Biography: July 1967 to
This biography debuted with the
launch of the Art of Vin Diesel website on March 13, 2001. It was
written by the site's first webmistress, who also submitted a truncated
version of it to the Internet Movie Database. The biography quickly
became the standard by which all other Vin bios were compared, and
soon many other sites were clamoring for permission to use it. It
is now probably one of the best-known works relating to Vin Diesel.
Although it is now five years out of date, and contains some factual
errors due to scheduling changes that occurred after its publication,
it still remains the standard. Rather than change it, we are presenting
it in its original entirety, as Lilith wrote it, with a supplementary
When you hear the name or the voice,
see the face or the body, what do you think? Tough guy?
Sex symbol? The first impression you get from his man
is definitely not the whole deal. Beyond the macho exterior
lies intelligence, tenacity and an inner strength, which
are complemented by a sensitive and caring personality.
The Early Years
Vin Diesel was born of mixed heritage on 18 July 1967
in New York NY USA, never knowing his biological father.
He was raised by his astrologer mother and adoptive
father in the Westbeth artist's housing project in New
York's Greenwich Village. He first showed an inclination
to becoming a performer at the age of three during a
visit to Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus when
he tried to join in with the show, before being rescued
by his mother. His father, a theatre director turned
drama teacher at New York University, further stimulated
the young Diesel's innate interest by taking him, his
twin brother and his younger sisters to the movies.
His first steps to becoming a professional actor happened
almost by chance, when at the age of seven, he and his
friends decided to break into the Jane StreetTheatre
to cause havoc and vandalize the place. Much to their
surprise a woman appeared on stage and ordered the troublemakers
to come to her. She gave them each a script and $20,
on the proviso that they attended every day after school.
And so for the first time Diesel became a paid actor
and was able to entertain people without getting into
trouble at school. That led to his debut in a play called
The Dinosaur Door, for the Theatre of the New
City. Rather than taking the 'normal' child star route,
via movies, TV and commercials, Diesel spent his formative
years perfecting his craft in the theatre. Most of this
was for his father and mentor, who ran a New York repertory
company, which eventually led to him hitting the Off-Off-Broadway
circuit at places like Amas Rep, La Mama, and Riverwest.
work wasn't well paid, but it allowed him to be the
artist. However, by the time he was 17 he needed a way
to supplement his income. The compulsive weight training
that began at 15 made him more than equipped for the
job of a bouncer, leading him to work some of Manhattan's
hippest nightclubs. To add to his already formidable
presence, he adopted the name that we all know him by,
Vin Diesel. None of this altered the man beneath, who
in the moments of calm between sending people to hospital
and restraining them would find time to read the likes
of Camus. Being a bouncer allowed Diesel to act out
his second career choice, a superhero, while perfecting
his diplomacy and people skills. However, the effect
of conveying a tough, commanding persona every night
was a two-edged sword, which although giving him the
time to audition and study acting during the day, left
a hardened edge to him that would carry over into auditions.
Following high school, Diesel enrolled in Hunter College
to major in theatre. However, on the advice of his father
and his friends, he changed subject. After considering
his long-term goals, he decided upon English, as it
would give him the opportunity to study writing for
screenplays. This was so that he could at least create
parts for himself; if one didn't materialise. This was
his first step towards taking a more proactive approach
to his career in the film industry.
From The Theatre
After three years at college, he made the decision to
leave, feeling the need to make his own film. He headed
out to Los Angeles with the belief that being a theatre
actor immersed in his art would be valued. He was wrong.
Failing to find work as an actor and with burgeoning
debts, he took a job telemarketing. After a year of
making good money and winning awards for his selling
ability, he began to recognise that greed was overtaking
him, driving him to work an 18-hour day. Together with
this and his disappointment and dejection for not breaking
into Hollywood, he decided to head back to New York.
However, none of this dissuaded him from devoting himself
to his writing and the LA experience had taught him
how to be a moneymaker.
On his return to New York, his mother gave him a book
called Feature Films at Used Car Prices by Rick
Schmidt. The advice within led him to the realisation
that he could make his own movie. He had the talent
and the ability and it was only a matter of getting
together $11,000, enough to give him the impetus he
needed. Drawing on his own observations and experiences,
he began writing the script for his first feature, Strays,
an urban tale about perpetual adolescence and male friendship,
but after a year of being unable to get the project
off the ground, he decided to try something a little
less ambitious. He chose to make a short film and despite
receiving discouragement about embarking on a smaller
project, he persevered and had a script written with
five days, dealing with a subject close to his heart
and which reflected him: multiculturalism and identity.
