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February 17, 2000
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SJP


Diesel is running hot
By BOB THOMPSON


HOLLYWOOD -- He played the Italian-American soldier in Saving Private Ryan. He was the deep bass voice of the Iron Giant in the cartoon. And he portrays a Jewish mobster in the upcoming Knockaround Guys.

Vin Diesel loves the variety, for the Brooklyn actor is neither Italian nor Jewish nor cartoonish.

"I'm definitely a person of colour," says Diesel, who prefers not to dwell on his origins but begrudgingly decides to uncloak some of his past.

All he would say was: "I never met my biological father. The man who raised me was a black man. And he made me who I am and taught me who I am."

That would be a tall and muscular, gregarious, witty and incredibly confident writer, director and actor.

Some would say too confident, especially those involved in Reindeer Games, who saw Diesel back out of the picture at the last minute over script disagreements. Others would argue, despite his lack of many movie credits, that he has a great deal to be confident about.

In fact, 32-year-old Diesel is one of the hottest actors in town these days, and will be hotter after the North American release Friday of the sci-fi horror flick Pitch Black and the stock-scam picture Boiler Room.

Two releases

In Pitch Black, Diesel is a dangerous convict stranded on a planet with the other survivors of a spaceship crash. The passengers and crew quickly learn that the convict is the least of their worries.

Then as a stock-scam telemarketer in Boiler Room, Diesel steals scenes from the likes of Ben Affleck and Giovanni Ribisi.

The double release timing is a coincidence, but his rise to fame won't be. Both pictures capture his undeniable presence and his versatility.

Diesel began acting at the age of nine, mostly for his adoptive father, who ran a New York repertory company.

By the time he was 20, Diesel was acting at local TV and theatre jobs by day and holding down a gig as a nightclub bouncer at night.

He also sold garden and hardware tools over the phone, a sideline that came in handy for his Boiler Room role. "You learned," he reports with a sly smile. "Some people wanted to be commanded into sales, others wanted to be coddled."

His New York way of life changed drastically in 1995 when he made and released a short low-budget film called Multifacial, which ended up being accepted at the Cannes Film Festival.

Spielberg saw film

Later, Multifacial -- "That's my tribute to who I am," he says -- caught the eye of Steven Spielberg, who eventually cast Diesel as Pvt. Caparzo in his award-winning WWII movie.

Diesel's been working steadily since then, a fact he appreciates with relief and lots of pride.

"Filmmaking is my creative thing, I do it out of joy," Diesel maintains. "The acting is therapeutic."

Soon, his personal and professional lives will intersect with Doormen. It's a feature about a New York bouncer that Diesel is writing and will star in. He has nine years worth of memories, some of them, he teases, "you won't believe."

Another Diesel bonus? Doormen will be a convergence of who he is and what he does.

"It's true," he says, "I act because it's the one time I'm sure of my identity. There's no doubt. It's on paper."


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