What do you know about Vin Diesel? We all know he’s the star of the "Fast and Furious" movies, not to mention the voice of Groot and a whole slew of other memorable characters like Riddick. He’s also been active as a producer and has a sizeable social media following. However, over the multiple decades that Diesel has had a presence on the worldwide pop culture scene, there’s still so much about the performer that isn’t common knowledge among the general public. These include the jobs that marked his earliest days of acting as well as a number of forays into forms of artistic expression beyond performing, such as directing or running a video game production house.
Diesel’s made it no secret that he has a major creative passion for any project he boards, whether it’s breakdancing or breaking into the world of music. That enthusiasm runs deep within the many little-discussed parts of Diesel’s life, which help paint a much richer picture of the man behind Dominic Toretto.
He started as a child actor in stage plays
Diesel’s love for the craft of acting was instilled in him at a young age. At the tender age of seven, Diesel debuted as a performer in the stage play "Dinosaur Door." His original intentions, however, were somewhat different: According to ScoopWhoop, he and his brother broke into a theater hoping to wreck it in an act of rebellion. These plans were quickly foiled once they were caught by the venue’s artistic director, Crystal Field. Rather than sending Diesel and his accomplices away in cuffs, Field gave them all a chance to appear in "Dinosaur Door." They gladly accepted and Diesel’s first foray into acting was cemented.
Little did Field or Diesel know that day that this was the first step in an acting career that would span decades and multiple billion-dollar worldwide hits. Iconic performers can come from anywhere, including vandals turned inadvertent actors in productions of "Dinosaur Door."
He wrote and directed a 1995 short film called Multi-Facial
Vin Diesel is nowadays known as the face of the "Fast and Furious" franchise as well as the voice of Groot in a series of Marvel Cinematic Universe movies. But when he first engaged in the art of cinema, Vin Diesel wasn’t just acting in smaller-scale fare, he was also working as a director. Though he hasn’t stepped behind the camera in over a decade, Diesel’s first notable project was the 1995 short film "Multi-Facial."
Diesel also starred, penned the screenplay and composed the score, reflecting the intense passion he had for this endeavor. The 27-minute film was submitted to the Cannes Film Festival, where it garnered strong acclaim. It also paved the way for Diesel to direct the 1997 feature-length movie "Strays." Though his first few projects showed that Diesel wanted to be a director, his career would end up focusing almost exclusively on being a leading man in movies that would be a far cry from his more grounded indie endeavors. While that career change has resulted in a number of memorable characters, it’s also a far cry from the more challenging, intimate dramas Diesel helmed early on.
Pitch Black was his breakthrough as a leading man
While "The Fast and the Furious" was the movie that propelled Diesel to the A-list, a year prior to that car-oriented action movie, Diesel scored his actual start as a leading man. That beginning came with "Pitch Black," a low-budget sci-fi movie that served as the debut for Diesel’s famous character Riddick. This production wasn’t meant to be the start of a major leading man’s career; it was initially just another sci-fi horror film trying to squeeze a few dollars out of moviegoers in between bigger blockbusters in February.
However, you never know what’s going to resonate with people and "Pitch Black" ended up being more successful than expected with a $53.1 million worldwide total. In the process, mainstream audiences got their first extensive glimpse at Diesel, who firmly established his commanding screen persona with his work here. Diesel would go on to star in bigger movies than this as soon as one year later with "The Fast and the Furious." But despite the success of that car-filled feature, "Pitch Black" was the motion picture that cemented Diesel as being capable of leading man status.
He’s not open about his personal life
Some actors live for the spotlight, while others will do anything to shy away from it when they’re not filming a project. Vin Diesel is decidedly in the latter camp. Despite headlining major Hollywood movies for over two decades, Diesel isn’t a staple of the tabloids and much of his personal life remains a mystery. Diesel has made it apparent in interviews that this is very much a conscious choice.
In 2006, after being asked about his romantic relationships, Diesel responded, "I’m not gonna put it out there on a magazine cover like some other actors…I come from the Harrison Ford, Marlon Brando, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino code of silence." He would then go on to note that he prefers exploring romantic relationships in Europe because he’s a little more incognito there. Since that interview, Diesel has remained true to his words. Although those following his social media feeds, like his Instagram, get occasional glimpses into his personal world, Diesel has largely stayed out of the limelight unless he’s talking about his artistic pursuits. The continued aura of mystery surrounding Diesel is a testament to how he’s maintained that "code of silence" about his personal life for so long.
