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How Vin Diesel is changing the way Hollywood looks at race and casting

Entertainment Today

by Brent Simon

When Vin Diesel made the jump from The Fast and the Furious fulcrum to XXX leading man, it meant a lot more than a quadrupled payday and $10 million earnings, though thats certainly not chopped liver. It marked a huge turning point in the way that Hollywood is beginning to look at race; after all, here was a major studio betting a $90 million movieindeed, an entire franchiseon not only a promising but essentially unproven commodity, but also an African-American unproven commodity. Or is that Hispanic? Or Italian-American?

Diesels multi-ethnic lookand his dodginess about it and other personal details in interviewsare shrewdly calculated to play the best card to every possible demographic (his production company is even named One Race Productions). Vinnie has incorporated a kind of hip-hop ambiance to his stardom. He has this cluster of characteristics that range from ferocity, attitude, antiestablishment and hip-hop to pure surprising vulnerability, says director Rob Cohen, who adds that he wouldnt have done XXX if Revolution Studios and Columbia Pictures hadnt stepped up with the extra money for Diesel, because its like knowing theres a Sean Connery in the world and not wanting him for Dr. No. We had to get him.

Of course, Diesels intriguing multi-ethnic look wouldnt matter much if he werent also chiseled, graced with a distinctive bass profundo and hadnt scored a huge, out-of-left-field commercial smash last summer in the form of The Fast and the Furious. In fact, the crossover success of that film seems to have changed Hollywoods thinking in terms of multi-ethnic casting. Gonefor the moment at least, and only in certain youth-skewing moviesare token minority friend roles, replaced by a broader spectrum of colors and creeds more representative of urban America.

I think [thats true,] says XXX executive producer George Zakk, also Diesels partner at One Race. Thats owed a lot to Rob Cohen (who helmed both The Fast and the Furious and XXX) in seeing and being ahead of the curve, and Id like to think that Vin helped envision that and talked about how (his character Dominic) was in a gang with all types of ethnicities. It was a blue-collar film that spoke directly to the youth.

Oh yeah, agrees Cohen, we changed everything [without] even completely knowing. All I knew at first was that I was being true to the street racing world, which is multi-ethnic dominated by Asian-Americans, Vietnamese-Americans, Japanese-Americans and by Hispanic-Americans, and all countries of origin. When I looked at that world the first thing I thought is, All right, first were gonna take a documentary approach. What I saw that night out in San Fernando Road is what in fact Im gonna put on film. Paul Walkers journey was mine, exactly. What came out of that was finally, finally the Hollywood recognition that its most loyal and dedicated audience is not white suburban kids. Its multi-ethnic urban kids; they go to the movies religiously, and Fast and the Furious not only proves that they went religiously, but they would go repeated times if you gave them something with dignity, something with truth that resonated in them. I think we did that, I know we did that, and I know they responded, so all of a sudden everybody says, Oh, you get this kind of Hispanic girl and a black guy and a multi-ethnic this Cohen trails off with a slight smile, realizing hes inadvertently crafted a blueprint thats now beyond his control.

Hes an Everyman, continues Zakk of Diesel. Hes a hero, [or an] antihero if you will. Theres no color, and at One Race we believe anyone can play any role. In Pitch Black it seems like every race has adopted Riddick as their own; in (the upcoming) Knockaround Guys, hes Jewish and fascinating; in Fast and the Furious he was Cuban. But ultimately Vin always comes off as nondescript or invisible, as he would put it. Not to Hollywoods casting agents, ever mindful of a trend, even if it may happen to have some unintentionally positive consequences.

Building a Better Spy

Entertainment Today

After years of hard work, Vin Diesel joins director Rob Cohen for XXX, a youth-skewing remolding of the secret agent genre

by Keith Ryan Cartwright

While Vin Diesel is still busy meeting the foreign press at a junket in Hollywood, his partner George Zakk slips out early and is in the midst of tooling his way home through the evening traffic of Los Angeles. With the release of XXX, one of the most highly anticipated action films of the summer, less than a week away the pair actually seem happy to finally find themselves being pulled in every direction imaginable.

