Personal detailsName: Vin Diesel
Born: 18 July 1967 (Age: 47)
Where: New York City, New York USA
Height: 6' 3"
Awards: No major awards
All about this star
Every new generation demands its own action heroes. The Seventies had Burt Reynolds and Clint Eastwood: the Eighties brought Harrison Ford and Mel Gibson: the Nineties gave us Costner and Cruise. Then came the Noughties, complete with computer-generated super-SFX and anti-establishment, skateboard-slacker attitudes. A new kind of hero was called for, a man with the physique for the new extremes of stunt-filled action. He must have a true heart but have his morals warped and emotions hammered by the soul-destroying deceit of what passes for civilisation today. And he must, in a Western society gradually driving racism to the peripheries, be multi-ethnic. Step forward Vin Diesel: muscle-man thespian of no distinct ethnic origin- the first new cinematic superstar of the new Millennium.
He was born Mark Vincent on the 18th of July, 1967, in New York City. Never knowing his biological father, he was told by his astrologer mother Delora (holder of a master's degree in psychology) that he had many different cultural roots - African-American, Italian and possibly Cuban, amongst others. "I've always had less information than I would like to have had", he said later. Matters of identity were further confused by his twin brother, Paul, now a film editor, being blonde with blue eyes.
Young Mark was raised, along with Paul and two younger siblings, in the Westbeth project in Greenwich Village, a government-funded block peopled only by artists. Here he received a major grounding in the imaginative arts, not least from his adoptive father, Irving, an actor and drama teacher.
The kids would go swimming down at the Carmine Street pool, and play hide and seek on the broken-down piers on the Hudson River. And they'd get involved in the project's various projects. Mark made his starring debut onstage when only 5. He wasn't supposed to be the star, he was supposed to be a horse in a kids' production of Cinderella. But Paul, cast as Prince Charming, suffered stage fright after the first act and Mark, never slow in coming forward, stepped into the lead role.
Financially, times were usually hard. "Nobody had money", recalls Vin "so there was this underlying resentment towards money". Consequently, people would make their own entertainment. At 12, Mark became involved in a Sunday night game of Dungeons & Dragons organised by a friend's mother. He became heavily involved in the game and was still buying paraphernalia over 20 years later, when role-playing had become his career as well as his hobby.
At school, Mark was troubled by an ongoing identity crisis, not fitting into any particular group. He'd find some relief, by fluke, at age 7. With friends, he'd broken into Manhattan's Theatre for the New City, intent upon vandalism and a few laughs. After busting and scrawling a little, they were messing around in the mezzanine when, suddenly, a heavyset woman appeared onstage, under a spotlight. Convinced she'd call the cops, the kids froze in horror. But, instead, she handed each of them a script and some money, with the words "If you guys want to play here, come every day at 4 o'clock. Here's $20 a week. Know your lines".
The woman was Crystal Field, artistic director of the theatre, and dedicated to developing artists from low income groups and minority communities. It was she who'd be directly responsible for Mark's future development. He did turn up every day at 4, and took to stage-life with glee. "That was the first time I was ever able to make a whole audience laugh", he later recalled "without getting sent to the Dean's office". Perhaps more importantly, he enjoyed slipping into character. "I found there was something refreshing about having my identity be crystal clear".
In the meantime, Mark picked up a penchant for extreme sports that would also serve him well later. Along with the other kids, he'd strap on his rollerblades and hang on to the fenders of the city's notorious taxi-cabs, often achieving speeds of over 50mph.
Like many men with a confused sense of self, Mark looked for confidence in body-building. Up until the age of 15, he was just a tall kid with a big Afro and a bigger mouth, seeking attention wherever he could find it. At 15, though, he began lifting weights and hanging with an older crew. "I've worked out for years", he explained later "For a long time it was my only sense of gratification". He began to go out clubbing, attending Studio 54 and, later, the Danceteria. And it was clubbing that gave him the connections to get his first job - at 17, as a bouncer. This would provide cash while he acted with Irving's repertory company and in off-Off-Broadway productions. It would also give him his stage name. It was traditional for bouncers to choose rock-hard monikers for themselves. Vin Diesel was as good as any.
Hoping to make his acting education official, Vin now applied for an elite drama course at the State University of New York at New Paltz, north of the metropolis, near Poughkeepsie (the town immortalised by Gene Hackman's feet-picking line in The French Connection). He was turned down, the first of many set-backs. Instead, he enrolled at Hunter College in New York City, majoring in English, but he wouldn't see out the full course, preferring to spend his days acting on stage and on local TV, and his nights bouncing at the hip likes of Mars and The Tunnel. By the late Eighties, though, times had changed on the door. Gangsta culture had sprung up and now it was necessary for bouncers to wear bullet-proof vests.