He’s a massive Dungeons and Dragons fan
What does Vin Diesel do when he’s not starring in movies? Chances are, he’s playing "Dungeons and Dragons." This tabletop game is a favorite for the actor and it’s influenced a number of the movies he’s appeared in. In particular, "The Chronicles of Riddick" is one of the biggest reflections of Diesel’s affinity for D&D. With this sequel, the world of "Pitch Black" was expanded to include dense lore that was largely inspired by D&D. This creative influence wasn’t limited to what happened onscreen. It even impacted what the actors did on the set. "I was literally playing ‘Dungeons and Dragons’ with Judi Dench and Karl Urban at nights after shooting [‘Chronicles of Riddick’]," Diesel reminisced. "I will tell you that I was showing her ‘Dungeons and Dragons’ books and showing her the different properties of Elementals."
Diesel’s love for this game would go on to be a massive source of inspiration for his 2015 film "The Last Witch Hunter," to the point that the movie’s protagonist is just a slightly tweaked version of Diesel’s own D&D character. And that’s all before getting into how Diesel penned the introduction to the book "Thirty Years of Adventure: A Celebration of Dungeons & Dragons." To look at Diesel’s career is to see how the world of "Dungeons and Dragons" can inspire a lifelong love for storytelling and wizardry.
He starred in the 2006 video game Wheelman
It’s hard to miss a movie starring Vin Diesel. Big blockbusters like the "Fast & Furious" movies tend to get rampant advertising that ensures everyone is aware what date they’re hitting theaters. A bit more obscure is the fact that Diesel headlined a video game in 2009 entitled "Wheelman." Hailing from Diesel’s own video game company Tigon Studios, the game featured a protagonist who both resembled the performer and was voiced by him. The game’s action-adventure tone and storyline, which, as the title implies, centered on a man who was good with automobiles, were also a direct extension of the type of pop culture properties Diesel had become most famous for.
Who could blame the people behind "Wheelman" for going down this road? Putting together Diesel with fast automobiles had worked so well with the "Fast & Furious" movies, why wouldn’t it be a hit in the world of video games? Unfortunately, "Wheelman" was nowhere near as successful as the Diesel movies that inspired it. The game received mixed-to-negative marks all around, with the general conversation around the game fixating on its lackluster graphics and controls. Though there was hope that "Wheelman" could spawn a new hit franchise, it largely faded away entirely from the public consciousness. While Diesel’s movies have been widely seen and several have spawned lengthy franchises, "Wheelman," his first foray into video games, was a much more obscure and less successful affair.
Steven Spielberg wants Vin Diesel to direct again
it was his starring roles in action movies like "The Fast and the Furious" that really put him over the top as a movie star. Still, some people prefer Diesel’s forays into directing over his works as a leading man, which differ greatly in tone and style from the explosion-laden movies Diesel largely engages in nowadays. One of those whose tastes run closer to Diesel’s directorial efforts is, according to Diesel himself, none other than two-time Oscar-winner filmmaker Steven Spielberg.
In 2020, Diesel recalled an encounter with the man who directed him on "Saving Private Ryan" and how it included a plea for Diesel to return behind the camera. "Speaking of Steven Spielberg, I saw him recently, and he had said to me, ‘When I wrote the role for you in "Saving Private Ryan," I was obviously employing the actor, but I was also secretly championing the director in you, and you have not directed enough,’" Diesel said, adding that Spielberg also remarked, "That is a crime of cinema and you must get back in the directing chair." Though he’s conscious that he hasn’t "directed enough," it remains to be seen if Diesel will once again slip back behind the camera. Still, to the delight of fans of films like "Multi-Facial," at least it’s apparent that a Hollywood legend desperately wants to see Diesel return to directing.
Vin Diesel can carry a tune
In the fall of 2020, Vin Diesel began pursuing a new avenue for artistic expression. Having already done films and video games, and even showing up to croon tunes at special events, Diesel was now becoming a singer. Apparently a response to the restrictions imposed on him by COVID-19, Diesel had found a new outlet for creative expression that didn’t entail gathering up countless cast and crew members for a film shoot. His debut single was entitled "Feel Like I Do" and was followed up by the tune "Days Are Gone." Diesel premiered his songs on "The Kelly Clarkson Show," where they garnered lots of attention but generated a mixed response from the internet at large.
Still, even if they weren’t universally beloved, Diesel’s songs have a special place in his heart. "I am blessed that on a year that I would normally be on a movie set — and as you know, that’s not possible — I’ve had another creative outlet," Diesel explained while on "The Kelly Clarkson Show." "Another way to show you, or share with you, my heart." Though Diesel hasn’t officially announced how extensively he’ll pursue singing in the future, the obviously personal place these tunes are coming from makes it a sure bet we haven’t seen the last of Vin Diesel: The Singer.
He started his own video game company
In the mid-2000s, Diesel decided to get in on the ground floor of the booming video game industry by starting up his own production company dedicated to making games. The label was called Tigon Studios and represented an attempt by Diesel to both have more control of the products he was associated with and to get in on a rapidly expanding market.
