Vin Diesel: the Top Franchise Player in Hollywood, With Over a Billion Served

Vin Diesel: the Top Franchise Player in Hollywood, With Over a Billion Served

Furious 7 was one of the biggest hits of the year. You’re already working on Furious 8. So what’s going to be the first franchise to crack the 10-movie mark—you guys or Star Wars?

Oh, man, for those of us who grew up in the 1970s watching Star Wars, it’s crazy to even think about that. But you’re right: Who’ll crack 10 first? Knowing Universal, who produces our films, it’ll probably be out in front and get there first. We’re on fire this year. We’re in a good position to do it.

In your mind, what explains the Furious films’ enduring appeal?

I think the diversity and multicultural cast are huge. And the action, too. It just keeps getting better and better. We come out of each movie wanting to make the next one better. I mean, I think Furious 8 will be the best one, and I think that means something—the audience appreciates that kind of approach.

People were eager to see how you’d handle Paul Walker’s death in Furious 7. But when the film ends [spoilers ahead], your character says, “There are no goodbyes,” and Walker’s character, Brian, doesn’t actually die. That surprised people. How did you decide to end it the way you did?

It wasn’t easy. There are a million different ways a studio could play—and potentially exploit—something like that. So I have to really give it up to Universal for letting us take the route we did and not doing what so many other producers and studios would have done, which is succumb to the easy solution of terminating the character onscreen. We went another way with it, and it was a gut punch because it plays on so many levels. There was a joy to it in the end. When you really think about it, you’re emotionally spent by the time you think the Dom character isn’t going to make it. That crushes you. When you get to the Brian scene at the end, you cry. But the tears are different, more powerful than melancholy tears. After all, this brotherhood was the backbone of these movies for 15 years. The ending allowed everybody, regardless of how tough they were, to cry. 

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Looking back, at what point in your life did you finally feel like you’d made it?

I don’t know if I’ve ever felt that way. I think of my career more in terms of “outstanding debt.”

How so?

Well, I can’t enjoy the monumental success of Furious 7 without thinking about the next chapter. A lot of the actors in the film will tell you, you make a movie, it breaks records, and then you celebrate. But the second you break records, there’s the expectation of the sequel and then the next chapter.

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But you really don’t feel like you’ve arrived?

It’s relative, isn’t it? I mean, on some level I identify with success—but not really. I’m already thinking about what film you’ll have for 2017.

What is Vin Diesel afraid of?

Failure. I can’t imagine a lot of people not afraid of failure, regardless of how confident they are. But, yeah—if we want to succeed in our dreams, there’s always the fear we’ll fail.

If you could go back in time, what’s the first piece of advice you’d give yourself in your 20s?

“Hang in there, kid.” You’ll have to understand, I started acting in New York in theaters—off-off-Broadway at the age of 20. By 27, I hadn’t made enough money to get health benefits as an actor. Hell, all you needed was $7,000 a year to do that. When I filmed Saving Private Ryan, in the late-’90s, I was actually insured by the Writers Guild, and if I hadn’t been, I wouldn’t have been able to do the movie’s big Normandy action sequence. But luckily, PolyGram had hired me before that to write a film for them, and MTV had hired me to write a TV show for them, so the first time I was ever paid as an actor was because I said I was part of the Writers Guild and I made enough to be insured.

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Are there certain roles you still want to play that you haven’t?

I always wanted to work with director Ang Lee. Always. And just last month I got home from Morocco after working with him on a film that’s definitely not an action film, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. I play this Rambo-meets-Buddha-like character, and it was a great experience. The process felt very similar to earlier films in my career, like Saving Private Ryan. It was wonderful. Also, it was great not being the producer and just acting. Up until I did Saving Private Ryan, I was committed to just writing and directing independent films. I’d kind of given up on auditioning and sending out headshots and was content just creating my own product. And I gotta say, working with Ang Lee reminded me of that time.

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You’re a happily married family man now. What’s your advice for finding the right woman?

Don’t look so hard, because your criteria will never be the criteria you need to find happiness. So allow fate to play a part in it. You know, online dating is kind of a newer thing—just like social media, I guess—and I suppose you should do whatever works for you. But my feeling is, it’s going to come to you when it’s going to come to you. Guys and girls, we think we know what we want, and we create a checklist and go out looking for it. But the reality is, we don’t know what’s going to bring us happiness.

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Speaking of social media, you have a huge following on Facebook and Instagram, but you still haven’t embraced Twitter. Why?

I’ve toyed with the idea, and I may do it just to stop all the fakes. But the truth is, social media is serious, and it’s taken up so many hours of my life that, though I’m grateful for it, it is work. To do it right you have to think about it, and sometimes you can spend hours thinking about what you want to say to the world. I’m thinking about it now. I haven’t posted today!

You’ve worked hard on your physique through the years, and you were a well-built guy long before well-built guys were the norm. What do you make of the fact that everyone in Hollywood these days is ripped?

We’re all kidding ourselves if we don’t think men feel pressure from Hollywood to be in really great shape. But the irony is, I’ve worked with several directors who don’t want me to be in really great shape. The director of The Last Witch Hunter [Breck Eisner] didn’t want me to look like a bodybuilder at all. It’s interesting how a lot of directors play against that physicality and feel it allows for a different performance.

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How do you imagine yourself in old age? What’s Vin Diesel like at 70?

I imagine myself still committed to understanding and mastering this medium. I’ll be working hard. Maybe like Clint Eastwood, winning an award for directing.

What do you think your legacy will be in Hollywood?

I think it will be something along the lines of “opening the door for others to defy expectations and break stereotypes.” But who knows? I’m just starting, man, so give me another 40 years and ask me again then.

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