There are things Vin Diesel doesn’t want you to know about Vin Diesel. His real name, for one (that would be Mark Vincent). His ethnic background, for another (half African-American, half Italian-American, or so we hear). If it were up to him, you probably wouldn’t be reading his age right now (35) and certainly wouldn’t be trying to figure out how to pronounce the name Pavla Hrbkova (the Czech model he’s supposedly been squiring around Europe lately). Even his hair is shrouded in mystery: He keeps his head shaved so smooth that not even his stylist knows for sure how much Diesel actually has. But there is one thing about Vin Diesel that Vin Diesel has never been shy about sharing — even when nobody is listening. ”I’ve always been certain that I was going to be a movie star,” he says, his voice such a deep, low rumble it’s a wonder it doesn’t set off car alarms. ”Even as a kid I knew it. People keep asking if I’ve changed since becoming a celebrity. But I haven’t changed because I’ve always thought I was a celebrity. It was the rest of the world that hadn’t figured it out.”
The world, it seems, is about to get a crash course. Here on the outskirts of Prague, inside a massive soundstage on a drizzly day late last February, the first full-scale Diesel-powered vehicle — a $90 million contraption called XXX — is being carefully assembled by teams of crack Hollywood craftsmen. Loaded with all the extras — booming pyrotechnics, wall-to-wall gunplay, and even a noisy opening sequence featuring the German industrial-metal group Rammstein — it will, if nothing else, be the loudest movie of the summer.
Later today, Diesel will be shooting a scene in which he’ll launch a heat-seeking rocket at a chain-smoking sniper, then deliver the zinger ”I told him those cigarettes would kill him one day.” As Xander Cage, a grungy extreme athlete- turned-secret agent, Diesel does this sort of stuff all the time in XXX. He dodges bullets while surfing down a banister on a waiter’s tray. He outruns helicopters while doing handstands on a motorcycle. He stubbornly ignores orders from his scar-faced boss (Samuel L. Jackson), exchanges sneers with the stylishly sinister mastermind (New Zealand actor Marton Csokas) of a terrorist ring called Anarchy 99, and uses that throaty growl of his to sweet-talk an icy Russian beauty (Italian actress Asia Argento).
In other words, it’s a ”total reinvention of the spy film for a new generation,” according to director Rob Cohen, who last teamed with Diesel for his total reinvention of the hot-rod movie, 2001’s The Fast and the Furious (which ended up grossing $144.5 million domestically and sparking the flame that’s still sizzling under Diesel’s career). ”It’s not Austin Powers — it’s not a spoof — but it’s not James Bond, either,” he goes on. ”It’s totally different. It’s urban and multi-ethnic. It’s got X-games and tattoos and piercings. There’s a whole new attitude.”
Diesel concurs. ”James Bond is cool, but he’s left over from that Clark Gable mentality,” he says, after pointing to the newly arrived XXX poster that he’s tacked to a wall in this trailer. (It’s kind of tough to miss: VIN DIESEL in big block letters over a photo of the actor’s bare, tattooed torso.) ”I mean, James Bond wears a suit. I don’t know a kid today who wears a suit. So we’ve come up with a different kind of hero. A nihilist. An antihero. A guy who doesn’t give a s — – about anything but his own thrills. A guy who’s proficient at what he does because of all the time he wasted not doing his homework and learning how to do Superman grabs on a motocross instead. The kind of action hero people can relate to today.”