That film was Multi
was shot in less than three days at a cost of $3,000.
Not only did he write and star in the film, but he also
directed and produced it, even stretching to writing
music and feeding the crew. Diesel received negative
feedback during production, mainly because those people
could only see the bouncer and the struggling actor,
and not the creative filmmaker that he also was. A disheartened
Diesel shelved the film before the final editing and
turned his attention back his first project, Strays.
However, his father urged him to finish Multi
Facial and it was eventually screened in front
of a 200 plus audience at the Anthology Film Archives
in Manhattan to a tumultuous response. That led to Multi
Facial being accepted for the 1995 Cannes Film
Festival, which took Diesel on his first trip to Europe.
Yet again, the film got a great reception, leaving only
standing room at each showing, and at last Diesel's
artistry, dedication and talent were recognised.
the wake of his success at Cannes, he returned to Los
Angeles and the business of telemarketing to raise the
money needed to make Strays.
Within 8 months he and a friend, John Sale, had amassed
almost $50,000 selling mid-western mechanics tools.
Diesel and his team, One Race Productions, then began
shooting the film. Six month later the film was accepted
for the 1997 Sundance Film Festival, which awarded him
with the much-needed money to take Strays
into post-production. Not only that, admission to the
Sundance competition enabled him to get an agent and
also introduced him to Ted Fields, who would later be
the executive producer of Pitch
Black. Fields was interested in getting Diesel
to make a film about nightlife, and in particular, about
Diesel's experiences as a bouncer. As for Strays,
despite its success at Sundance, it didn't sell as well
as hoped and yet again a disappointed Diesel found himself
returning to New York.
Journey to Hollywood
Shortly after returning to New York, Diesel received
a dream call from his agent. Steven Spielberg had seen
and liked Multi
Facial resulting in a invitation to Diesel to
meet him on the set of Amistad. The pair immediately
clicked and Diesel found himself heading for London
to appear in Spielberg's next project, Saving
Private Ryan. Spielberg had especially written
a role into the film for Diesel, Pvt Adrian Caparzo.
Although the role was small, with the character being
killed early in the film, it was Diesel's first experience
of a major film production and led to the honour of
being invited to shoot second-unit, with some of those
shots actually making it into the final cut. Diesel,
like the other actors, found himself in boot camp for
five gruelling days in preparation for his role. During
production, Diesel didn't rest on his laurels. At night
he would set to work on his next screenplay, Doormen,
the film which Ted Fields had previously approached
Facial was to win Diesel more work. Director
Brad Bird was making The
Iron Giant, the animated adaptation of Ted Hughes'
children's book, The Iron Man (US title: The
Iron Giant), which tells the story of a kind-hearted,
but misunderstood giant robot. He was looking to cast
the title role and, by coincidence, a woman who had
been Diesel's assistant at Sundance was now working
for Bird. Knowing that Diesel's voice would be perfect
for the part, she gave Bird a copy of Multi
Facial, which led to a meeting with Bird and
the producers. Diesel immediately impressed them with
his interpretation of the Iron Giant's voice and secured
the part over Hollywood's A-listed actors.
Iron Giant was Diesel's first outing into this
genre, requiring him to concentrate on the voice alone.
After 6 to 10 hours of delivering such guttural tones,
Diesel would be left unable to speak for up to three
hours. However, this was a price worth paying, as the
film has become one he is very proud of. The film won
critical acclaim, but due to poor marketing by Warner
Brothers, the film had a disappointing performance at
the box office.
The Leading Man
As Diesel continued his work on the screenplay for
Doormen, his producing partner, George Zakk,
introduced him to the script for Pitch
Black a story about a group of space
travellers marooned on an apparently deserted planet.
Diesel was struck by the approach of the script in that
for what was basically a science fiction film, the characters
and their development held greater importance than the
special effects. Yet again the studio concerned, Universal
Studios, preferred to have a big name star for the role
of convicted murderer Richard B Riddick, but after auditioning
several times and an arduous campaign by director David
Twohy and producer Ted Fields, Diesel landed the part.
set about turning himself into the predatory, feline
Riddick. In addition to his mainly weight-based training
he took up yoga and Pilates. This was not only to alter
his physique and bring more agility to his movements,
but together with listening to classical music, it was
to help him become immersed into the character's mindset.
