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June 17, 2001
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SJP


Paul Walker kicks it into high gear
By LOUIS B. HOBSON


HOLLYWOOD -- The Fast And The Furious star Paul Walker's career is in overdrive -- and he's loving it.

In this action-packed youth drama set against the backdrop of illegal street racing -- which opens Friday -- Walker plays Brian

O'Conner, a young undercover Los Angeles detective.

Brian must infiltrate a street gang in order to discover who is hijacking freight trucks. The LAPD and FBI are convinced only skilled street racers could carry off the daring, high-speed heists with such precision.

Walker, whose films include Varsity Blues, Pleasantville, She's All That, Brokedown Palace and The Skulls, was a natural for the role. He admits he's probably "the illegal U-turn king of L.A. I just got my licence back after having it suspended for getting too many speeding and illegal turn tickets.

"I was still driving the whole time, but with my fingers crossed."

The 27-year-old speed demon began his career at a slower pace -- as a child model.

"My mom was a model. My father was a fighter who was a two-time Golden Gloves champion. They both gave up their careers when they fell in love and got married. My dad didn't want my mom to work and she didn't want him getting pounded in a ring," Walker explains.

"Not long after I was born, my mom's old agent asked her to come in and do a little modelling. When my mom told her she had a baby, she told her to bring me along."

Walker ended up getting more work than his mother.

"My mom became my manager. I did print and TV ads. The money was meant to be my college fund. No one saw acting as a career, least of all me."

In junior high school, Walker discovered his real passion: Surfing.

"Surfing soothes me," he says. "It's always been a kind of Zen experience for me. The ocean is so magnificent, peaceful and awesome. The rest of the world disappears for me when I'm on a wave."

Walker was finishing high school and contemplating studying marine biology when his former agent called to ask him to audition for a role in Touched By An Angel. He got the part and a week later was cast as the jock in Pleasantville.

The roles kept coming, but for Walker it was still "just about the paycheque. It was a great way to make money so I could continue surfing and avoid real responsibility."

The Skulls producer Neal Moritz and director Rob Cohen encouraged him to be more serious about his career. They told him he reminded them of a young Steve McQueen, and insisted they wanted to work with him again. Moritz asked the young actor what he would like to do next.

"I told Neal I really wanted to play an undercover cop," Walker says. "I had no idea that Rob had been researching the illegal racing scene in L.A.

"About a month later, Neal and Rob came to me with their idea to set a film in this subculture of street racing. They told me I could play a cop, drive fast cars, make out with a beautiful leading lady and they'd actually pay me."

But the idea of car racing struck the deepest chord.

"My grandfather raced factory cars for Ford in the 1960s. My father still races cars. There were always stacks of car magazines in the house and I would help my father work on the cars in our garage.

"Cars have been as much a part of my life as surfing, so the whole idea behind The Fast And The Furious really spoke to me," Walker says.

Cohen suggested Walker attend some midnight racing meets so he could experience the rush of these illegal gatherings.

"It was everything Rob promised and much more," Walker recalls. "The police raided the meet and everyone scattered. My buddy drove off without me and I found myself engaged in a long foot race with a couple of cops who were in their car. I ended up alone on the freeway.

"It was a really harrowing experience that Rob works into the film itself."

Cohen says Walker is "a teen heartthrob who has grown into manhood with a great combination of male beauty, intelligence, heart and testosterone."

The actor is flattered, but he doesn't want to be labelled beautiful. "You can call me handsome if you must have a label, but don't try that beautiful thing.

"There were times at school and on the beach that some guy would call me a pretty boy. Any guy who mouthed off like that, I'd deck him.

"I know that I got a lot of my early roles because of the way I look, but I hope I'm putting all that past me."

But being a heartthrob definitely has its perqs. "I get a lot of fan mail with great gifts," Walker says. "One girl sent me the coolest board shorts."

His role in The Fast And The Furious also had its perqs -- Walker got to attend a racing school in Las Vegas and kiss Jordana Brewster, who plays his love interest.

The Brazilian beauty says Walker "is a good kisser. He probably has the softest lips of any man I've kissed."

Walker says he didn't get too physical, even in their more passionate scenes.

"Jordana was still dating Mark Wahlberg when we were filming, and there were rumours he intended to show up unannounced for the love scenes. Mark's not a guy I want to tangle with."

In real life, Walker says he's single -- surfing, racing and now acting are bigger priorities than dating.

If Cohen and Moritz or any other filmmaker is interested in what Walker would like to do next, the actor doesn't have to think twice.

"I want to be in a period western. I want to wear a cowboy hat and ride horses. I can ride horses almost as well as I can drive cars."


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