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Vin Diesel is serenading me. And I don't mean in a movie or another one of his viral Facebook videos. Vin Diesel is literally sitting next to me, in person, singing along while he blasts Ciara's cover of The Rolling Stones' "Paint It Black" from his iPhone. I'm so flustered that I can barely maintain eye contact. This track plays during the end credits of his new movie, The Last Witch Hunter, which he's here to promote this Saturday afternoon. He's even got a Last Witch Hunter t-shirt on, which barely contains his biceps.
We're in a suite on the 50th floor of the Four Seasons hotel in New York City, and I've already made a huge embarrassment of myself by tripping over the carpet upon entering the room and accidentally flinging a little bit of spit on him. But Vin doesn't even notice. He's too into the music, grooving out and muttering to himself, "Oh my god this is so dope, such a dope song." It's immediately clear that Vin Diesel is exactly the Vin Diesel that I imagined him to be; I'm not even sure if he's a real human being. "You're my dream best friend!" I blurt out like a dorky kid on the first day of school. "Who me?" he asks, surprised. "Then you're my dream best friend, too!" As if I couldn't be any more embarrassing, I let out a loud squeal. It's impossible not to be starstruck in the presence of Vin Diesel.
At any given time, there are a million things to talk to the actor about—another Fast and Furious movie, his new favorite musical obsession (or an upcoming lip sync video for Facebook), Dungeons and Dragons, you name it. But with Halloween just around the corner, we're here to talk about, The Last Witch Hunter (directed by Breck Eisner), a fantasy action flick in which he plays Kaulder, an immortal warrior who's been keeping the peace between the human world and the witch world for 800 years. He stars alongside Michael Caine, Elijah Wood, and Rose Leslie in this nine-century-spanning tale that has Diesel on a mission to kill the evil queen witch. Ahead of the film's October 23 release I sat down with the star to talk about covens, superpowers, and people's obsession with literally anything he does—which inevitably brought us back to that infamous dad bod controversy.
Is this a rehearsal? Is there a new lip sync video on the way?
You know, don’t put it past me. I thought about it for a couple weeks now.
The fans are waiting.
They are waiting. I gotta do it. Okay. You got it. Let’s see. If the fans are all present on October 23, they’ll get it.
Are you going to be goth Vin Diesel?
I have to be goth.
What does that look for you? Eyeliner?
That’s what I was thinking. Goth Vin Diesel. I am so into it.
I think you should wear a long, flowy black dress.
What about the Apocalypse Now Brando-esque—
Oh my god.
You saw The Last Witch Hunter?
Talk to me.
Give me more, tell me everything.
You want me to explain it?
Just, like, tell me what you thought.
I thought it was a lot of fun. It was funny. I just love watching you and Elijah. I think you guys are a very funny duo.
Your co-star Rose Leslie just told me that you were blasting music on the set all the time. I heard Sam Smith was your go-to.
Why was I doing that? What’s wrong with me, really? Why do I sing? I am not a singer. I have no right to sing.
It’s in you. It’s in your soul.
It’s in me. It’s in my soul. Was it the movie you thought it was gonna be?
I guess so, in a way.
Okay. Did you know the material beforehand?
No, I didn’t read too much before going into it because I don’t like doing that with movies. I didn’t come with too many expectations. The one thing I didn’t expect: I thought you were gonna rock a beard the whole time.
I guess you don’t in the poster and yet most of the pictures I’ve seen are with the beard.
That’s so interesting. Other people were shocked by how modern day it was.
I think maybe the first photos that came out, you had a beard, so I thought there were gonna be a lot more scenes with it.
Interesting. Was it good to have both?
Yeah, for sure.
The balance is pretty unique. One of the things that attracted me to the project and character was the dancing between 13th century Kaulder and modern-day Kaulder. You know, playing a character that is immortal, but we get to witness the various stages of his existence. That sounded cool to me.
“There are so many other things worse than witches.”
Have witches always interested you?
No. The witch aspect didn’t interest me so much, although it’s very interesting. The witch aspect to me felt more like the introduction to this world. It felt like we were going to be introduced to this world via his job title but the vast possibilities of the world was what was fascinating to me.
Yeah, you liked the time component?
I loved the time component. I love what this world implies. There are so many other things worse than witches.
I could be a witch.
You could be a witch. Anyone could be a witch.
You could be a witch!
I could be a witch. So I liked—it’s not fair to say but I guess I also was drawn by the promise of the sequel and what that was.
So that’s happening?
Well, the top brass of the company were there one day while Michael Caine and I were doing a scene together, and came by the trailer at the end of the day and said, “Hey, we want to get started with a sequel right away.” Maybe we should release this film first. So much has been happening lately: Guardians of the Galaxy with Marvel, we thought about Guardians of the Galaxy 2 before we released it. It’s always flattering on one level because it shows that the studio has such confidence in it, but it's harrowing on another level, you know?
