Vin Diesel stumbled into the room, noticeably exhausted, dressed in a tan suit and striped untucked shirt, with a little afternoon stubble (on both his scalp and his face) and a sexy killer grin.
He explained his state of fatigue as he fell into a chair: "You arrive in New York at 4am and you have to be up at 7am to do all the TV interviews, and then you lie down at about 4:30am and you know you have to get up in about three hours. And you start to think, What the hell am I going to say on Letterman?"
The man was beat. But he looked good. And I know this because I couldn't stop staring at him, although I tried. I asked him if he'd figured out what to say on Letterman.
"I have no idea," he said, and smiled. Sigh.
I had been looking forward to this interview for weeks. It had been a long time since I had a huge crush on a movie star. With his macho persona, gravelly voice, sexy shaved head and edgy attitude, Vin was the man for me.
In New York to promote the release of his newest film, A Man Apart, he wanted to talk about the movie. But I also managed to get him to open up about love and relationships. Unfortunately, my name didn't come up.
In A Man Apart, Diesel plays Sean Vetter, a DEA agent who, along with his partner, played by Larenz Tate (Biker Boyz, Love Lones), wages a war against a drug cartel leader in Mexico. Not surprisingly, there's action, violence, explosions, guns and fighting. Vetter is married to his grade school sweetheart, but unfortunately he does not take his shirt off the entire movie. What's with that?
Diesel was first drawn to the script, he said, because of the love story.
"This was an opportunity to play a character who so unabashedly loves his wife. You don't see it a whole lot, especially in tough guys," the hunky actor said in between sips of bottled water. "This guy loves his wife so much that his friends make fun of him. That's what I loved about playing this character. It's what drew me to the role."
Jacqueline Obradors (NYPD Blue), who plays his wife in the movie, said she enjoyed working with Diesel. She described him as "super-talented and clearly the action hero of the 21st century."
"I got to see a more tender, more romantic side to him, which was nice," Obradors said. "He's really just a big kid."
Born in New York, Diesel is what you'd call an actor's actor. He lives to make movies, he said. Starting at the ripe age of seven, he "hustled" to get roles in off-off-Broadway theater throughout his youth before taking off for Hollywood at the age of 22. After a year in California, he returned to his roots in New York.
"I couldn't make it in Hollywood," he said, "and had to come back to New York and do it the New York way, which is you make it yourself. You make your own opportunities."
With $3,000 he scraped together from bouncing and telemarketing jobs, he wrote, directed and starred in the short film Multi-Facial. That project definitely made it happen for Diesel. After seeing that film, Steven Spielberg created the role of Private Carpazo in 1998's Saving Private Ryan specifically for the talented newcomer.
Diesel went on to star in Boiler Room and Pitch Black, but it wasn't until he appeared in the action-packed street-racing flick The Fast and the Furious (a film that grossed over $40 million in its first weekend alone) that he started getting billed as the new action hero. Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Willis -- they were all getting too old. The youth of this decade needed a new action hero that they could relate to. His role as the former extreme-sports athlete turned secret government agent in XXX solidified his position (and increased his take-home salary) as the James Bond of his time.
But in spite of the success of that genre for Diesel, he said he doesn't want to get pigeonholed in any sense. He's coming out in the near future in a yet to be named romantic comedy.
"It's about an athlete who has to go to charm school to save his relationship," he explained. "It's like Any Given Sunday meets My Fair Lady."
While on the topic, I asked if he's seeing anyone now.
"No, but it's something I look forward to," he said candidly. "You see, I have this ideal image of relationships, which is probably why I'm not in one now. My father and mother have been together for many, many years and that's my idea of what a relationship is. I want to do it right."
Wow. So there's still hope for me.