Sxsw Rodriguez Walker
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Paul Walker enjoyed his first-ever film-festival experience last night when his high-stakes Daddy drama Hours world premiered at SXSW. In the stripped-down movie, written and directed by Eric Heisserer (The Thing), Walker plays a man who loses his wife during childbirth and then must singlehandedly keep his newborn daughter alive after the hospital is evacuated during Hurricane Katrina.

Walker, 39, tells EW that the role was a departure for him after years grinding away on the Fast franchise. “I was scared because I’ve applied myself in the past but never really,” he says. “I’ve always been one foot in, one foot out of this game because I’m not comfortable with being on the pedestal or the poster. That’s just not who I am. I’m more like the grunt. I want to be the guy behind the guy.”

(Behind every Vin Diesel there must be a willing Paul Walker.)

“I’m not comfortable with attention,” he says. “What’s nice is Hours is small. People who are going to see it are going to see it, people that don’t, don’t and it doesn’t really matter. It’s not a big studio movie [where] you got to be the star and do the red carpet and all the crap that comes with it.”

As for Fast & Furious 6 (in theaters May 24), Walker praises the studio’s decision to resurrect Michelle Rodriguez’s character Letty, who, based on the trailer, has apparently been sucked into the dark side. “I think it was a mistake to ever see her go, and I think they realize that and that’s a big part of the reason of why she’s back,” he says. “There’s an authenticity she brings to it.” He also said that fans of the infamous “bank vault” scene in Fast Five should brace themselves for the next signature action sequence, this one starring a tank. “In the trailer you see the tank,” he says. “That tank is this [movie’s] vault. Cars, what are we going to do against this tank?”

Walker arrived in Austin with a full brood in tow, including his father and his only child, 14-year-old Meadow. He credited his daughter, who after spending most of her life in Hawaii with her mother recently started living with him full-time, with a new found sense of grounding. “My heart was desperate for so many years with the situation with my daughter. She’s living in Hawaii and she’s there and I’m running here. My daughter lives with me full time now and she’s the best partner I’ve ever had. It’s so nuts. I’ve never had anything like this in my life. I’ve been so transient, I’ve been on my own since I was 16. I didn’t even have my own place until I was 32 years old. I literally lived out of bags for 16-plus years.”

Transitioning from vacation Dad to full-time Dad has inspired a shift in priorities. “There’s a part of me who feels like I’m making up for lost time,” he says. “I was like ‘Okay that’s it, I’m not working, leave me alone.’ Just recently they came at me with an offer of something going in the summertime, and I wanted to punch them in the face for even coming to me with it. ‘You know what my priorities are right now, why are you even tempting me with this?’ I got home and I was just pissed off and my daughter was like ‘What’s the matter?’ And I told her what happened and she mellowed me out and she’s so funny. She sits me down and she’s like ‘When does it go? What months? I like to travel in the summertime anyway.’ So I said ‘We should actually entertain this one?’ and we both sat down and read it. We’re thinking about it.”

Hours, which also stars Genesis Rodriguez and a German Shepherd, was filmed in New Orleans on a shoestring 18-day shoot, arrived in Austin seeking domestic distribution.

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