What was the most fun part of shooting this film?
Um, working with Michael Caine.
Yeah, he is kind of a legend.
He is totally a legend. I was actually going to take a year off after Furious 7 and try to recover from that experience and then they said, "We've got Michael Caine for this slot" and I said, “Fuck, I am now going to Pittsburgh and we are going to film this.” When I was done working with Michael Caine I was like, “Okay, I am done now. I can go home.”
What was the vibe like on set… when you weren't singing?
[Caine and I] knew each other already for 12–13 years. I was at his 70th birthday. We had wanted to do something together. When he got this call he was like, “I want to work with Vin but I don’t have a drivers license." So I thought he wanted to be in Fast and Furious.
Oh my god, can you imagine?
Yeah. He first told Lionsgate that he was going to retire and then he read the script and was drawn to the character so much he said it was an offer he couldn’t refuse. Jump-cut to us filming together. It’s one of the highlights of my life and highlights of my career.
If you had been around for 800 years but not hunting witches, what would you spend that time doing? Just a Fast and Furious movie every year, for eternity?
Fast and Furious 1000! I would probably be committed to filmmaking and trying to master the craft. I feel like I have been around 800 years.
You don’t look it, so that’s good.
I feel like it. I started acting in these streets here in New York. When I came back to New York, I realized how long I’ve been invested in it.
If you were a witch, who would you have in your coven?
[Sarcastic voice] Just beautiful girls, man.
Not Michael Caine?
Michael Caine is not a witch! You know, no. I like him having more clerical responsibilities. If I was a witch, I would just be all… [Laughs.] I could already imagine it.
Yeah? What would your power be?
It wouldn’t be insect-driven. Maybe some levitation, maybe some shape-shifting. That could be a lot of fun. That was a big part of Dungeons and Dragons in my day, so shape-shifting is great. Even when I play popular new games, I always opt for a character that shape-shifts.
I know you're obsessed with Dungeons and Dragons.
Yeah. I played Dungeons and Dragons with The Nerdist last week. It took me back immediately to that time when [it was] my only real sense of escapism because I wasn’t making movies. Because movies, both seeing movies and manifesting movies, are a form of escapism. That’s the goal of all movies: you are allowed to escape reality for a couple hours. But making movies, you can escape reality because you are focusing on something that doesn’t really exist. You are focusing on a storyline that doesn’t exist, stakes that don’t exist, characters that don’t exist. So I guess it’s a form of escapism that's a part of the process of making movies as well.
“I'm okay because I've had the best body in New York City
I feel like you have come to the stage where people are fascinated by literally anything you do.
[Laughs.] Oh my god. I know, it’s a little freaky.
Like you step out, and it’s like, "Diesel is not wearing a shirt!"
It’s like, dad bod goes viral. Like really?
I am very here for the dad bod, just FYI.
I get it, you know? I mean, a) I don’t have to be in front of the camera for a couple months and b) I really am a dad.
So, literally dad bod.
I have lots of kids, but you know, how do I feel about the invasion? That sneaky invasion of privacy feels weird. That’s not right. How do I feel about people being so focused on that? I'm okay because I've had the best body in New York City for decades. There is no love lost there for me. I sing on my Facebook. You don’t get more dangerous than that, right?
I was a bouncer at 17. I play fat roles sometimes. Jackie DiNorscio [from 2006’s Find Me Guilty] was a character that was dealing with obesity in some ways and the whole fun of that character was to play fat Jack and play this man. So I would rather have the type of body that can comply to a certain role. For this film, the director didn’t believe that there were Gold’s Gyms in the 13th century and didn’t want me to work out. So this character won’t be as chiseled as Riddick, and I am going to be making films long after I grace the covers of Men’s Fitness.
I think it also says a lot that people are so eager to jump on sequels with movies you are in.
I think people are drawn to the idea of doing sequels with my characters because of the level of commitment I approach the characters with. My father was a theater director and taught drama in Brooklyn College and was always talking about the craft of acting. When Paul [Walker] and I won Best Duo for MTV, 12 years after we first won Best Duo at the Movie Awards in 2002, he was in awe of that. He would say, I don’t know if anyone gives them enough credit because that is so implausible—that a character relationship and character dynamic can span over a decade and be recognized as the best character relationship in cinema. That’s surreal. Part of the reason I did The Last Witch Hunter is because everybody knows I really take the feedback. I read all the comments and I'm influenced by the comments on my Facebook page and so many people are so fiercely loyal to the existing characters, but there are so many others that also want original characters and they want something different and they get a kick out of seeing something different. So when you come to see The Last Witch Hunter, you walk away saying, “That’s not like anything I have ever seen.” That’s cool. Because how often do people say that? And when you were going to see The Last Witch Hunter, did you think you were going to walk out saying, “This is not like anything I have ever seen?”