After six years of reminding each other to simply focus on one film at a time, Diesels star power in Hollywood (he bankrolled $10 million as Xander XXX Cage and is purportedly going to earn $20 million for the sequel) has unsuspectingly, at least to those outside his inner circle, catapulted him to the threshold of being a box office megastar. And while Diesel is finally becoming the star he always envisioned himself as, One Race Productionsthe production company he oversees with Zakk, who served as executive producer for the $90 million XXXis also steadfastly making a name for itself.

Despite all the media fervor surrounding the filmjunkets aside, Diesel flew to Indianapolis on Sunday for the Brickyard 400 and he taped a Tonight Show appearance Monday afternoon before heading off to the films premiereDiesel and Zakk have consumed themselves in the details of the pre-production for The Chronicles of Riddick, the franchise born from Diesels role in the dark sci-fi thriller Pitch Black, and theyre already in the early stages of development for Hannibal the Conqueror. As if that wasnt enough, theyre almost assuredly going to be the subjects of another enthralled go-round with the media for the October release of New Lines Knockaround Guys, which re-teams Diesel with his Saving Private Ryan co-star Barry Pepper, among others.

For the most part, however, Zakk has been the one to maintain his focus in terms of the conceptual art of creating the various creatures that Dieselor his character Riddick, that iswill battle in Chronicles, a film they hope to begin principal photography on later this year. I see this summer as pre production on Riddick and Hannibal, says Diesel. (Were) trying to get those things done on time. Thats the reality. [Its] funny, Im not like at home going, Yeah, this feels good. Im trying to make sure that The Chronicles of Riddick is amazing and Im trying to do everything in my power to ensure Hannibal the Conqueror (is also good.) So thats where my heads at.

Adds Zakk: I get brought back into the XXX reality when I walk into the sound studio and see Rob Cohen making magic or like now. Theres a lot going on with the release of this film, and its a weird feeling.

Its an emotion, no doubt, that Zakk is more than happy to be feeling these days. After all, he and Diesel arent all that far removed from the pro-active time when the pair resorted to running their then-upstart production company out of a one-room Studio City apartment. Back in those days Diesel manned the phones in a telemarketing room selling tools, while Zakk initially ran their office from a pay phone located outside the Casa Vega restaurant on the corner of Fulton Street and Ventura Boulevard.

I couldnt get incoming calls, Zakk remembers, but, for the most part, it all was about dialing out. He worked the pay phone from 9 a.m. until 7 p.m., if thats what it took, inviting any and every agent that would take his calls to a monthly screening of Multi-facial, the now-famous 20-minute short Diesel wrote, directed, financed and starred in, as well as trying to raise money for their first full-length project, Strays.

The company grew a bit from the short film days, recalls Zakk of the lean years of 1996 and 97, which now it meant we could have our own phone. And, Ill tell you what, the phone was a fax phone and it barely worked.

All the money that was made back then, whether it was from working as a waiter or in Vins case telemarketing, went back into film, always back into filming. If you had $50 you would no sooner buy fax paper if you didnt steal it from another production company, or worry about getting a second phone line. Do you buy more books for knowledge of filmmaking? Do you take that screenwriting course or that workshop?

I would be telemarketing 14-18 hours a day just to make money to make movies, Diesel explains. I would work a whole year, save up all my money and not buy a new car, but invest all that money into a movie. So Ive always been adamant about spending my time accordingly. Im just a regular guy. I come from a family of hard workers and we just think about the work, thats the most important thing.

Although it may very well have been a challenge, Diesel and Zakk persevered though their financial struggles if they werent sleeping on someone elses couch they had a pair of mattresses laying on the bedroom floor. Nevertheless, there were a few rather poignant moments.

