2020 marks 30 years since the film debut of Vin Diesel, although you may struggle to remember it. The part was an uncredited role in the Robin Williams and Robert De Niro weepy Awakenings, over a decade before the actor would find worldwide stardom as an action hero.
In the three decades since then, he has become synonymous with big budget Hollywood spectacle, starring in movies, video games, theme park rides, or anything that comes with an accompanying explosion.
The actor is hoping to launch a new franchise with forthcoming comic book adaptation Bloodshot, a role he hopes will count among these defining moments in his career…
Private Adrian Caparzo (Saving Private Ryan, 1998)
While the least famous of the roles on this list, without Diesel’s small part in Steven Spielberg’s classic, he may not have had the success he enjoyed just a few years later.
Holding his own in an ensemble that included heavyweights like Tom Hanks and Matt Damon, Diesel plays a pivotal part in one harrowing scene involving snipers.
The then-30-year-old actor was plucked from obscurity after Spielberg saw the actor’s short film ‘Multi-Facial’ and wrote a part for him in the movie.
From a struggling up-and-comer, to appearing in one of the biggest films of the 90’s, Private Adrian Caparzo proved to be the star’s breakthrough moment.
Richard B. Riddick (Pitch Black and Riddick movies, 2000-)
If Saving Private Ryan proved he could make it in big movies, 2000’s Pitch Black highlighted that Diesel could be a star.
Standing out in this ensemble sci-fi, Diesel showed his talent for creating an unforgettable anti-hero in Riddick, the shiny-iris sporting prisoner who is forced to work with his captors after their transport ship crashes into a planet full of deadly creatures.
A moral question mark looming over the whole story, not knowing what Riddick might do next, is what made him so exciting – he’s the ideal person to have on your side, but Riddick can never truly be trusted.
The film’s success and status as a cult classic can be mostly put down to his performance. Having played the character in three movies, an animated spin-off, a short film and a computer game, it would be Diesel’s most regular role, were it not for a particular street racer…
Dominic Toretto (The Fast And Furious franchise, 2001-)
Surely the character with which he will always be most associated, ‘Dom’ is the leader of the Fast And Furious franchise, able to pull off physics defying feats, and deliver numerous quotable speeches about family. He is the linchpin of an 11 movie saga, having appeared in all but two of the films thus far.
He formed a crowd-pleasing duo with the late Paul Walker, providing the grit to his co-star’s charm. Yet, for about eight years, it seemed like a one-off. The first film was a smash hit, yet Diesel declined to appear in the sequel 2Fast2Furious, starring in other blockbusters instead, and trying to develop his dream project of a film about Hannibal The Conqueror.
He made a cameo in the third film, Tokyo Drift, but it was not until 2009’s fourth film, Fast & Furious, that he truly returned, and the franchise went from a trio of vaguely connected road race movies, to the action juggernaut it is today.
Now a producer on the series, both the franchise and its star seem to embody each other, proving vital to the franchise even with its current star-studded roster.
Xander Cage (The xXx franchise, 2002-)
A thrill-seeking extreme athlete is forced into becoming a super spy for the NSA. As premises go, it’s a unique one.
Another role the actor left and came back to, xXx was pitched as an extreme sports themed take on James Bond. Unashamedly over-the-top, many were won over by the film’s breakneck action, and the amusing duo of Diesel and Samuel L. Jackson as his superior, Augustus Gibbons, as well as cameos from 2000’s extreme sports icons Tony Hawk and Matt Hoffman.
Despite making more money at the box office than the first Fast And Furious film a year earlier, the actor would sit out on the sequel, being killed off and replaced with Ice Cube for xXx: State Of The Union.
He would reprise the role 14 years later in xXx: The Return Of Xander Cage. The first film’s success proved that Diesel’s early success was no fluke, while the third showed that he had life outside the Fast And Furious phenomenon.
Groot/Baby Groot (The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), 2014-)
Logically, this should be no more than an interesting footnote in Diesel’s career. A voice role that requires him to record one line, consisting of three words, and most of the time is unrecognisable as his voice. Yet, Groot is not just any character.
The charming heart behind the first Guardians Of The Galaxy movie, the sentient plant creature who only says ‘I Am Groot’ became a pop culture phenomenon, as did Baby Groot, the dancing successor who grew from Groot’s sacrifice. The character has meant Diesel has been a major part of the MCU, including the record breaking Infinity War and Endgame.
However, it’s much more than the actor going into a studio and saying ‘I Am Groot’ a few times. Diesel recorded dialogue in 16 different languages, performed some motion capture, recorded dialogue on stilts to get the feeling of Groot’s size, and had a special script with the meaning behind every ‘I Am Groot’ so that he could give the right emphasis.
Baby Groot’s much higher register is also largely the actor’s own voice, only being modulated slightly from his own high pitched delivery. Whatever the X Factor is behind Groot’s popularity, you can’t help but feel that this level of attention to detail at least partly contributed to it.
Bloodshot hits UK cinemas 11th March.