Vin Diesel is best known for playing Dominic Toretto in the massively successful Fast and the Furious franchise, but the buff action star is involved with more than just one major franchise. At the moment, he has three other projects in post-production, including a long-awaited sequel to 2002’s xXx (xXx: The Return of Xander Cage) and the follow up to Marvel’s smash hit Guardians of the Galaxy, where Diesel voices the taciturn tree, Groot. He’s also on-set with the Rock for Fast 8, and already signed up for two more Fast and the Furious movies – and all that is just over the next few years.
There is little doubt that Diesel is now one of the biggest action stars in the biz (literally and figuratively) and his success just keeps getting bigger. Everyone knows that Diesel is a talented one when it comes to kicking ass and looking cool, but he’s far more than just a tough guy. A man of many talents (and with a fascinating history), we’ve broken down fifteen of the most fascinating things about the multi-faceted star.
It shouldn’t be too surprising that Vin Diesel isn’t actually the name the actor was given at birth – although parents do give their children some odd monikers! Diesel was actually born Mark Sinclair, a far cry from his uber-cool action hero name. "Vin" comes from his adoptive father’s surname, Vincent, which is a simple enough nickname (trust him to make "Vincent" sound incredibly cool!). The surname "Diesel" from his days as a club bouncer in New York at the tender age of 17. Even as a teen, Diesel was apparently intimidating enough to work the door at a club called "The Tunnel", where he worked part time while he was at Hunter College. He allegedly gained the nickname "diesel" because he always had so much energy on the job – he was always “fueled” up.
The name stuck, and Mark Sinclair Vincent became Vin Diesel – a name that suits his acting so perfectly it’s almost as though he planned it!
Vin Diesel has one brother, Paul Vincent, who is also his twin. The two are fraternal twins, not identical twins – and although we can see the similarities, they look quite different. For one thing, Diesel’s brother Paul has a whole lot of hair! The two were close growing up in Greenwich Village, and Paul helped Vin on his first short film project, Mutli-Facial. The short remains Paul’s only film credit on IMDB, though, and he is a very private person – unlike his brother.
Paul has appeared on Diesel’s Facebook page in the past, most notably in the photo seen above with Diesel’s Fast and Furious co-star, the late Paul Walker. The action star commented that although Paul is his twin, his brother looks more like his co-star and close friend than himself. Diesel has also spoken about his twin from time to time in interviews, although when he does, it's usually just to confirm that he does have a twin brother, and to laugh about the time that a magazine published a photo of a total stranger, claiming that he was Paul.
Vin Diesel isn’t the only talented actor in his family! Although Diesel did not know his biological father, he was raised by his mother (Delora Sherleen, an astrologer) and his adoptive father, Irving H Vincent. Irving has his fair share of acting experience, although he doesn’t spend his time in front of the camera like his son. Instead, Irving Vincent was an acting instructor and theater manager in Greenwich Village where Diesel grew up. The family (along with Diesel’s twin brother, Paul Vincent) lived in an artist’s housing project in the Village, so perhaps it’s not too surprising that Diesel became a performer after growing up in such a creative atmosphere.
That said, the acting bug skipped his twin brother. Although Paul Vincent helped out on Diesel’s early projects, the actor’s twin prefers to live a much more private life than his brother, only appearing at big events and in the occasional Facebook post.
Although his father was a theater coach, Diesel didn’t get involved in acting through his family. Instead, he had a much more… unusual entry into stagecraft. At the tender age of seven, Vin, his brother, and some of his friends broke into a theater in Greenwich Village to vandalize it. The artistic director of the theater caught the boys in the act, but rather than call the police, she made a deal with them. She asked them to be in the play that she was putting on, Dinosaur Door, possibly as a way to channel some of their energy and creativity into something more positive. Diesel (unsurprisingly) agreed.
Diesel remained active with the Theater For The New City for several years after that, into his teen years, and until he left to attend Hunter College. We’re fairly sure that the director, Crystal Field, never dreamed that one of the kids who wanted to vandalize her theater would go on to such success as an actor!
Diesel isn’t just a talent in front of the camera – he’s also a capable writer, director and producer. After studying English in college, the star first attempted the more traditional route to Hollywood success, heading to LA and going to auditions. However, he struggled to make an impression, and returned home to New York, where he decided to give filmmaking a shot.
