On the surface, Vin Diesel appears to be the ultimate Hollywood tough guy. Those bulging muscles. That shaved dome. The bottom-of-the-ocean deep voice. His apparent disdain for smiling and sleeves. If he weren’t an action- movie star, he’d be a bouncer — which he was, at New York nightclubs like Tunnel in the ’80s.
In movies such as the “Fast & Furious” series and “xXx,” he jumps off moving cars, drives through flames and throws a lethal punch. For “Riddick,” the third film in its franchise, out this Friday, Diesel handily rips more than a few sci-fi creatures a new one.
Meet the nation’s oddest action hero.
Here’s a typical Facebook post from Diesel: a photo of the actor in a car, his hand gripping the wheel as he stares out into the distance. Overlaid atop the image are these words: “Time goes by so fast, people go in and out of your life. You must never miss the opportunity to tell these people how much they mean to you.” Diesel attributes the words to Alexander Graham Bell. Google seems to disagree.
The star’s fans couldn’t care less — more than 130,000 of them have liked it.
Diesel’s most viral post to date is a Valentine’s Day video of him crooning Rihanna’s ballad “Stay” (sample lyric: “Funny you’re the broken one/ but I’m the only one who needed saving”) in a dark room with the music video projected on a wall. Not only does he attempt a few falsetto notes, he throws in some kissy sounds at the end.
The result of all this un-John- Wayne-like behavior? Diesel, with 46 million Facebook fans, is the second most-liked actor on the social network site (only Will Smith has more, with 49 million).
Diesel told Entertainment Weekly earlier this year that Facebook once asked him to visit its offices after seeing his initial success with the social media platform. He even joked that Facebook owes him “billions of dollars.”
“What Facebook didn’t realize is something very big was about to happen, and that was — for the first time in history [ . . . ] I started talking to people,” he told Entertainment Weekly. “In the realest ways.”
“When I started talking to the fans, I became the No. 1 page in the world. Over Coca-Cola, over huge companies. And it was only because I said: ‘Hi, guys, I love you.’ ”
Social media experts attribute his Facebook success not necessarily to who Diesel is, but what he’s posting. At their best — or worst, depending on your point of view — the actor’s posts are highconcept and chock full of cheese.
“As a community manager, it’s awful,” says Christianna Giordano, a digital strategist at Cohn & Wolfe and a featured blogger for Social Media Today, citing Diesel’s infrequent posts and lack of direct responses to his fans. “But it’s very obviously him. That’s why the 46 million fans comment.”
A typical Diesel post offers a few words of inspiration — sometimes quoting others, sometimes from his own mouth. “Confidence . . . never deny yourself of it, for it costs you nothing and leads to great things . . . /smile.” Or “Being male is a matter of birth, being a man is a matter of age, but . . . being a Gentleman is a matter of choice.”
“I totally acknowledge as a fan that it’s super cheesy,” says Giordano. “I think that people respond to it because he can be personal. It’s very inspirational, [what] with him having come from meager beginnings.”
Diesel, 46, was born Mark Sinclair in Manhattan to an astrologist mother, Delora. The actor has said he does not know his father, but was co-parented by his stepfather, Irving H. Vincent, in Greenwich Village.
As a child, Diesel, along with his brother Paul and a group of pals, roamed the Village streets, looking for trouble. Crystal Field, executive artistic director of the Theater for the New City for four decades, remembers the day a 7-year-old Diesel and his gang sneaked into the theater, not realizing anyone was there.
“He told me that they came to vandalize the place — he used the word ‘vandalize,’ ” recalls Field. “They proceeded to tell me . . . they weren’t going to attack me, but they were going to tear things up and write on the walls.”
Field, who frequently worked with at-risk youth, had other plans for the rebel without a cause. “I said, ‘Listen, don’t you think it would be much more valuable for you to be in a play?’ ” she says.
Upon consideration, Diesel agreed. His role was in something called “The Dinosaur Door.” (Nearly 40 years later, he would post on Facebook: “Never forget your child inside cause that’s where dreams are made.”)
Bitten by the acting bug, Diesel adopted his stage name while working as a bouncer — Vin short for the last name acquired from his stepdad, and Diesel for his boundless energy. After a 1998 role in “Saving Private Ryan,” his first studio film, he hit it big with a string of movies in the early aughts. “Pitch Black” made him an action hero, “Boiler Room” proved he could act, and “The Fast and the Furious” and “xXx” made him a bona fide star.
Getty ImagesHis star power waned, however, in the mid-aughts with critical duds such as “The Chronicles of Riddick” and “The Pacifier.” But interestingly, since he joined Facebook in 2009, Diesel’s boxoffice cred has risen. That same year, the fourth “Fast” film grabbed $363 million and the fifth (released in 2011) netted $628 million. This year, the sixth and most recent installment has earned a whopping $787 million so far. And just last week, Diesel received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, as his model girlfriend, Paloma Jimenez, and their children (daughter Hania, 5, and son Vincent, 3) stood by his side.
“Truly phenomenal & superb actor. A credit to his gender. He deserves to be recognized,” one fan recently wrote on his page.
After the (unintentionally or not) hilarious “Stay” video was picked up all over the Web, Diesel responded — where else? — on his Facebook page.
“Naturally, I became self-conscious . . . and thought maybe I shouldn’t have exposed myself like that . . . ,” he wrote. “Then I had dinner with my dad, and surprisingly . . . he said he loved it . . . and thought it was deep on a few levels . . . P.s. Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone, you don’t have to be perfect . . . just believe in yourself.”
Life coach Sherri Ziff, author of the November book “Hollywood Epidemic: Fame, Celebrity & Other Allusions,” says Diesel represents the new masculine ideal. “He’s a badass with a moral compass.”
Those who know Diesel in real life say the image of a soft guy stuck in a thug’s body is not just an act.
Antoinette Kalaj, who plays one of Diesel’s consorts in “Riddick,” says the actor was generous with career advice on the set.
“He is someone that really worked hard for his career from the beginning,” she says. “He just always says, ‘Stay true to yourself and be you. Do what you love. Don’t ever change for this business.’ ”
Neil Napier, who also appears in “Riddick,” got a taste of the star’s true self at a cast dinner before shooting began. Diesel opened up about his love of the role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons. In fact, he wrote the foreword for the book “30 Years of Adventure: A Celebration of Dungeons & Dragons.”
“We started talking about the mythology of ‘Riddick’ and why he was so passionate about this series of films that he fought to make this last one, and it moved on to why he loved playing ‘Dungeons & Dragons,’ ” says Napier. “I was schooled a little bit.”
Perhaps it’s no surprise that Diesel loves a good fantasy. What else would you expect from a man who has no shame posting on Facebook a photo of himself standing on a balcony and peering out into the great beyond — with these words of wisdom: “Be you . . . believe in you . . . and allow for tomorrow’s dreams.”