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An overnight action-film sensation who intrigued audiences when he seemingly emerged from nowhere in the summer of 2001, Vin Diesel actually made his first mark on the movie business as a filmmaker. His first two independent films screened at the Cannes and Sundance Film Festivals after which the hulking, clean-shaven actor had a breakthrough role as imposing antihero Riddick in the cult-favorite sci-fi film "Pitch Black" (2000). He was quickly snapped up by Hollywood and transformed into a movie star with high-octane hits "The Fast and the Furious" (2001) and "xXx" (2002). Diesel found further box-office success with the Disney comedy "The Pacifier" (2005) and went on to receive decent reviews for his dramatic performance in "Find Me Guilty" (2006), but audiences were generally reluctant to accept him in anything but sequels to his signature action films. The hype that surrounded the actor's rush to stardom eventually gave way to a period of career stagnation, but he bounced back in a big way with his prominent return for the 2009 sequel "Fast & Furious" and its reliably popular later installments, including the super-sized "Fast & Furious 6."
Born Mark Sinclair Vincent in Alameda County, CA, on July 18, 1967, Diesel moved to New York as a child and was raised in Manhattan. He began acting with the Theatre for the New City at the age of seven. After studying English at Hunter College, he began penning screenplays and making films. His short "Multi-Facial" debuted at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival and his first full-length feature, "Strays" (1997) premiered in competition at the Sundance Film Festival. Written, co-produced, directed, and starring Diesel, "Strays" was an ensemble drama about male friendships that many compared - sometimes unfavorably - with "Saturday Night Fever" (1977) and "Diner" (1982).
While his efforts did not immediately lead to opportunities to make more films, Diesel's powerful onscreen presence earned buzz and the deep-voiced, muscular actor landed a high-profile supporting role as tough New Yorker Private Carparzo in Steven Spielberg's acclaimed WWII drama, "Saving Private Ryan" (1998). After voicing the title character in the delightful if underperforming animated adventure "The Iron Giant" (1999), Diesel got his first taste of leading-man success in director David Twohy's cult sci-fi film "Pitch Black" (2000), in which the actor played a convict who, after his starship crash lands on a hostile planet, proves to be the salvation for the survivors.
Diesel gave another strong performance in the ensemble of the Wall Street-centered thriller "Boiler Room" (2000), but his true breakout came with his starring role as hard-driving car thief and street gang racer Dominic Toretto in the surprise summer blockbuster, "The Fast and the Furious" (2001), in which The New York Times critic Elvis Mitchell characterized Diesel as a "slacker Robert Mitchum, if that's not redundant." Diesel became an overnight sensation that year, with the relative unknown fueling curiosity about himself by evading questions about his sexuality and his ethnic background, revealing only that he was part Italian and considered himself "a person of color."
Fans lapped up the mystery of the bald newcomer and turned out in droves when Diesel re-teamed with "The Fast and the Furious" helmer Rob Cohen to lead the cast (and serve as executive producer) of the actioner "xXx" (2002). Another box-office bonanza, the film was routinely panned by the critics but nevertheless solidified the actor's status as an heir apparent to A-list action stars like Stallone and Schwarzenegger. Taking a cue from these same actors, he also branched out of his tough-guy mode into the comedy realm to show his versatility. To wit, Diesel co-starred alongside Barry Pepper, Seth Green, John Malkovich, and Dennis Hopper in "Knockaround Guys" (2002) playing a young mobster-in-training desperate to retrieve a bag of stolen cash.
Instead of opting for a big payday on the sequel "2 Fast 2 Furious" (2003), which he declined to appear in, Diesel instead produced and starred in the crime drama "A Man Apart" (2003), a film that offered the actor prime opportunity to emote instead of aim and shoot. Critics took minor swings at Diesel's sensitive side, but few could deny his strong screen presence and charisma, even in a middle-of-the-road movie. The actor returned to the explosive, big-budget world of sci-fi action when he reprised the role of "Pitch Black" hero Richard Riddick for Twohy's inflated sequel "The Chronicles of Riddick" (2004), which he also executive produced. The box-office results were less than stellar.
With his star on the wane after only four years, Diesel took a stab at family entertainment with Disney's "The Pacifier" (2005), playing a disgraced Navy SEAL charged with protecting the bratty brood of a deceased government scientist whose enemies are searching for his top-secret experiment. Diesel's star power was enough to draw in over $100 million in ticket sales, though his critically acclaimed follow-up in the character-based drama "Find Me Guilty" (2006) about real-life mobster Jack DiNorscio, proved a box-office failure.
Appearing in only a brief cameo in the 2005 sequel "The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift," Diesel tried to explore new territory with the sci-fi thriller "Babylon A.D." (2008), adapted from the novel Babylon Babies by Maurice Georges Dantec. Diesel received a critical drubbing for the second-rate offering and retreated to a surefire hit territory by finally reprising his role in the fourth sequel "Fast & Furious" (2009), which reunited the cast of the original film. Unsurprisingly, the movie broke box-office records and reinvigorated Diesel's reputation as an action star. Meanwhile his distinctive deep voice continued to be one of his most valuable assets, and he lent it to video games "Wheelman" and installments of the "Chronicles of Riddick" series. In 2013, Diesel had a notably busy year, with both "Fast & Furious 6" and "Riddick" hitting the screens. The following year, Diesel provided the voice for the anthropomorphic tree Groot in the Marvel Cinematic Universe blockbuster "Guardians of the Galaxy" (2014). Though the only thing the character is able to say is "I am Groot," Diesel's varied readings of the phrase provided some of the film's funniest and most poignant moments.
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Feature directorial debut, the Sundance screened "Strays"; also scripted, produced and starred
Signed by Paramount to a two-picture option acting deal
Featured in "Saving Private Ryan" as the ill-fated Lieutenant Caparzo
Voiced the title character in the animated feature "The Iron Giant"
Featured in the ensemble drama, "Boiler Room"
Breakthrough role as Riddick, a futuristic ex-con, in the sci-fi thriller "Pitch Black"
Starred as gang leader Dominic Toretto in "The Fast and the Furious"
Played the lead in the action thriller "xXx"
Reprised role of Riddick in "Pitch Black 2"
Starred as a DEA agent out to avenge his wife's murder in the action feature "A Man Apart"
Reprised role in "The Chronicles of Riddick," the sequel to the surprise sci-fi hit "Pitch Black"
Played a more lighthearted role in the comedy film, "The Pacifier"
Starred in Sidney Lumet's "Find Me Guilty," as a mobster who successfully defends himself in a two-year trial
Played a mercenary in Mathieu Kassovitz's "Babylon A.D."
Reprised role of Dominic Toretto in the fourth film "Fast and Furious"
Once again reprised role of Dominic Toretto for the fifth film, "Fast Five"
Starred in "Fast & Furious 6"
Featured in the sci-fi sequel "Riddick"