His first film (Multi-Facial) was a semi-autobiographical short about the issues facing a multi-racial actor. Shot in only a few days and with a budget of $3000, Diesel wrote the script, wrote and performed the score, directed, produced and starred in the film. Amazingly, it went on to be a huge success (in independent short-film terms), being accepted to Cannes in ’95 and screening to standing-room-only crowds. Following the success of Multi-Facial, Diesel was able to develop another project, a script he had written titled Strays – a project which led to his big break in Saving Private Ryan. Legendary director Steven Spielberg saw both Multi-Facial and Strays, and was so impressed that he wrote a part into Saving Private Ryan specifically for Diesel – and a star was born!
For such a huge star, Vin Diesel has been able to keep his private life largely private. He has often said that he doesn’t want to be the kind of celebrity who is on magazine covers and reality shows, and that he likes to keep his family and professional life separate. It’s not surprising, therefore, that many fans don’t realize that the star has three children with his long-time girlfriend, Paloma Jimenez. He and the Mexican model had their first child in 2008, a daughter named Hania Riley. Two years later, their son Vincent Sinclair was born (and carries on both his family names).
Most famously, Diesel and Jimenez had a second daughter in 2015, who they named Pauline, in honor of Diesel’s close friend and co-star Paul Walker, who sadly passed away in 2013. He also has a goddaughter, Meadow Rain Walker, who is Paul Walker’s daughter. Although his family makes appearances at his red carpet events, he keeps them very much out of the public eye for the rest of the time.
Diesel has become well-known in recent years for his voice work on Guardians of the Galaxy as Groot, an enormous tree-creature who says only five words through the entire film. (“I am Groot” and later, “We are Groot”.) However, his distinctive deep voice has also voiced a very different film character – one that many people wouldn’t associate with the action star: The Iron Giant. The voice of the animated alien robot was one of Diesel’s first ever roles, and he joined a surprisingly star-studded cast that included Jennifer Aniston (as Annie Hughes) and Harry Connick Jr (as Dean McCoppin).
The Iron Giant and Guardians of the Galaxy remain his only two voice credits in film and TV, although he has also done voice work as Riddick for video games and shorts, as well as voicing another video game character, Milo Burik in Wheelman in 2009. While we would love to hear his dulcet tones in more animated features, it seems that he is too busy blowing stuff up in live-action to spend much more time behind the mic.
Before Diesel became a professional actor, he tried his hand at some other creative pursuits, including some cringeworthy rapping and incredibly ‘80s breakdancing. Although very little has survived from these early days (when he was still using the name Mark Sinclair), the internet has provided us with a video of his dancing, and a sample of some rapping he did with musician Arthur Russel in 1986. His moves are much better than his rhymes, which include such stunning lyrics as “Ha ha! Ho ho! Party people! It’s time to get stupid!”, “I’m the man of steel”, and he later boasts about his silky-smooth skin.
His “breakdancing” isn’t a whole lot better, although we’re pretty sure that those moves were a lot more impressive thirty years ago. The best part of the video, though, is seeing Diesel with a whole lot of hair (and wearing a hilarious shellsuit). We’re pretty thrilled that Diesel went on to explore writing, directing and acting rather than attempting to star in the Step Up franchise.
For the uninitiated, D&D stands for Dungeons and Dragons, a fantasy tabletop role-playing game that has been providing magical escapism since the ‘70s. Players create a character with varying looks and personality traits, and are led through adventures by a Dungeon Master who acts as storyteller. It’s a game synonymous with the nerdiest of nerds, and not one that you might expect an action star to enjoy.
Vin Diesel, however, is a long-time fan of the game, and makes no bones about it. He routinely invites others to play, and even taught Dame Judi Dench on the set of The Chronicles of Riddick. He’s played the game for an episode of Geek and Sundry and Nerdist (who imaginatively re-named it D&Diesel), and he based his character in The Last Witch Hunter on his favorite D&D character, Melkor.
He’s such a famous fan of the game that he was even invited to write the foreword to a book celebrating the game: 30 Years of Adventure: A Celebration of Dungeons & Dragons. Don't be surprised if he makes an appearance in the upcoming film adaptation.
A star of Diesel’s caliber can command top dollar for his film appearances, but he chose to sell his cameo in Tokyo Drift for something other than money. Diesel only appears in the film for a brief moment at the very end to challenge Lucas Black's character to a race. Diesel’s character is only tangentially connected to this entry in the franchise, but his appearance was a huge deal to fans, and he could have been an expensive cameo for the film. However, Diesel had been told that his passion project, the Riddick movies, were finished. They simply didn’t bring in enough money for Universal to continue the franchise after The Chronicles of Riddick, so Diesel asked the studio to give him the rights instead of a more traditional payment.