First there was Diesels trip to the prestigious Cannes Film Festival to screen Multi-facial. Then came Sundance, when Diesel and Zakk were invited to premiere Strays (a trip that was documented for CBS news program 48 Hours). But it was a call from Steven Spielberg that changed everything.

The Oscar-winning director watched a VHS tape of Multi-facial late one night and decided almost immediately to write Diesel into his soon-to-begin filming World War II epic Saving Private Ryan. The call and subsequent casting of Diesel as Private Caparzo did more than validate the New York-born Diesel as an actor.

All you heard was, Steven Spielberg saw your film, Zakk explains. The fact that he even took 10 or 15 minutes to even watch it, you wanted to do back flips. It didnt matter what the response was. All that mattered was that he saw the film. When he validated that film it opened a lot of eyes.

Following the release of Ryan, Diesel lent his foreboding voice to The Iron Giant and took on roles in Boiler Room, the soon-to-be-released Knockaround Guys (Oct. 11), the then-titled El Diablo (which currently looks to be renamed This Mans Dominion). And then came the so-called overnight success of The Fast and the Furious.

The first day I saw Multi-facial in the theater, Zakk recalls, I said to myself, This man is going to be one of the biggest stars in the world, if not the biggest. It didnt take more than a short (film) to know that this guys is going to be huge. I never got how the industry didnt get it. If you were going to make Rocky today, hes the only guy that can play the role. Hes incredible. Hes resourceful. Hes an amazing actor and he has an unbelievable charisma. And I never got it when we bopping around from agency to agency and they were all saying, Well, we really dont know where he fits in. We dont get it. Its like, What dont you get? That youre an asshole?

Our goal has always been to make another movie, Zakk continues. When the company was conceived, it was to make movies. It wasnt about what film they were going to put him in, it was about what film are we going to make. Whether I had a producer title or not, it was always the responsibility of our company to make sure that it was a story worth watching. Zakk and Diesel hope that audiences answer yes to that question with regards to XXX.

Audio Clip from the Charlie Rose Interview with Vin 8/31

Vin Diesel's in Mexico... and el DIABLO must pay... 8/31

Vin Diesel & Morgan Freeman in The Booster? 8/31

An anticipated 3rd place weekend for xXx 8/30

xXx will be screened at Festival Du Cinema Americain On Sept 7th. 8/29

Be on the lookout for a new Michelob commercial that features a Vin lookalike from USA Today 8/29

Knockaround Guys summary from 8/29

Summer 2002's Hottest Stories 8/29

XXX Breaks $100 Million 8/29

Dumb Villains Abound in 'Xxx' Game 8/28

Knockaround Guys will be screened at the Boston Film Festival Sept 6-15, $10.00 per film. 8/27

Can Vin spin o'seas? 8/27

Best summer hair, worst kiss, return of the russian bad guys, best foreign sidekick, spies we'd like to see more of, moments that almost gave the film an R rating, and best tattoos at Zap2it's summer movie moments. 8/27

DVD of XXX will be rolled out sometime this fall. 8/27

Chronicles of Riddick Production is delayed until December 8/27

Vin attends the launch of Dead to Rights with the top young Hollywood A -Listers 8/26

'XXX' at Apex in Asia; Blighty Follows 'Guru' 8/26

Phony tattoos can fake out fans 8/26 readers rate xXx. 8/26

It was a close battle for number one between the two star-driven pics, xXx and Signs, with Signs pulling out for the lead. 8/26

2 New Knockaround Guys Clips available online 8/26

Diesel Vehicle May Be Summer's First 3-Peat 8/23

The Stars Come Out to Support XXX 8/23

xXx2 Update! 8/23

''XXX'' will top a third weekend 8/23

BOP Daily News 8/23

Frustration fueled Diesel's rise in action flicks 8/23

'XXX' Marks the Patriotic Spot 8/22

Orbital Take Center Stage In 'XXX,' Horse Around With Diesel 8/22

XXX2 and XXX3 or XXXII and XXXIII? 8/21

Running on Diesel Power 8/21

Diesel becomes the highest-ranked actor in the history of The Lycos 50 list and the first to ever reach the top ten. 8/20

