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Big, bad and bald

It's all about control for Vin Diesel

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He's buff. He's bald. He's monosyllabic. He's covered with all sorts of funky tattoos. He's Xander Cage, an underground X-Games aficionado recruited by Uncle Sam (as in Samuel L. Jackson) for a secret government mission to foil a gang of stereotypical Russian bio-terrorists in XXX (opening Aug. 9). It's yet another action-packed vehicle for star -- and newly anointed executive producer -- Vin Diesel, 35, whose promising early work in films such as Saving Private Ryan and Boiler Room seems to have paved the way for his specialization in playing strong-and-silent types in more recent movies like Pitch Black and The Fast and the Furious.

Creative Loafing: This is your second movie with director Rob Cohen. He says you became "Mr. Cool" after the success of The Fast and the Furious, but that you're about to become "Mr. Hot" once XXX opens. What has that adjustment been like for you?

Vin Diesel: I'm completely unaware of any adjustment. I've been so entrenched in the movies I'm making, you know? The post-production phase for XXX was a lot shorter than most movies. We just wrapped in April, so the effect of it all hasn't really set in yet. I don't have any idea of what may or may not happen as a result of this new movie.

Come on. You can't be oblivious to seeing yourself on the cover of magazines like GQ, can you?

I'm not oblivious to it. I love it. OK. I do have a sense that things are changing for me, actually, but I come from a hard-working background. I come from the type of people who are always moving forward and staying proactive. In a way, that's been my saving grace. While people are speculating about XXX, I've been in story meetings about The Chronicles of Riddick [an upcoming sequel to Pitch Black], or talking to writers about [the proposed biopic] Hannibal the Conquerer.

Well, does being on the threshold of superstardom excite you or intimidate you?

It probably intimidates me more than anything, because I don't know what that's all about. If that means a further dwindling away of my privacy, then that's not so good, but if it means a greater ability to make the films I've always dreamed of making, then that's great.

Cohen also says you initially passed on this project until the studio came up with more money for you.

Did he say that? It wasn't so much about the money as it was about being involved on a more hands-on level. [Diesel is credited as one of the movie's executive producers.] I wanted some basic consultation rights regarding all the different elements that went into making the film, because I want to be accountable for the movies I'm doing. After talking to Rob about XXX, I bought into the project conceptually more than anything else. I liked where this guy was coming from. I liked the character's arc, how he starts out using his skills as part of a reckless hobby but learns to turn them into secret-agent strengths. He's basically a nihilist who's so indifferent to everything that he's the last person you'd expect to become heroic.

The physical demands of this role are fairly obvious, but there's also a perception that action movies like this require less acting skill. Would you agree?

I wouldn't, and I don't approach it that way, either. In my experience, it doesn't matter whether I'm making an action-packed movie like this, a gritty ensemble piece like Saving Private Ryan, or a hip-hop homage to Glengarry Glen Ross like Boiler Room. I still feel obligated to approach every project with the same craftsmanship I've applied to any other.

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