Everyone knows Vin Diesel as the star of action flicks like The Fast and the Furious, Riddick and xXx, but there’s a lot more to the brawny actor than his action-packed movie roles. In fact, a look through the pages of Vin Diesel’s own personal history reveals some very fascinating facts you probably never knew about the tough guy.
21. He was once Diesel the bouncer
Vin has the perfect name to match his macho onscreen image, but the 48-year-old was actually called “Diesel” long before he broke Hollywood. Friends coined the nickname back when he was just a pumped up 17-year-old working the doors at a NYC nightclub, simply because he was such a big ball of energy.
20. He can write a mean rap
When Diesel’s close friend and Furious co-star Paul Walker lost his life in a car crash in 2013, the actor was understandably devastated. So when accepting a People’s Choice Movie award in January 2016 he broke into an unexpected and truly heartfelt musical tribute to the late star. But Vin actually once had very real singing ambitions, and under his given name, Mark Sinclair, he used to perform as one half of a rapping duo.
19. Vin has a twin
Diesel uses body doubles to take care of some of the crazier stunts in his action-packed flicks, but the actor also has a real-life double in the form of fraternal twin Paul Vincent. Diesel’s bro is in the movie making business too, although he works behind the camera in production and sound. Unfortunately, however, Paul can’t lend a hand with stunt doubling because he has a full head of salt-and-pepper hair!
18. He’s not sure of his exact heritage
Diesel has never met his biological father. In an interview with Canoe the actor said he is “definitely a person of color,” although “all I know from my mother is that I have connections to many different cultures.” He does know, however, that he has German, Scottish and English blood from his mom’s side.
17. It all started with some petty crime…
When he was seven years old, Vin and some pals forced their way into a local theater intent on defacing whatever they could find. But the gang were caught in the act by the theater’s kindhearted director who then offered them roles in a children’s play, Dinosaur Door. It was to be Vin’s onstage debut and the start of a lifelong love of acting.
16. He was once a master breakdancer
Diesel may not have done a headspin, robot, or “worm” for decades, but he probably could if you asked him to. As a teen, the actor was a fantastic breakdancer who even appeared in an ’80s dance video guide called Breakin’ in the USA.
15. We have his mom to thank for his films
After a failed bid to break Hollywood in either acting or screenwriting, Vin moved back to NYC feeling pretty defeated. But his mom was determined to give her son his spark back, and so she gave him a book called Feature Films At Used Car Prices, which inspired him to start producing his own movies.
14. He used to be a telemarketer – and he was pretty good at it
Diesel used to worked as a telemarketer, where his unique deep voice helped him to earn $40,000 in 18 months selling tools. The aspiring young filmmaker used the saved up cash to fund his first feature length film, Strays.
13. He’s crazy about fantasy gaming
Diesel has been a huge fan of the Dungeons and Dragons fantasy game since he was 12 years old. In fact, the series was the inspiration for some of his Furious script ideas. Indeed, Vin loves the game so much that he even had a fake tattoo of his D&D player name, Melkor, put onto his stomach during the shooting of xXx.
12. He put his house on the line for Riddick
Diesel might have secured his stardom with The Fast and the Furious, but that didn’t mean it was all plain sailing in the projects that followed. In fact the movie maker told the Hollywood Reporter that he had to use his house as collateral to produce 2013’s Riddick, revealing, “If we didn’t finish the film, I would be homeless.”
11. He’s been in hundreds of fights
It seems Vin forged his authentically rough and tough exterior in real life. In fact, the actor told Men’s Fitness that he got in a punch-up almost every night in his ten years or so as a bouncer, saying “I must have been in more than 500 fights… And these weren’t pretty fights.”
10. Those big guns have actually cost him work
Vin’s impressive physique has helped him secure his trademark tough guy roles in a string of action films. But in the early days that bulk actually interfered with his career. In fact, his sister later told Variety, “I remember people saying to him, ‘You’ve got to lose those muscles; they are really distracting.’”
9. He can cook turkey pasta in bulk
After years of casting rejection, Diesel resolved the issue by directing and starring in his own 1997 feature film called Strays. Reportedly the producer was so enthusiastic about his movie-baby that he was even happy to do the production’s catering, cooking up pots of turkey pasta for cast and crew.
8. He tried to lecture Spielberg on scriptwriting
Steven Spielberg may have given Diesel his first big acting shot in 1998’s Saving Private Ryan, but the fledgling filmmaker wasn’t content to sit humbly on the sidelines. No – even at the risk of getting under Spielberg’s skin, an audacious Diesel would often make suggestions to the legendary director on how to make the war epic even better.
7. He’s got more Facebook friends than Bieber
Thanks to his fanatical Fast and the Furious fanbase, Diesel has over 99 million followers on Facebook. In fact, the multi-talented star is the third most popular celebrity on the social media outlet, after Shakira and Cristiano Ronaldo. With those numbers he even leaves megastars like Justin Bieber and Will Smith in the dust.
6. He’s a real gent
Diesel also proved himself to be highly principled when he backed his on-screen girlfriend, actress Michelle Rodriguez, over an issue with the original Furious script. Rodriguez refused to bed-hop with Paul Walker’s character, as she feared that the storyline would help fuel the Hollywood stereotype of sexually promiscuous Latina characters.
5. The gym-rat isn’t afraid to get fat
Diesel might be a dedicated gym-rat, but he was still up for packing on 35 pounds of flab to play Fat Jackie in 2006’s Find Me Guilty. Critics might have praised him for his role, but Diesel must have wondered if it was worth going doughy for, as the flick fizzled at the box office.
4. He could have been Daredevil
Vin was offered the starring role in 2003’s superhero action movie Daredevil, but when he chose to work on another project instead the job went to Ben Affleck. Maybe Diesel could have pulled off the red leather suit better than Affleck though, whose wacky appearance in the hero uniform reportedly contributed to a box office let-down.
3. He once passed on $25 million because the story stunk
After the monster success of The Fast and the Furious, Universal offered Diesel $25 million to star in the sequel. But Diesel was disappointed with the storyline and turned it down, choosing to move on to another project instead. While he might have been staying true to his art, however, the decision wasn’t a great one financially: the film he went with, Chronicles of Riddick, earned him the comparatively paltry sum of $50,000.
2. He loves the Dominican Republic
Diesel struggled to get roles in the early days due to his undefined ethnicity, so it’s little wonder that the struggling actor related deeply to the innate multiculturalism of the Dominican Republic. He soon found himself falling in love with the country, and he even made friends with the Dominican’s former president Leonel Fernandez.
1. His cousin is 80’s rapper “Kwame”
Diesel’s aspirations to break the explosive ’80s rapping scene must have come from his big cousin Kwame – otherwise known as “the Boy Genius” – who for a short spell enjoyed some popularity as a rapper in those days. And Diesel got to ride his cousin’s wave of fame a little too, strutting his stuff in a few of the rap artist’s first videos.