Vin Diesel: 'I really don't think that I could play the political game that well - I'm just too real'
Daredevil Xander Cage is back and ready to take on the bad guys once again. Star Vin Diesel tells Susan Griffin why he decided to return to the franchise and why he won't be taking on Trump anytime soon.
Vin Diesel turns 50 this year and the mention of this induces a yelp from one of Hollywood's biggest action men. "Argh, don't tell anyone," he jokes. In fact, he's embracing ageing.
"I can't wait, I'm excited about it, I'm excited to be in my 50s," says the Fast And Furious star, who's surprisingly quietly-spoken despite his hulking stature.
"I'm feeling really good," he comments, tilting his bald head back and baring all his teeth as he grins.
And why wouldn't he be? His role as Dominic Toretto in the long-running Fast And Furious franchise, which he also produces, makes him one of the industry's biggest power players, but he admits the success of those films can be a little frustrating.
"It takes up a lot of time, and then the trick is finding a window of time to do something outside of that, because that side is so demanding," explains the father-of-three.
He's dad to Hania (8), Vincent (6) and Paulina (2), named after his late Fast And Furious co-star Paul Walker, with his model girlfriend Paloma Jimenez.
"It's not so demanding when you're on set, it's all the work you have to do when you're not on set, designing the storyline, getting the films greenlit; it does take a lot of time. And you'd be surprised how limited you are to explore anything else."
He did find a window to shoot the upcoming movie Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, however, based on the novel by Ben Fountain and directed by Ang Lee.
In the story, the titular teenage character returns home from Iraq for a victory tour, but the reality of his experience becomes clear through a series of flashbacks.
Diesel, whose real name is Mark Sinclair, plays Billy's sergeant Shroom.
"I don't know if it's more a comment on the war, or the spectacle of entertaining, it's something to consider," muses the actor, who was born in California and wrote, directed and starred in the semi-autobiographical short film Multi-Facial in 1995.
"This movie's about exploiting a soldier's experience and exploiting it in service of somebody else's agenda."
He describes the shoot as "very cool and surreal" as it brought to mind his experience in 1998's Saving Private Ryan, which was helmed by Steven Spielberg and co-starred Tom Hanks, Matt Damon and Edward Burns.
"That was my first Hollywood film, so to return to playing a soldier almost 20 years later, but now playing the mentor that Tom Hanks was, it was like watching life come full circle."
Diesel, who's also known for his roles as Riddick in the Chronicles Of... sci-fi franchise, and as the voice of Groot in Guardians Of The Galaxy, has returned to familiar territory in his latest movie, xXx: Return Of Xander Cage.
The movie sees him reprise the role of Cage, an adrenalin junkie and extreme sports athlete, who's hired by the government to fight the bad guys.
Was it a case of when, and not if, he'd return to the role, following the success of 2002's xXx?
"Probably, well, not necessarily," he admits, and then pauses. "I guess I was really angry the first time."
He's referring to the fact that a short film included as part of the director's cut DVD, released shortly before 2005's xXx: State Of The Union showed Xander's death.
"That bothered me because there were so many fans waiting to buy the DVD and then the studio recklessly added this snuff film to pretend the character wasn't alive any more," he explains.
"I felt like they cheated a lot of the fans, so I knew I needed to redeem that. It wasn't until 2009, when the Fast And The Furious had resurfaced, that I felt like it was inevitable."
The stunts in the new film are outrageous, including one action sequence in which Xander's skiing down a jungle slope, and another in which he's water-skiing through a tunnel wave - while riding a motorbike.
Diesel doesn't deny he has sleepless nights wondering how they're going to top their stunts.
"You do, but that's part of the fun. I can't tell you how many videos I've watched. The internet today is different to what it was in 2000, so you can really spend a great deal of time researching interesting new stunts that no one's ever seen," he says.
"And for every one that exists in the movie, there are 10 that didn't, and that will potentially be in the sequel."
So we can expect another sequel then?
"I think it's what we need," he says.
"It's funny 'cause after DJ (Caruso, the director) had done with the director's cut, everyone from the studio was telling me it couldn't be a more perfect time for the return of Xander. We didn't realise how much we needed him."
The film will be released on the eve of president-elect Donald Trump's inauguration. Asked what he thinks of America's new leader and Diesel responds: "The theme of the movie is we're all accountable for what world we live in.
"We can spend our life just writing it off or trying to detach ourselves from that reality, or we can take action. Xander and the rest of the xXx league all take action - there's something in that."
Diesel, who's reportedly signed on for another two Fast And Furious films following the release of Fast And Furious 8 in April, has more than 100 million followers on Facebook.
It suggests he would have incredible influence should he exert it, but he doesn't have any interest in forging a political career.
"I don't think I'd be good at politics," he says, inexplicably adopting a questionable English accent all of a sudden.
"I don't think I could play the game that well. I'm just too real, I don't think politics are for the real folk."
xXx: Return Of Xander Cage is released on Thursday, January 19 and Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk is out on Friday, February 10