"I may not be that smart. I may not be that good-looking. But cool? Yes. Very cool," growls xXx star Vin Diesel, the actor who aims to wrest the mantle of action hero from the aging Bruce Willis, Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarz-
enegger trinity. And hordes of Generation X fans, inspired by Vin's cross cultural appeal and anti-hero edge, seem to agree.
Vin manages his biographical details as carefully as his career, but what does emerge is that he was raised in New York's trendy Greenwich Village district by his astrologer-psychiatrist mother Delora, and drama teacher stepfather Irving. His biological father exited the scene while Delora was still pregnant with Vin and his twin brother Paul.
Born Mark Vincent in 1967, Vin grew up in a government funded housing project. He got his unlikely start as a child actor through Manhattan's Theatre For A New City, after artistic director Crystal Field caught him and a group of friends vandalising the theatre's props when he was just seven. Crystal encouraged the youngsters to take to the stage rather than beat up the furnishings with a bribe of $20 a week, putting the latest addition to Hollywood's A-list of action men on the road to stardom.
Vin went on to study English at New York's Hunter College, where he polished up his screenwriting skills before dropping out to concentrate on an acting career. He supplemented his studies by working as a bouncer at trendy New York nightclubs and says that despite his diplomatic approach he was lucky not to be arrested for fighting. Today he credits this dual life as nightclub doorman and struggling theatre actor in "off-off Broadway" productions for helping develop his on-screen combination of intimidation and compassion.
He was still trying to land a decent role when a job as a telemarketer helped him raise the $3,000 needed to make a 20-minute short called Multi-facial, which he produced, directed and starred in. The short feature about an actor of mixed ethnic heritage which was based on his own experiences with casting directors, was screened at Cannes in 1995.
Vin went on to produce and star in his own feature-length film Strays, but it was Multi-Facial which proved to be his Hollywood calling card. After seeing the it, Steven Spielberg cast him as tough Italian New Yorker Private Caparzo in 1998's Saving Private Ryan. A seachange followed as Vin lent his gruff vocals to the title character in animated kiddies piece The Iron Giant, before he returned to form in the futuristic action-thriller Pitch Black. The latter scored a surprise hit and transformed Vin into a cult sensation.
Suddenly Vin's brand of bad-boy cool charisma was hugely in demand. So much so that, after pocketing $1 million for 2001's The Fast And The Furious he felt confident enough to request $30 million to appear in any sequels. While his demands weren't met, the success of Pitch Black and his leading role in xXx look set to guarantee the sort of film franchises that make fortunes. He's already been promised $20 million to appear in xXx 2 the sort of fee that only Hollywood A-listers like Julia Roberts and Tom Cruise usually command.
He may have exploded onto the cine firmament from nowhere, but Vin who's currently dating model Pavla Hrbkova, who he met while filming xXx is far from overwhelmed by his "overnight" success. "I was always certain that I was going to be a star," he insists. "Even as a kid I knew it." And now Hollywood knows it, too.