Shaking Our Fists at the Sun 8/20

Box Office Analysis: Aug.18

Samuel L. Jackson not yet signed for xXx2

Diesel Still Energized, 'Pluto' a Dog 8/19

The Multicultural Mysteries of Vin Diesel 8/18

Vin Diesel Gets XXX-Rated with TV Reporter 8/18

'XXX' offers plenty of action 8/17

Vin Again? 8/16

Eye candy taken to frenzied new level in XXX 8/16

Moriarty Reviews Knockaround Guys 8/16

Women say Vin Diesel a 'real' man 8/15

Diesel's folks stop on Uncle Sam's dime 8/15

Vin Diesel Says Goodbye To Privacy 8/15

Dave Williams, lead singer of Dallas quartet Drowning Pool, was found dead on the band's tour bus Wednesday in Virginia. This band was featured on the xXx Soundtrack. 8/15

Hot But Not Bothered 8/15

xXx Short on Plot, Long on Action 8/15


The third-highest debut of the frame was the soundtrack to Vin Diesel actioner "XXX" (Universal). 8/15

Diesel Powered 8/15

Vin Diesel: Just a Guy From New York 8/15

XXX The 'Thrill-Ride' Of The Summer 8/15

Harry watches xXx and wants to be Vin Diesel when he grows up 8/8

Diesel Vin Diesel Is 'XXX' 8/14

White men everywhere on-screen, but what about women, minorities? 8/14

XXX - Vin-ter of our Discontent 8/14

xXx Film Threat Review 8/14

Vin Diesel and xXx Speed up Online 8/14

Exploring Asia 8/14

Deconstructing Diesel 8/14

XXX Movie Premiere by Speedmonkey 8/13

One of the most heartening trends in movies is away from color-coding and toward diversity in casting. Vin Diesel is a good example. On the basis of "The Fast and the Furious" and his new "XXX," in which he plays a bad-ass James Bond-style character, he's poised to become the major action star of his generation. On a Web site devoted to his work, he says his ethnicity is a mystery, because his mother has never revealed the identity or race of his father: "I am truly multi-racial. I never knew my biological father. All I know from my mother is that I have connections to many different cultures." He adds, "I am definitely a person of color."

The above excerpted from The Chicago Sun Time 8/13

Ladies, write to Diesel (and his dog) 8/13

'XXX' shoulders art of deception 8/13

'XXX' Nabs Fourth-Best August Opening 8/13

The Birth of a Franchise 8/13

R.I.P. 007 8/12

Diesel Lets Out a Quiet Roar 8/12

''XXX'' posts an impressive $46 million win 8/12

Anyone who doubted that the sociopathic anti-hero of Pitch Black was destined to become heir to the action throne 8/12