Tigon Studios head Ian Stevens remarked that the goal of the company "really is just about a guy who loves games wanting to find a way for Hollywood and the games industry to find more interesting ways to work together than they typically do." Stevens also noted that Diesel has had a long-standing love for the video game industry. In the years since its launch, Tigon Studios hasn’t lived up to its grandest potential, with some of its biggest initial titles like "Wheelman" failing to really take off. However, that doesn’t mean Tigon has totally flamed out. In fact, in spite of all the ways the video game industry has changed in the last 15 years, Tigon Studios is still in existence and was credited as one of the developers on the 2020 video game "Fast & Furious Crossroads."
Vin’s got some breakdancing skills
Everyone’s aware that Diesel can drive a car really fast, but did you know that Diesel is also a skilled breakdancer? It’s a gift that Diesel employed in his earliest days as an artist in New York City where he would perform on the streets in between shifts as a bouncer. Though Diesel has clearly moved on to much bigger things than having to dance for cash, videos of Diesel’s breakdancing moves are still around online and give a glimpse into his talents in this form.
Diesel himself has been reminded of this part of his career several times throughout the years, including in a 2014 appearance on "Live with Kelly & Michael," much to Diesel’s amusing discomfort. In that appearance, Diesel commented that "That was the real thing…this was back in the ’80s, I used to dance at Columbus Circle [and] Washington Square Park, it was my first gig!" The way Diesel described this experience makes it clear that, though we shouldn’t expect to see breakdancing as a plot point in any future "Fast and Furious" movies, he still looks back on this part of his life with some degree of fondness.
He left the movie Reindeer Games
The role of Pug in the Ben Affleck action movie "Reindeer Games" is not a significant role, but it is one Vin Diesel was originally slated to play. Yet anyone who’s seen the final cut of that film knows that Pug was played by Donal Logue. How did the character go from being portrayed by Diesel to Logue? Well, it turns out Diesel walked away from the film entirely due to a multitude of reasons.
Danny Trejo revealed this during a 2010 interview with The AV Club where he recalled how he helped convince Diesel to walk away from the film and star in "The Fast and the Furious" instead. Diesel expanded on this matter in 2015 when he revealed to Uproxx that a primary reason for him ditching the film was creative disputes with director John Frankenheimer. In the process, he didn’t just miss out on the role, he also lost a $500,000 payday. But by walking away from the film entirely, Diesel gave himself the opportunity to headline the career-changing "The Fast and the Furious."
His first Los Angeles job was as a telemarketer
We’ve all got to start somewhere — rarely does somebody begin at the very top of their career field. That’s even true for Vin Diesel, whose movies have amassed a combined $11.1 billion worldwide. Even a performer of this caliber didn’t begin his acting career firing on all cylinders. In fact, his very first job opportunity when he arrived in Los Angeles wasn’t an acting gig at all, but rather a job in the world of telemarketing.
"Well, the first time I went to Hollywood, I couldn’t even get an agent," Diesel recalled about his earliest struggles. "I got to L.A. and I auditioned a bunch, but I couldn’t get an agent. I ended up telemarketing — selling tools over the phone." Clearly, Diesel left that life behind once he got the chance to direct and star in movies. However, his skills at selling people things did end up having some level of influence over his life as it laid the groundwork for how Diesel has become a one-man hype machine on social media for his various artistic pursuits. That’s the kind of confident salesman attitude you can only glean from extensive telemarketing experience.
He almost played Black Bolt
For a while, "Inhumans" was a part of the Phase Three slate for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with the project first set for a November 2018 release before moving to July 2019. In the earliest days of this production’s existence, rumors spread like wildfire that Vin Diesel was on tap to play the lead of the film, Black Bolt. Diesel later confirmed these rumors, though he noted that — even with his existing connections with Marvel through playing the character Groot — Diesel was only looking to play Black Bolt if the "Inhumans" movie looked appealing.
"It’s not a matter of me wooing Marvel, it’s a matter of Marvel wooing me," Diesel explained. "And I love them, but I’m just saying, show me a dope script and show me a great director, all of which I know that Kevin [Feige] is capable of…" That process of "wooing" was cut short when Marvel Studios took the "Inhumans" movie off their release schedule and Marvel Television announced plans to do a separate "Inhumans" TV show. This seemed to be the end of the "Inhumans" movie and the prospect of seeing Diesel as Black Bolt.
Even with the film shelved, Diesel continued to openly campaign for Marvel to do an "Inhumans" movie as late as January 2020. For the moment, though, the "Inhumans" movie, and Diesel’s chance to take on a second Marvel Cinematic Universe role, have been put on a shelf.