by Caroline Frost
“Clark Gable would have made a sequel to “Gone with the Wind” if he’d had a Facebook page, I just know it,” is the calm pronouncement of Vin Diesel, sitting in a quiet corner on the chilly production set of “Fast & Furious 6,” somewhere rural 20 miles west of London.
“There would have been an “On the Waterfront 2″, if Marlon Brando had had a Facebook page. You can’t help but be influenced by how strongly people feel about a franchise.”
If the age-defining immediacy of connection between stars and their fans needed a powerful advocate, Vin Diesel would surely throw up his hand. The actor turned director and producer has got a staggeringly large army of supporters, advisers, brain crunchers (39 million Facebook followers at the last count), and he’s not shy to ask them for an idea or two when he’s running short.
“For the last three years, I’ve been lucky enough to get direct feedback by something as simple as my Facebook page,” he explains, very quietly-spoken in the way only people truly confident of their power are.
“It was a girl named Chang. I’d put a little comment – ‘Who would you like to see me work with?’ and she posted, ‘I’d love to see you with Dwayne Johnson.’ Next thing you know, he’s in ‘Fast’ (the sixth of which is now in post-production, set for US screens 24 May).
“The whole game is online. There’s no rhyme or reason. I think that the voice of the audience is louder and clearer than it’s ever been, because of people’s abilities to voice their opinions online, and people like me who listen, then go to the studio and say ‘this is what they’re saying.'”
Whether he’s listening to his one-man Mori poll, or following his own instincts, Vin Diesel is absolutely clear in what he wants to achieve with this sixth outing as ex-con street racer Dominic Toretto. Having stepped away for number 4, he returned to the fold last time around, and now his pleasure in being heard by the studio is evident…
“I didn’t do the second one (in the series),” he remembers. It felt like they were treating the sequel in the old-fashioned way, just exploiting the brand.
“One of the things I appreciate is they now approach it as a trilogy. When I came on to produce the fourth one, the question was, can we treat 4, 5 and 6, as a trilogy – films that speak to each other? I was always excited that, if you’re going to do a sequel, you should approach it like Francis Ford Coppola, expand the story, one movie affects the next, and I think that’s why it’s successful.
“In the same way they’re now thinking about the future of the franchise and whether they should immediately shoot 7, or wait until 8 and 9 are mapped out. So this is the third installment of the 2nd trilogy.”
Seemingly able to reconcile his mission to emulate Coppola (who mercifully stopped short of a ninth Godfather) AND give the fans what they want, Vin Diesel is asking us to take on the chin the return of the character Letty Ortiz, apparently demised in 4, sneakily reintroduced in 5, played throughout by Michelle Rodriguez. He chuckles when challenged…
“I had always thought I knew where 4, 5, 6 were going, but there were petitions online – ‘how could you…?’ And then the fans were blown away at the end of FF5. They saw the impossible, when have you ever seen that for real?”
“Dallas?,” I proffer.
“NEVER is the correct answer,” squeals Vin, and I’m not going to argue with him.
“It’s the audience having the forum,” he concludes triumphantly.
What else can he tell us about FF6? He’s proving tight-lipped. “The surprises we have in this franchise are cool,” is all I get.
“The only challenge, which is why Universal was seriously entertaining doing 6 and 7 back to back, is that one film doesn’t give you enough real estate to explore the characters as much as you’d like.
“You’ll see a shift in 7, a return to the core and you’ll see, without giving away this movie, a coming home of sorts. It’ll be a kick off to the next trilogy, done right.”
So it seems Mr. Diesel, now 44, has mentally committed to another half-decade at least of Dominic Toretto. Is there a tension in this, and stretching himself as an actor?
“It’s very, very tricky,” he admits, particularly when his less physical roles, such as in Sidney Lumet’s “Find Me Guilty,” are greeted with critical praise, but poor box office returns.
“You’ve seen the stuff I’ve turned down. ‘xXx’s and countless other films. I think after working with Sidney Lumet, I became less concerned. I loved that experience with Sidney but, on a small level, I felt like I might have been rushing what I knew could have been done later.
“I like the challenge of taking an action film and infusing it with as much of a thespian thing as possible, something that no one would expect and pulling on heart strings and playing out themes you wouldn’t normally expect to live in an action film. It’s always been the challenge, not to be pigeonholed, and not to stereotype yourself.”
Of course, to help steer him are 39 million voices – so what does his ethereal committee want him to do next?
“I just recently asked, ‘who would you like to see me work with?’ and they had two top names, the top male name is going to be a surprise in this film, and people online are just going to lose their minds.
“And the woman they want me to work with most is Angelina Jolie.”
Is he up for that?
“I’m up for anything.”
Fast & Furious 6 will be released on May 24, 2013 and stars Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson, Jordana Brewster, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Sung Kang, Gal Gadot, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Luke Evans, Elsa Pataky, Gina Carano
For more info on the sixth installment of the series: