Vin Diesel is sitting pretty. His latest movie, “Furious 7,” is poised to collect $115 million at the domestic box office this weekend. His previous film, “Guardians of the Galaxy,” spun an obscure Marvel comic into one of the biggest hits of 2014. And just Wednesday he immortalized his hand- and footprints in front of the Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.
The man born Mark Sinclair Vincent 47 years ago has come a long way since making his off-Broadway stage debut as a child, but the road to stardom has been anything but straightforward for Diesel, one of the more unlikely matinee idols in recent memory. Here’s a crash course.
Raised in New York City by his mother and his stepfather, a drama teacher, Diesel took an early interest in acting and scored his first film role with an uncredited appearance in the 1990 drama “Awakenings.” Still struggling to find work, he wrote, directed and starred in the 1995 short “Multi-Facial,” then the 1997 low-budget feature “Strays,” eventually catching the eye of Steven Spielberg.
Spielberg cast Diesel in a supporting role in 1998’s “Saving Private Ryan,” and the actor followed up that film by voicing the title character in Brad Bird’s critically acclaimed but commercially disappointing animated movie “The Iron Giant.”
Diesel then joined the ensemble financial drama “Boiler Room” and played the lead role in the sci-fi thriller “Pitch Black” before finally teaming up with Paul Walker for “The Fast and the Furious” in 2001.
The role of tough-guy street racer Dominic Toretto was a perfect fit for the buff, baritone-voiced, ethnically ambiguous Diesel, who kept a mostly straight face while delivering such lines as “I live my life a quarter-mile at a time.”
But, although “The Fast and the Furious” became a sleeper hit and would ultimately spawn a $2.3-billion action franchise, Diesel didn’t return for the second film, finding the script lacking. Instead he went on to make “The Chronicles of Riddick,” a sequel to “Pitch Black” that was poorly reviewed and flopped at the box office.
In a 2013 interview with Celebuzz for “Fast and Furious 6,” Diesel said that in hindsight he could have been more patient with the franchise when the second film came around.
“I would’ve said [to myself], ‘Don’t walk away from it just because the script sucked in ‘2 Fast 2 Furious’ because there’s an obligation to the audience to fight, no matter what, to make that film as good as possible,’” Diesel said. “Just walking away doesn’t help that saga at all.”
Diesel would go on to make a cameo in “Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift,” but it wasn’t until the fourth film, “Fast & Furious,” that he returned in a lead role, opposite old pals Walker and Michelle Rodriguez. From there, the franchise has steadily one-upped itself — in terms of box office and wild action set pieces — and Diesel’s profile has risen in turn.
Despite Diesel’s increasing stardom, he hasn’t proved that he can reliably open a movie or carry a franchise on his own: Outside the “Fast” movies, he’s made both hits (“XXX,” “The Pacifier”) and misses (“Babylon A.D.,” “Find Me Guilty”), but even the former have been somewhat forgettable.
Still, Diesel has emerged as the patriarch of the “Fast” family, especially since the tragic death of Walker in a 2013 car crash, and the franchise is showing few signs of slowing down — Diesel has already said the next installment will head to New York.
As the unofficial “Fast” spokesman, Diesel has consistently delighted fans and crafted memorable sound bites with his mix of enthusiasm and bluntness. Most recently, he’s been stumping for the Academy Awards to recognize “Furious 7.”
“It will probably win best picture at the Oscars, unless the Oscars don’t want to be relevant ever,” Diesel told Variety. He added, “This will win best picture. There is nothing that will ever come close to the power of this thing.”
A long shot? Definitely. But then again, so was Diesel himself.
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