Vin spins B.O. wheels 8/12


XTasy for "xXx" 8/12

Diesel actioner drives B.O. 8/11

Diesel is the latest Hollywood hyperhero 8/11

Vin Diesel's 'XXX' leads spy wave at box office with dlrs 46 million 8/11

Kid's dig xXx 8/11

Diesel's 'XXX' Tops Box Office 8/11

xXx Review for parents 8/10

In Praise of Vin Diesel 8/10

Fame game stumps Diesel 8/10

Vin Diesel is hot 8/10

Extreme fun 8/10

The xXx Panel 8/10

By the Numbers: Spy vs. "Spy Kids" 8/10

Spy Kids vs. Spy Diesel 8/10

Crappy review from Coming Attractions 8/10

XXX-Rated Dreams 8/10

UK xXx site opens 8/10

Weekend Movies: 'XXX,' 'Spy Kids 2,' 'Blood Work' 8/10

Review: 'XXX' powered strongly by Diesel 8/10

A Diesel-fueled XXX action flick 8/10

Even Tom Hanks wants his sweat pants 8/10

xXx Review from the Ft. Worth Star Telegram 8/10

Not your father's action hero 8/9

'XXX' riffs on Bond, and result is smashing 8/9

DIY: Ask Vin Diesel Anything 8/9

Identity that Resonates 8/9

'XXX' is fast and furious, but extremely ephemeral 8/9

Vin Diesel: Hollywood's New Anti-hero 8/9

Men Of Action 8/9

Driven, in the Extreme 8/9

Vin Diesel is interviewed by See it here 8/9

Film force xXx Review 8/9

Vin Diesel: Thrill Seeker 8/9

Diesel Powered 8/9

Counting Down xXx Review 8/9

Triple X threat 8/9

'Xxx': the Spy Who Came in from Espn2 8/9

MORIARTY Has Seen XXX!! 8/9

Cable web G4 game for 'XXX' 8/9

Can Diesel drive weekend B.O.? 8/9

'XXX' takes James Bond idea to the extreme 8/9

Diesel a brawny, yet vulnerable, hero 8/9

'XXX': Meet Mister Muscle 8/9

$20M 8/9


xXx Review from Screen Daily 8/9

Diesel Talking 'XXX' Sequel Already 8/8

'XXX' marks the spot 8/8

500-1 Odds? That's Not a Problem 8/8

Asia Argento talks xXx 8/8

Not so good xXx review 8/8

Massawyrm spreads em in XXX glory! 8/8



Watch out Bond, "XXX" unleashes Diesel power 8/7

Diesel Pumps Up Action in 'XXX' 8/7

XXX Premiere from Extra

Bit Chat: Vin Diesel in 'XXX' 8/7

Vin Diesel, in high gear 8/7

E! News live coverage of xXx Premiere 8/7

Vin Diesel on not being allowed to do stunts 8/7


COMIC CON: Quint Interviews Asia (drool) Argento 8/6

XXX-citing Night 8/6

Former Village Bouncer May Become Next Superhero NY Post 8/6

Web Users Eager for Upcoming Film xXx, Push Star Vin Diesel Onto This Week's List 8/6

The manly brew of an action star 8/6

We have Diesel: Vin Interview 8/6

INTERVIEW: Samuel L. Jackson of XXX 8/6

The Fast and The Furious Toys!!! 8/6

Video Feature: xXx Premiere Coverage 8/6

Asia Argento Signed For xXx 2 8/6

Variety reviews xXx. Not so good. :( 8/5

Review of xXx Soundtrack 8/5

The E!Online Vin Q&A finally up!! 8/5

Word's out: Vin's in 8/5

INTERVIEW: Vin Diesel of "XXX" 8/5

Geocities adds xXx template 8/5

Not so good xXx review. Do not read if you get mad easily. LOL 8/5

Vin Diesel on 'xXx2' and his HANNIBAL film!!! 8/5

Comic Con: Right Bastard on xXx 8/5


Vin Diesel will get $20 million to make the sequel to his new film, XXX. Will Sean Plummer get 20 minutes of his time? 8/3

The ladies love Vin Diesel 8/3

'Signs,' 'XXX,' 'Crush' should drive August boxoffice 8/3

Coming Soon's xXx Review 8/3

Vin Likes The Bald Look 8/3

Director Rob Cohen on xXx 8/3

Something You Don't Know About Vin Diesel 8/3

Fandango Tips Off Moviegoers That Advance Tickets Are Now Available for ``xXx'' 8/3

Brand-X Franchise xXx 8/3

Vin Diesel/XXX Interview by Paul Fischer in Los Angeles 8/3

Hollywood Reporter xXx Review 8/3

Rotten Tomatoes xXx Review 8/3

MGM is stirred, but not shaken, by upstart 'XXX' 8/3

xXx Comic Book in the Works 8/3

New xXx review at The Film Hobbit 8/3

New reviews at Coming Attractions. Scroll to the bottom of the page for them. 8/3

Vin Diesel Taking Fast, Furious Ride To The Top In Stride 8/3

Vin Diesel Discusses His Background, His Role Philosophy 8/3