Paul Walker on the Wild Side

A California dream, to be sure -- six-foot-three, tan, buff, blue-eyed and blond -- leading man status has nonetheless eluded Paul Walker until the Fast and Furious franchise earned big box office bucks and the 30-year-old actor took top billing in Timeline, director Richard Donner's adaptation of Michael Crichton's best-seller.

The actor's recent outings have distanced him from the teen scene (She's All That, Varsity Blues, Pleasantville, Meet the Deedles) that preceded his more visible success in Furious and Joy Ride. And Timeline should capture another audience altogether -- a time-travel thriller about student archeologists who visit 14th-century France in the middle of a feudal war, the film also stars Billy Connolly, Frances O'Connor, Gerard Butler and Anna Friel. Medieval-loving men will relish the elaborate battle scenes and spectacular swordplay, and modern-man-loving women will swoon over Walker in tights.

Despite recent reports the dreamboat is dating Honey star Jessica Alba (with whom he costars in the aquatic thriller Into the Blue, filming now), the main woman in Walker's life is Meadow, his five-year-old daughter with a former girlfriend.

Conversing in his casual So-Cal style, the amiable actor spoke to about Timeline, what gives him goose bumps, why he's pissed at Vin Diesel, his movie star mentors and favorite films and what he will name his son (when he has one).

Fast and Furious is a tough act to follow. What made you choose Timeline for your next film?
To me, it's a lot of fun. And I want to make movies that are fun to make. So when I read [the script] I thought, man, the battle sequences are going to be really cool, there's going to be a lot of knights, there's going to be swords everywhere. There's going to be a big castle. I thought, This is going to be fun. And in turn, I like to think, if it's fun to make it's going to be fun onscreen -- at least if people do their job right.

Your salary for Timeline was half as much as it was for 2 Fast 2 Furious. How important to you is box office success?
You've got to think in terms of business, man, too, you know? There's no point in making a movie that's fun if it's going to perform miserably at the box office, especially one like this. The idea is, Let's generate some money off of me [chuckles]. That it was a Michael Crichton novel and Richard Donner was involved, I was like, Yeah, this is good.

If you could go back in time, what period would you visit?
I love the [director Akira] Kurosawa flicks, I love feudal Japan. I'm really looking forward to seeing The Last Samurai. I love that stuff.

American history is cool. I think, probably, European history is a little cooler -- just because of knights and all that stuff. But don't get me wrong, the old West is cool. But feudal Japan -- that's awesome. I was actually in Japan not too long ago, over the course of the summer doing press for 2 Fast 2 Furious, and I bought a 700-year-old Samurai sword, and I came back with it, so? I don't know if you've ever seen The Highlander? Remember the armor room he had? The round room? I want that room. So I have the sword and I want the full armor, the whole bit. For Halloween I was one of the Last Samurai -- and I had the real sword.

What were your favorite movies growing up? Who are your movie star mentors?
Star Wars, Indiana Jones andThe Goonies. Growing up I really loved Paul Newman, Steve McQueen. I love Dennis Hopper. Apocalypse Now is one of my favorite movies ever. Yeah, I love the madman; he's great.

I don't really have a mentor, but there are people I respect. I have to say Pacino and De Niro. But the guys I really respect are the guys who seem to really manage it well. And what I mean by that -- when I first started doing this you endlessly hear about the scandal and this and that in the industry -- and I was raised Mormon and I went to Christian high school and I always thought that it would be impossible to have a family and all of that, in the industry. So for that reason I was always reluctant to even be a part of it because I thought it meant sacrificing all that.

But there's a few exceptions who I've met along the way, and they're really outstanding guys: Jon Voigt has a great attitude and he's a really great guy; Jeff Daniels is awesome -- I did Pleasantville with him; Billy Connolly does a really great job, he's got his priorities in gear.

Had you read Crichton's novel? And what do you think of the finished film?
I read it after we finished. Richard asked me to wait because he knew there were going to be some deviations from the novel, things were going to change. So just to keep things clear in my head, he thought it was in my best interest to wait until afterward to read it.

It's hard for me to watch a movie. I really wait to see what the reaction is. The battle sequences, I gotta tell you, especially when the trebuchets are firing off debris toward the castle, the knight's arrows and the flaming arrows and all that -- it's pretty cool to be in a movie that gives you goose bumps. It's like when I listen to a really good Johnny Cash song, I still get goose bumps, it's the same kind of thing. I love that stuff.

What was the best part about shooting Timeline in Montreal?
The weekends. We'd go up to [Mont] Tremblant; we'd wake-board. That's what really helps me, because I have a hard time being away. I was born and raised in Southern California and my family's there, everything I care about pretty much is there. So when I'm away on location I tend to get real homesick. And the guys, they weren't pretentious, snooty actors. So we had a really good time. Gerry [Butler] and I were arm-wrestling all the time. He felt really good to sock. I got into this punching thing. It starts with high school; you give each other dead arms. So we were doing that a lot, especially on days when Gerry had to swing a sword quite a bit. I made sure to double or triple up on his right arm so it would be hurtin' really good when he had to swing the swords.

How do you rate yourself as an actor?
I'm really competitive with myself. My whole thing is, I just want to see improvement every time. I'm happy with what I did in this. There are still moments when I go, Ah, I don't buy that, but for the most part, I was pretty happy with this, and I really liked the relationship between me and my father, [played by] Billy Connolly -- that was real, that was organic. And I really love that guy, so that was easy. And with Frances [O'Connor], she wasn't too hard to fall for. She's a sweetheart and she's really giving... she doesn't just say the lines, you watch her and you just fall into her eyes.

Was the sequel as fun to make as the original Fast and Furious?
I was pissed that Vin wasn't going to come back and do the sequel. I was bummed out. We're friends. We still are. But we don't talk like we were at that time, and it makes things awkward sometimes. But you have to realize it's just business. But it leaves a bad taste in your mouth and things are sour for a minute. But there's a chance we may do the third one together. He's positioning himself and he wants to come back and do the third one. But the catch is that Tyrese has to be there too, 'cause he's like my brother now. So, all three of us, that would be cool.

You were named one of People magazine's Most Beautiful People in 2001. What do you think about all that?
You know what happens, you hear it over and over again, and it feels really good for people to say it, but at the same time I hope they don't see the angles that I see. That stuff's weird. I don't know how else to explain it. But the good thing is, well, if people think that, maybe I'll be working for a while.

What's your dream role?
I want to be a cowboy. I want to do a Western desperately. Where I grew up -- John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, c'mon. Westerns as of late haven't performed too well. Open Range did all right. But I think that's how you got to do it. The thing I like about old Westerns is they were real simple, right down the middle. There's the hero... I just love Westerns. I think someone should make a really gritty, core Western. I've been pounding on doors. [Australian director] John Dahl -- I did Joy Ride with him -- he told me he really wanted to make a Western, so I chased him down. I think it's going to happen next year.

Do you regret turning down the role of Superman?
No, I'm glad. I would have been Superman forever. It sounds funny, but I wouldn't like that. Honestly, I would rather just be the guy who was in The Fast and the Furious than Superman.

If you could be a superhero, who would you be?
Aquaman. Being able to fly would be pretty good. But being able to be under the water for an unlimited period of time, I think would be great.

Do you regret missing out on the role of Anakin in the Star Wars prequels?
Aw, yeah. I wish I was Anakin. C'mon, man. Come on, be a Jedi Knight? I'm gonna have a Luke Sky Walker some day. I've been saying that since I was a kid. I'm gonna have a son named Luke Sky Walker, you watch.

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