As one of the highest-paid actors in the world, Diesel clearly didn’t miss out on anything by skipping that payday, and now one of his favorite roles belongs solely to him.
After gaining the rights to the Riddick characters and concepts, Diesel was determined to make a third movie in the series. He had loved working on Pitch Black and The Chronicles of Riddick, and although the studio was done with the series, the actor knew that he could bring it back to life. He and director/screenwriter David Twohy pulled together a concept, a script, and began shooting Riddick with the (comparatively) small budget of $38 million. Not only was this third film a much lower-budget and independent film, but the budget came largely from Diesel’s personal fortune – and it nearly wiped him out! Diesel took out loans, used his savings, and even leveraged his house against the success of the movie.
With so much riding on it, there is no doubt about how strongly Diesel feels for the character, and luckily, his gamble paid off. Universal, the studio that didn’t want to make any more Riddick movies, ended up distributing the film which made just under $100 million worldwide. A fourth entry in currently in the works.
It’s not hard for celebrities to get an enormous following on social media, but Vin Diesel has managed to out-do almost everyone else to have one of the most-liked Facebook pages in the entire world. The actor has nearly 100,000,000 followers on the social media site (99,799,816 to be precise), which makes his page the 6th most liked page ever. The top three slots are filled with Facebook’s own pages (Facebook For Every Phone, Facebook, and Facebook Sales), meaning that there are only two celebrity pages who have more likes than Diesel: Cristiano Ronaldo (with just over 115,000,000) and Shakira (with just over 104,000,000). That’s a lot of likes!
Diesel even used his social media pull to land himself the role of Groot in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The actor posted that he was in meetings with Marvel in order to get a rise out of fans (he didn’t have any such meeting at the time of his original post), and the reaction was so overwhelming that Marvel noticed and actually set up a sit-down.
Tattoos are increasingly prevalent, especially with celebrities, but Vin Diesel’s skin remains a blank slate. This is particularly surprising given that most of the characters that he plays are heavily tattooed. If the actor wanted to add a little ink, it wouldn’t be a hindrance to his work, by any means. He would actually be in good company – many huge stars are heavily tattooed, and while some cover up their artwork while filming, others can often incorporate their own tattoos into roles on screen.
Even though he doesn’t actually have any of his own, Diesel doesn’t appear to dislike tattoos. The actor even has a little fun with his character’s body ink. As Xander Cage in xXx, Diesel requested a tattoo of his D&D character’s name across his character’s stomach! Perhaps he has so much fun wearing these tattoos on a temporary basis that he doesn’t feel the need to make the art permanent.
Diesel isn’t just a talented actor – he’s got a lot of projects on the go, and is involved with multiple different sides of the entertainment industry. He has a film production company, One Race Films, which has produced films as diverse as xXx and The Pacifier, as well as being involved on a smaller level with the Fast and the Furious and Riddick franchises. One Race Films also owns a smaller video game development company, Tigon Studios. Tigon is best known for creating games that exist within the world of the Riddick franchise, but also created the game Wheelman, and has several more titles in development.
As though that wasn’t enough, the star also owns a record label, Racetrack Records. Although this isn’t on the same level as some other stars who also have clothing and perfume lines, it shows just how passionate Diesel is about filmmaking and entertainment. These are passion projects, rather than money-spinners, and that makes them even more interesting.
Before Charlie Cox became the face of the Man Without Fear on the small screen, and before Ben Affleck became the Dark Knight, the latter donned the red suit and horns for the big screen version of Daredevil in 2003. The film was a disaster, and often tops the list of the worst superhero films of the past twenty years . It was a move that Affleck regrets making, and one that he nearly didn’t have to make.
Originally, Diesel was considered for the part of the blind superhero, but thankfully he turned the role down. Instead, Diesel wanted to focus on Xander Cage and xXx, with his film coming out approximately six months before the superhero flop. We’re sure that it’s not a decision that the action star regrets, either. Although xXx had to wait until this year to get a sequel, it’s a film that Diesel is passionate about, while Daredevil is generally accepted to have been a mistake by all involved. Diesel did finally enter the world of comic book movies with his work as Groot in Guardians of the Galaxy, so he didn't exactly miss the boat there.
Which upcoming Vin Diesel film are you most excited to see? Do you know any other fun Diesel-fueled factoids that fans should know about? Let us know in the comments.