There are few things as wholly combative to the notion that ‘tough guys can’t show their feelings’ than the below video of Vin Diesel, seemingly on the verge of tears, singing Tove Lo’s “Stay High” while footage of his late friend and co-star Paul Walker plays behind him.
It’s as blistering an exhibition of pain as any you’d catch Diesel expressing in a film role, if not significantly more than he ever has. Or most actors would ever be willing to. It helps, in terms of impact upon watching the clip, that Diesel is maybe the last guy in the world you’d put in the box of ‘Willing To BE Open About His Grief’. But fuck stereotypes, right?
A hulking screen presence most often seen in a white wifebeater getting ready to surge a fast car down a city street at a dangerous speed, Diesel consistently plays ‘straighter’ than most of his contemporaries. He doesn’t do charming comedies or soulful dramas that often (save some stale efforts like Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk). He is perceived by those, at least who don’t bother to interrogate his screen persona with any curiosity, as big and tough and po-faced; a less sardonic and thus less interesting counterpart to his contemporary Dwayne Johnson.
Yet the reality is that Diesel is a far more likeable presence in the Hollywood landscape, and — it would honestly appear — a more genuine person overall, than Johnson. He makes no effort to craft a cult of personality for the sake of branding exercises (Johnson’s attempts to dip his toes into every arena, from politics to tequila, have been insufferable), rather using his clout to pick strange pseudo-blockbuster projects he obviously has genuine interest in but that would likely not be made without him: The Last Witch Hunter, the xXx films, Bloodshot. He couldn’t have less of an air of irony about him, and it feels incredibly fresh and honest in a world of Johnsons and Ryan Reynoldses and Hugh Jackmans who in spite of reasonable charisma have sarcasmed their way into a chasm of annoyingness.
Diesel may be weird, he may not be a particularly strong actor, he may — in fact — drive you totally insane with his Christianity infused hypersincerity — but to deny his realness would be lying.
There are major issues present; his continued tolerance for sizeable misogyny and weapons fetishism in the trademark Fast & Furious films of which he is producer, star and conceptual godfather. This is, in contrast to the “god and family” message he espouses, lacking in some ethical perspective. The Fast series, it’s also worth noting, are a vibrant hub of that sarcastic crap I accused his contemporaries of; it comes from Johnson’s character Luke Hobbs, and from supporting characters played by Jason Statham and Tyrese Gibson among others; but it never comes from Diesel who like a literal monolith of pure intent stands firm in his dedication to playing Dom Toretto as the most caring and committed man in the world.
That seems to be the public image Diesel tries to project in reality, too. His reposting of fan art on Instagram interspersed with photos of family and constant —and I mean constant — tributes to the late Walker. It’s all doused in the principles of Christianity, sure, but it seems to be driven towards something positive. When the music comes into it, including a video of him performing Rihanna’s Stay and 2020 single release Feels Like I Do, Diesel is showing us a full hand and it’s a really charming one. He’s a romantic in the most traditional sense; a movie star with bizarre 1950s aspirations. And if that video of a 6 foot bald guy in a wifebeater, on the verge of crying because his best friend died, can give even one man who’s a fan of Diesel the motivation to be more emotionally extroverted, then I consider it a massive success story.