He would unfortunately miss the premiere of Saving
Private Ryan, as it coincided with the shooting
of Pitch Black,
which was initially to take place at an isolated Australian
opal-mining town, Coober Pedy: Aboriginal sacred land
that had previously been a backdrop to the Mad Max
Diesel's method acting approach was to cause considerable
tension during production, especially when his character
was at its most aloof and intimidating. This was certainly
helped by being sprayed with water to resemble sweat
whilst out on location in the freezing Australian winter.
This wasn't the only physical punishment he suffered
for his art. He did nearly all of his own stunts, which
meant his body took a regular pounding. He was only
inches away from pulling off the scene where Riddick
escapes by dislocating his shoulders, the rest being
completed by special effects.
give Diesel's eyes the cat-like glow of Riddick's enhanced
nocturnal vision, he had to wear specially crafted contact
lenses. Unfortunately, after the first day of shooting,
the lenses became bonded to his eyes, and an optometrist
was specially flown into the mining town to remove them.
However, the lenses had left a serious abrasion to one
of his eyes and he was then sent to a local hospital
for further checks. The lenses, as well as the goggles,
limited his own vision and his main source of expression
as an actor, his eyes, which meant he had to discover
other ways of conveying the character's thoughts and
Luckily, the cast of Pitch
Black only had to suffer the cold of Coober
Pedy for three weeks, after which they relocated to
the Warner Roadshow Studios at the warmer climes of
Queensland's Gold Coast, where The Matrix had
'An Actor's Piece'
Although not the leading role, he opted to play the
smart talking stockbroker Chris Varick along side his
Saving Private Ryan
colleague, Giovanni Ribisi, in Boiler
Room a story centring on an illegal Long
Island brokerage house. He took the part as insurance
against being typecast into merely action parts. Diesel
had already had the experience of meeting these high
earning, fast living brokers during his time in New
York and already understood the pressures and rewards
of a salesman from his own experience as a telemarketer.
In fact, he came to see the role as penance for what
he has referred to as a 'shameless job'.
more choosing acting credibility over bankability, Diesel's
next role was Taylor Reese in the film Knockaround Guys.
He teamed up with yet another Saving
Private Ryan actor, Barry Pepper, who together
with Seth Green and Andrew Davoli played the sons of
Brooklyn mobsters sent to a small Montana town to retrieve
a bag of cash. The film was shot in the autumn of 1999
and directed by Brian Coppleman and David Levine and
produced by Lawrence Bender of Pulp Fiction fame.
Although Diesel got to bare his muscles and crack a
few heads, he described the film as 'an actor's piece',
helping to keep his versatility alive and giving him
the opportunity to work with the likes of John Malkovich.
The US release is due in March 2001.
A Rising Star
After the making of Knockaround Guys came the US release
of Pitch Black
Room in February 2000. During the promoting
of these films, Diesel got the chance to make his face
known to the world, doing scores of interviews and chat
shows, and winning many fans in the process.
In the summer of 2000, he began filming the big action
feature, The Fast
and The Furious. Diesel co-stars as Dominic,
the king of the street racers, opposite Paul Walker,
who plays a young detective who infiltrates an underground
network of imported car owners and befriends Dominic.
The production was to be innovative in the making of
the car chase scenes. Rather than using the a trailer
with a car strapped to it, to record the actors in such
scenes, the second unit director, Mic Rodgers, created
what has become known as the Mic Rig. This was a full
mockup of a car, minus the running gear, that was attached
to the back half of a cut-away panel van. This allowed
the actors, including Diesel, to be safely strapped
into the mock up car and be driven around at speed to
give the car chases an authentic look and decrease the
need for computer animation. The
Fast and The Furious is currently scheduled
for release in the US in June 2001, with Universal Studios
obviously seeing this as a potential box office hit.
current project is Diablo,
for which his production company, One Race Productions,
is acting as executive producer. In this film, Diesel
plays a DEA agent who, together with his partner, plans
to bring down a mysterious figure in the drug trafficking
world, only known as Diablo.
In the course of the story, Diesel's character witnesses
the assassination of his wife. In preparation for the
role, Diesel has been training in Ju Jitsu. The film
is due to wrap any day with the release date still to
be announced. However, the studio, New Line Cinema,
is so confident of the success of this film that a sequel
has already been planned.
Written by Lilith,
beta'd and edited by Novafry of Reasons
Why Riddick. This biography is copyrighted. If you
would like to borrow from this biography, in whole or
in part, please
e-mail us for permission.
Coming Soon: CCL's biography, covering
Vin's career from March 2001 to the present.