Diesel, Vin c. 1967–
Vin Diesel c. 1967–
Actor, writer, director, producer
Vin Diesel’s first film was a short about an actor who would portray a character of any race, just to get a part. In real life, Diesel would never divulge his ethic background, but played Italian, Jewish, Latino, and black in his films. That chameleon capability propelled Diesel, who was careful about the roles he chose, to the attention of high-profile director Steven Spielberg, who tailored a role in his World War II drama Saving Private Ryan specially for the unknown actor. Diesel went on to draw strong reviews in films such as Strays, The Iron Giant, Pitch Black, and Boiler Room, and to form his own production company, One Race Productions, named for, as he said in Madison, “the important and relevant race”—the human race.
Diesel was born in New York City in 1967. His father taught theater and his mother worked as a psychiatrist and astrologer. “Vin Diesel” is not the name his parents gave him. He was born Mark Vincent and described his ethnic backround as “complicated”. Diesel’s fraternal twin brother, Paul Vincent, also grew up to work in the movie business, as an editor.
Diesel was raised in Manhattan, and grew up wanting to be both respected and successful. Among those in his crowd, respect and success did not always “go hand in hand,” he said in Interview magazine. In the interview he cited a “certain level of machismo” that New York men seem to have in their personalities for landing people he grew up with—guys who were respected in his neighborhood—in jail or dead.
Fortunately for him, Diesel also grew up around a number of “artistic and cerebral” people, he recalled in Interview. Both of his parents were educated, and emphasized the importance of education. In Interview he credited his father for teaching him how to be a “stand-up man.” He admired his father for putting his own aspirations of directing theater on hold to raise his family.
Diesel got his start in theater as a delinquent. When he was seven, he and some friends broke into an old theater and vandalized it. A woman from the theater caught them and told them they were welcome to play there—and handed them scripts. Later, he worked at several Manhattan nightclubs as a bouncer. He studied
At a Glance…
Born Mark Vincent on July 18,1967, in New York, NY; father taught theater and his mother was a psychiatrist and astrologer. Education: Theater for the New City, studied theater; Hunter College, studied English.
Career: Actor. Multi-Facial (also director, producer, writer), 1994; Strays (also director), 1997; Saving Private Ryan, 1998; The Iron Giant, 1999; Boiler Room, 2000; Pitch Black, 2000; The Fast and the Furious, 2001; Knockaround Guys, 2001; Diablo, 2001.
Addresses: Publicist —Stan Rosenfield & Associates, 2029 Century Park East, Suite 1190, Los Angeles, CA 90267.
theater at the Theater for the New City and studied English at Hunter College.
Diesel dropped out of college to make his first film, called Multi-Facial. He wrote, directed, produced, and starred in the film, a short about a struggling actor who would portray any race to get a part. Madison writer David Kirby called the film, which Diesel made for about $3,000 and shot in two-and-a-half days, “moving and hilarious.” The film was accepted and screened at the Cannes film festival, in Cannes, France, in 1995. Diesel also wrote, directed, produced, and starred in a full-length film called Strays. He and a friend raised the $50,000 it took to make the film working as telemarketers. Strays was accepted and screened at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.
A skillful self promoter, Diesel attracted enough attention to his small-budget films that even high-profile director Steven Spielberg took notice of his work. Spielberg was so intrigued by Diesel in Multi-Facial that he tailored a role for the unknown actor in his World War II epic Saving Private Ryan, which starred Tom Hanks. Diesel played the doomed Private Caparzo, a tough G.I. with a heart of gold. To prepare them for the film, all the actors had to go through weeks of grueling boot camp. “We were so committed to bringing honor to these soldiers that by the time boot camp ended, we almost resented being actors again,” he recalled in Madison.
Diesel’s deep, gravelly voice was featured in the 1999 animated feature The Iron Giant. The film is about a young boy who befriends a 50-foot-tall robot whose frightening size and capability for destruction belie his good intentions. In the $25-million science-fiction thriller Pitch Black, Diesel portrayed a psychotic killer stranded on a planet overrun with flying, carnivorous aliens. Riddick was a role Diesel called in Madison, “the best character I’d read in a long time. He’s a remarkable creature with a complex personality….” He found the role exciting, he continued, “because I finally got to be the character I always loved as a kid. You know, Conan and the Terminator and Mad Max.” Though many critics found Pitch Black’s premise predictable, Diesel earned strong reviews for his part. Interview critic Amy Gwiazda wrote that, of the cast, “only the devilish Vin Diesel … provides any real spark.”
After his adventurous role in Pitch Black, Diesel was careful to not be typecast as “Mr. Action,” he told Entertainment Weekly. In the next role he chose, he worked in an office rather than on an alien-infested planet. As a suburban Italian-American stockbroker involved in shady dealings in the 2000 film Boiler Room, Diesel appeared alongside Ben Affleck and Giovanni Ribisi.
Just a few major films into his career, Diesel had earned a reputation for being a difficult actor to work with. Although he wouldn’t comment on it, he had been, according to Entertainment Weekly, “thrown off” the film Reindeer Games, which starred Ben Affleck and Charlize Theron, for his demands before filming had even started. David Twohy, director of Pitch Black, defended the actor. Twohy had heard rumors about Diesel’s bad attitude, but found the reputation unearned. “Vin was always good energy for me,” he told Entertainment Weekly. In an interview, Madison writer David Kirby found the actor “generous of spirit and time…one of those increasingly rare creatures in Hollywood—a good guy.”
Diesel had his attentions focused on an array of projects at any given time. After he’d finished shooting Knockaround Guys, starring John Malkovich and Dennis Hopper, and the action thriller The Fast and the Furious, he was in production on Diablo. In addition to his film work, he also was writing Doormen, a script based on his days as a bouncer. Whether writing, directing, producing, or acting, Diesel has hoped to create, as he told Madison, “something of importance and made some logic out of all of this outrageous good fortune.”
Multi-Facial (also director, producer, writer), 1994.
Strays (also director), 1997.
Saving Private Ryan, 1998.
The Iron Giant, 1999.
Boiler Room, 2000.
Pitch Black, 2000.
The Fast and the Furious, 2001.
Knockaround Guys, 2001.
Entertainment Weekly, February 25, 2000, p. 58.
Interview, February 1999, p. 40; February 2000, p. 94.
Madison, March 2000, p. 132.
Vibe, April 2001.
The Internet Movie Database, http://www.imdb.com
Electronic Urban Report, http://www.eurweb.com
Additional material for this profile was provided by Stan Rosenfield & Associates Public Relations, 2001.