The Strange Trip from Sensitive Mark Vincent to Action Hero Vin Diesel

Photo: Everett Collection

1. In July 1967, Mark Vincent is born a twin in Manhattan (his brother is now a film editor). His mother (an astrologer and psychologist) and adoptive father (who worked in a downtown theater) raise him in an artists-only housing project in Greenwich Village. Thanks to his upbringing, he describes himself in interviews as a “Cancer with a Scorpio rising” who can sing and “knows by heart 80 percent of the songs in My Fair Lady.”

2. Like his hero Eliza Doolittle, the Broadway baby shifts personas in his teens. He learns to break-dance, modeling moves on an instructional popping-and-locking video. He also hits the gym, bulks up, and by age 17, begins working as a bouncer at the Tunnel and other dance clubs. According to interviews, he befriends drag queens. But he does not say whether they persuaded him to change his name to the very campy Vin Diesel.

3. After three years as an earnest English major at Hunter, Diesel drops out to write and direct an autobiographical short film, Multi-Facial, about an actor struggling with ethnic typecasting (Diesel’s half-Italian, half-black). Improbably, the short is selected by Cannes, where it screens in 1995. Two years later, the auteur debuts his first feature film, Strays, at the Sundance Film Festival, but it doesn’t get picked up.

4. Steven Spielberg catches Diesel’s performance in Multi-Facial, then casts him in Saving Private Ryan. Diesel loses the lead role of the transvestite in Flawless to Philip Seymour Hoffman. But the actor does use his deep baritone to voice the animated, sensitive robot in The Iron Giant (by the now-famous creator of The Incredibles, Brad Bird). He earns respect for his scary turn in 2000’s sci-fi horror flick Pitch Black, and his wry performance in that year’s indie drama Boiler Room.

5. Diesel becomes a breakout action star. 2001’s The Fast and the Furious confounds all expectations, earning $144 million at the American box office (it’s also a bonanza on DVD). Diesel commands $10 million for XXX and prompts a raft of “The Next Stallone/Schwarzenegger” profiles.

6. Following in the Governator’s footsteps, Diesel squanders his capital with a bad movie (A Man Apart) and a worse, big-budget sequel (The Chronicles of Riddick). Then he lands his very own Kindergarten Cop: In the tough-guy-gets-cuddly comedy The Pacifier, opening March 4, he plays a government agent who kicks ass and plays Mr. Mom in the ’burbs.

7. Diesel dials back the action flicks; his new role model seems to be Russell Crowe. His Insider: Sidney Lumet’s Find Me Guilty, recently wrapped. His Gladiator? Carthaginian conqueror Hannibal, with Gladiator’s Oscar-nominated screenwriter David Franzoni already on the case.

The Strange Trip from Sensitive Mark Vincent to A […]