme sports obsessive who sells videos of himself performing outrageous stunts - one being where he steals a Corvette from a right-wing senator, and drives it off a cliff, making his escape by parachute. Recruited by government agent Samuel L. Jackson (who he might earlier have encountered in Shaft), he's ordered to gather information on a nihilist cell possibly plotting the downfall of everything. Of course, he hates the government, but loves the danger, and rather fancies his boss's girlfriend, played by the excellent Asia Argento. Again, he was a hero far more complicated than the norm.

It was a rough shoot, made rougher by the death of stunt-man Harry O'Connor, killed when he hit the pillar of a bridge in Prague. But xXx was another major hit and, with his name first above the credits for the first time, Diesel was made, his reputation boosted still further when xXx sold 5 million DVDs in its first week alone. He followed it with A Man Apart where he played a DEA agent who, having busted a cartel kingpin, finds his home attacked and his beloved wife killed, forcing him into a personal mission of revenge. It was mostly action, but the plotline did allow Diesel to exhibit grief for his lost spouse, an ooportunity he took with some aplomb, much as Mel Gibson had in Lethal Weapon.

As long suspected, his excellent performance in Pitch Black now led to a spin-off franchise, beginning with The Chronicles Of Riddick. Here he reprised his character - still cynical, still ambiguously heroic - now being chased by interstellar bounty hunters and battling undead cult the Necromongers on the scorched planet Crematoria. Delivering an ongoing explanation of the action would be Judi Dench, Diesel having seen her onstage in The Breath Of Life and demanded the producers secure her services.

After this, Diesel would attempt to widen his appeal with The Pacifier, an action comedy where he played a former Navy SEAL who fails to protect an endangered government scientist and tries to redeem himself by looking after the dead geek's kids.

The long-mooted xXx 2 would earn him $20 million plus a percentage of gross, shooting him up there next to Mel Gibson and Harrison Ford. Yet it wouldn't just be action, not for a guy this smart. After The Pacifier, Diesel would also plan to star beside Nicole Kidman in the musical Guys And Dolls, while his production company, the pointedly titled One Race, would develop a script from Ross Leckie's book, Hannibal.

Having spent years suffering professionally due to his multi-ethnic background, Diesel now found it a natural advantage. He could play Italian, black, even the great general of Carthage. Stats proved that his audience came from across the cultures - a very rare feat. Life was good in all areas. He was romantically connected with Fast And The Furious co-star Michelle Rodriguez, 18-year-old Czech model Pavla Hrbkova, and Playboy Playmate Summer Attice. Oddly, there was also Entertainment Tonight reporter Maria Menounos. Diesel had been quoted as saying that Xander Cage would be a James Bond for the next generation, and then met Menounos at an ET interview, just as Bond-star Pierce Brosnan had met his partner, Keely Shaye Smith.

Incredibly, he was even a hero in real life. In 2002, he pulled his motorbike over on Hollywood's highway 101 when he saw a car turn over and catch fire. He pulled the kids out from the back seat and managed to get the panicking driver to crawl out through the passenger side, saving them all from fiery death.

The Pitch Black and xXx franchises will keep Vin Diesel on top well into the 2000s. But expect the unexpected, too, from this most unusual of superstars.



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