HAIRCUT 100: Day 97, No. 97. Vin Diesel, actor, producer, director and screenwriter. To petrolheads everywhere, he is closely identified with the role of Dominic Toretto, engineer, ex-con and street racer in The Fast and the Furious series, which he absolutely owns, but here we celebrate him principally as Richard B. Riddick: Furyan warrior, mercenary, fugitive, ‘shiner,’ and one-time Grand Marshal of the Necromongers, because he’s just so fucking cool. Riddick exploded onto the screen in the relatively low-budget cult sleeper Pitch Black in 2000, a sci-fi/horror movie co-written and directed by David Twohy. Riddick is introduced as the highly dangerous captive of a drug-addled bounty hunter, en route to prison on an unremarkable transport ship. His eyes have been ‘shined,’ surgically altered so he can see in the dark, resulting in a sensitivity to daylight that requires him to wear welding googles, creating his signature steampunk look. In a fantastic exercise in character development, the enigmatic Riddick moves from villain to hero after the ship crash lands on a desert planet populated by vicious, raptor-like creatures that emerge during an eclipse.
This was followed by the more ambitious The Chroniclers of Riddick in 2004, and epic hero’s journey in which a personal quest for vengeance leads Riddick to overthrow the brutal religious crusade of the Necromongers, becoming the Order’s Grand Marshal. In Riddick (2013), the character is once more stripped down to his essence, fighting for survival on a desert planet against vicious alien creatures and two rival groups of mercenary bounty hunters. (There’s also an animated movie – Dark Fury – and a couple of video games.) In the original draft of the Pitch Black script by Jim and Ken Wheat, the character was a woman called Taras Krieg.
The distinctively-voiced Diesel is a fascinating actor, with much more to him than your average mainstream action hero. He has described himself as ‘of ambiguous ethnicity.’ His step-father was an acting instructor and theatre manager, and Diesel (born Mark Sinclair) started his stage career aged seven. After an uncredited part in Penny Marshall’s Awakenings (1990), Diesel made the short film Multi-Facial in 1995. The film is a semi-autobiographical exploration of Diesel’s frustration at the difficulties faced by mixed-race actors seeking parts in Hollywood. He was inspired by the book Feature Films at Used Car Prices by Rick Schmidt, and wrote, directed, starred in and scored the movie on a budget of $3000. On the strength of a positive showing at the Anthology Film Archives in Manhattan, the film was accepted for the 1995 Cannes Film Festival. Diesel went on to make the feature-length Strays in 1997, again writing, producing, directing and taking the leading role, as a small-time New York hustler searching for meaning in his life. On seeing Strays, Steven Spielberg, who had already been impressed by Multi-Facial, wrote the part of Private Adrian Caparzo in Saving Private Ryan specifically for Diesel, providing the actor with a powerful, break-out role.
Diesel has three kids, but prefers to keep his family out of the public eye stating that ‘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.’ Class. And as for Riddick, well he’s still doing his thing. In an alternative ending to Riddick, the character is shown on the ‘threshold to the Underverse,’ intermating that he’s going in, while Diesel confirmed earlier this year that he and David Twohy were developing a fourth movie entitled The Chronicles of Riddick: Furia. ‘You’re not afraid of the dark, are you?’