Credit: Paul Walker: Avik Gilboa/

Say what you will about Paul Walker (and many of you have), you can’t say he lacks versatility — anymore anyway. This weekend and next, the star of The Fast and the Furious and Into the Blue departs from his surfer/action dude persona with two very different movies. First, in Disney’s family-friendly Eight Below, he plays an intrepid Antarctic survival guide who bonds with a heroic team of sled dogs. Next Friday, in New Line’s very R-rated Running Scared, he’s a low-level Mob soldier who finds himself and his neighbor’s abused son (Godsend‘s Cameron Bright) facing a gauntlet of corrupt cops, vengeful gangsters, pimps, addicts, sadists, and homicidal pedophile pornographers. (Think of it as Lemony Snicket-meets-Sin City.)

Calling PopWatch on the phone yesterday, Walker said he hopes this double whammy will help get him out of the B-movie action rut. In addition to his place in the Hollywood food chain, he also talked about parental responsibility, the Oscar winner whose career he’d like to emulate, and that notorious X-rated online videogame New Line is using to promote his crime thriller.

How do you feel about your likeness being used in the sexually explicit Running Scared videogame?
I haven’t seen it. I’ve heard a lot about it. It’s the back of my head. It could be any guy. I’ve seen the screen captures. It’s so funny. I have to say hats-off to New Line because I think they accomplished what they wanted to with it. There’s not a whole lot of money in this movie. There never was. Talk about a way to get the word out there. I know that looks disturbing to a lot of people, but those people would also find the movie disturbing. The people who gravitate toward the game, that’s the same audience it’s going to pull into theaters.

addCredit(“Paul Walker: Avik Gilboa/”)

Is it just a coincidence that Running Scared and Eight Below are coming out just a week apart?
There was a year and a half between [shooting] the two projects. That’salso marketing on New Line’s part. They can piggyback a little off theDisney movie. It’s good because it’s a completely different audience,but my face is going to be out there. Initially, I was like, ”What thehell?”, but the more I think about it, the more I like it. Not tomention I get to get all the press over with in one shot.

Both of these movies seem like departures from the sort of thing you usually do.
It depends on your mood. There’s a time for a movie like Seven.I remember walking out of that theater being disgusted, GwynethPaltrow’s head in a box and all that. Soon after, it became one of myfavorite movies. And then, I grew up on movies like Old Yeller. That’s what [Eight Below]reminded me of. I have a 7-year-old daughter and a big family. Theretimes I like to go to the theater and walk away feeling good aboutthings because the world is pretty messed up at times.

How is it handled, putting a child actor like Cameron Bright intothe horrifying, traumatizing situations that he has to go through in Running Scared?
The things that kid has seen just blow me away. I’m flashing back to Birth,that he did with Nicole Kidman. But you know when you meet him that hisparents have already approved everything. They’ve read the script. ButI’m still uncomfortable, I’m still uneasy with it. There’s definitely alevel of compromise. As a parent, I can only imagine they’re thinking,”God, I hope this is all worth it in the long run.” I’m reallysensitive to it. I’m a big kid, too. You hear about these kids growingup too fast, and as a result, they end up being the some of the mostscrewed-up people on the face of the earth, these child actors. So Itry to keep it as real and as loose as possible. My philosophy is: Ifyou can’t have fun, there’s no sense in doing it. So I always have afootball, a soccer ball, and we play with that between set-ups. I think[writer/director] Wayne Kramer’s concern was that the kids werebecoming a little too lax, too comfortable around me. I became like anolder brother. I like to think that’s one of my strengths, working withkids, because I know them so well. It helps that I have a 7-year-olddaughter, a 17-year-old brother, a huge family, and an army of childrenaround me.

Would you ever want your daughter to go into the business?
Nah, hell no.

What’s it like, seeing yourself bloodied onscreen in a scene like the soon-to-be-famous sequence from Running Scared where your character is tortured with a hockey puck to the face?
I love that! Everyone else wants to gloss me up all the time and make me look pretty. So it was nice for a change.

Do you think either of these movies will change the way casting directors perceive you?

I have no idea. It’s always a grind. You get offered the projects youdon’t want, and the ones you want, you have to chase down. I don’t mindthat. There’s a lot of guys that just get comfortable with theirpositions and rest on their laurels. I had to earn my way. The ClintEastwood project [WWII drama Flags of Our Fathers] –hell, no one was going to give me that role. I had to chase it downlike there was no tomorrow. I play a real guy who died on Iwo Jima. There’s definitely a genre type of movie people see me as being able to pull off. That’s what I like about Running Scared.People see it and say, ”Wow, I didn’t know you could do that.” Yeah,that’s the idea. For a long time, I was saying, ”Find me somethingdark. Find me something twisted.”

Whose career would you most like to emulate?
If I could have anyone’s career, it’s Denzel Washington’s. He’s got thegood mix. I love the physical acting, running around, jumping, knockingpeople out, but there’s always a great story line, it’s always reallycharacter-driven , and there’s always a lot of heart in his projects.

Any final thoughts for our readers?
See my damn movies.