The Transformation Of Vin Diesel From Childhood To 54

Vin Diesel is one of the biggest action stars of his generation. He's a man built from pure muscle who gave himself a name to match. The guy has toplined multiple franchises with multiple installments, all featuring himself as the lead and all showing off his brawn and brutality. But, it seems, he's also a total softie. On top of being a well-documented Dungeons and Dragons nerd, he's also the kind of action hunk who isn't afraid to cry when he talks about things that move him. Plus, he will earnestly do finger-hearts to express his sincere gratitude to the audience of "Jimmy Kimmel Live!"

Talking with Jimmy Kimmel at said late-night show, the host joked that the actor belongs to all of us, his audience. Though Kimmel wasn't serious, Diesel seemed to take it to heart. "When I'm doing a stunt, or when I'm doing a combat scene," he said. "... sometimes people are a little off, and they kick me in the jaw while I'm doing the scene ... and I'm thinking about you guys, because I belong to you guys."

The actor's path to public ownership has been a long one. With more than 25 years in the business, the star's career has gone through numerous alterations over the course of his time in Hollywood. And that's not to mention all of the gigs he got up to before he got famous. This is Diesel's transformation from childhood to 54 years old.

Vin grew up among artists

Vin Diesel was born in California as Mark Sinclair. When he was younger, he was raised by a single mother who made her living doing astrological readings. However, he never had his own chart read. "She used to say she couldn't do it for me because she was too close, and she would be biased," he later recalled on "Jimmy Kimmel Live." 

Diesel would go on to star in "The Fast and the Furious" alongside Paul Walker, who he came to consider a brother. Curiously, in his personal life, he actually has a twin brother whose name happens to be Paul. The star noted the connection in a Facebook post showing the co-star he lovingly referred to as "Pablo" posing with Diesel's twin brother. In the tribute to the late star, who tragically died in 2013, he wrote "Pablo and my mother would have deep conversations ... she claimed, that it was no accident that this on-screen duo has come to define brotherhood in Our millennium."

The twins' mother married, and they took on their stepfather Irving Vincent's last name, which would later provide inspiration for Diesel's stage name. Vincent was a theater manager, so Diesel was raised in an artists commune in NYC. "Great painters, poets, sculptors, musicians and thespians all lived in this building. It was kind of a mecca for artists. What a magical place for a young artist to grow up in," he told Time.

He had some odd jobs before breaking out

The transformation of Vin Diesel from Mark Sinclair to Hollywood action star involved a long and winding path to the top of the box office. According to CNN, one of his first steps was to come up with a cooler name. Even before he'd tried acting he used his Hollywood moniker while working for years as a bouncer at a club called The Tunnel. While the "Vin" came from his stepfather's surname, Vincent, he told Conan O'Brien (via Time) that "Diesel" was a nickname given to him because he always had a lot of energy.

Still, the star found being a bouncer tough. He told The Guardian, "That is an adventure unto itself. You're a soldier in a war." According to Cineplex Magazine, Diesel even had a script greenlit for a project based on his experiences of working at a nightclub while trying to be a Hollywood writer. Titled "Doormen," the project sadly never made it to production.

Though he is now known for his trademark bald head, his once enviable head of hair was evident in a video of Diesel doing a different job altogether: breakdancing. The budding action star appeared in a video called "Breakin' in the USA," where he demonstrated a number of hip moves like the "Scramble Foot to Foot." ​​When he was surprised by a clip on "Live! with Kelly and Michael," the actor reminisced, "This was back in the '80s ... It was my first gig!"

He was once a toy fair model

Years before getting famous, Vin Diesel was captured by Entertainment Tonight working at the American International Toy Fair in 1995. The future actor wore nothing underneath a leather vest and kept his hair short, showing off an earring that he, sadly, hasn't worn for years. Diesel had been hired to promote a line of action figures called Street Sharks, and in a video that resurfaced years later, he delivered his entire sales pitch to the cameras.

"Over here we have the incredible Hand Sharks! They're alive!" Diesel grinned, ever the showman, gesturing to muscular puppets with names like Ripster and Killamari. "Kids bring them to life," he clarified, holding up the toys, pre-fame biceps bulging. In a different video from the event, Diesel can be seen voicing several of the characters and growling as he acts out a battle between them.

Little did he know that in years to come he'd go on to be immortalized as an action figure many times over himself. There are various "Fast & Furious" toy lines, collectible figures from "The Chronicles of Riddick," and fans have even created custom figurines modeled after his character in "xXx." 

Steven Spielberg noticed his early roles

While trying to make ends meet in New York City before he got famous, Vin Diesel decided to take matters into his own hands. According to Cineplex Magazine, Diesel wrote, filmed, directed, and starred in a short called "Multi-Facial," which eventually got him an invitation to the Cannes Film Festival. At the time, Diesel was making ends meet by taking whatever jobs he could get, and when he was low on cash, he wrote his screenplays in between return periods. "I used to buy a computer on a credit card, knowing that I had 30 days to return it and not get charged," he told Cineplex. "So I would write furiously for those 30 days and then return the computer."

As noted by the outlet, "Multi-Facial" and his follow-up "Strays" caught the eye of Steven Spielberg, who wrote a role for Diesel in his war epic "Saving Private Ryan." The actor played Private Adrian Caparzo, who is memorably killed in action while trying to rescue a little girl. He later told The National that Spielberg encouraged him to direct more, and claimed that the legendary filmmaker told him that although he'd primarily hired him for his acting ability, he wanted to inspire him too. "I was also secretly championing the director in you, and you have not directed enough," Spielberg reportedly told the actor, "That is a crime of cinema and you must get back in the directing chair."

He found his voice with The Iron Giant

One of Vin Diesel's most defining attributes is his low, gravelly voice. It was certainly put to good use when he lent his iconic timbre to the titular robot of "The Iron Giant" in 1999. The role saw the actor emoting purely through sound before he was known for his action-star brawn. The robot can't speak well, but Diesel manages to convey the character's wonder through the creaky way he talks. "I've always wanted to be a part of the animation world," Diesel explained in a behind-the-scenes featurette, sporting a goatee that he does not seem to have worn since. "The only way that I could do it was by lending my voice as an actor, and that's why it was like a dream come true for me to be 'The Iron Giant,'" he concluded.

Upon release, the film was not a financial success but has since become a beloved animated classic. Understandably, Diesel looks back on his time in the sound booth fondly. "I have been very lucky to have played so many interesting characters ... one of the first and one of my favorites is ... 'The Iron Giant,'" he wrote in 2015 on Facebook while teasing a potential sequel that, as of this writing, has not yet materialized.

Moving into the fast lane

In 2000, Vin Diesel starred as the mysterious Riddick in the cult hit, "Pitch Black." It went on to spawn a franchise, but it wouldn't get a sequel until four years later. First, it would take "The Fast and the Furious" for Diesel's face, enviable physique, and beloved bald head to skyrocket to superstardom in 2001. In the original film, Diesel's character, Dominic Toretto, is a streetwise racer who prioritizes family and loyalty above all else. The first installment is a basic street-racing movie, but over the years the franchise has morphed into an action-packed spectacle that has never lost its heart or focus on family. 

The actor's on-screen charisma garnered him generally positive reviews for both films. However, as he told The Guardian in 2001, his roles may have been getting a little more physical but he was still all about his art. "I don't approach an action film any different than I would something like 'Saving Private Ryan,'" he said. "If I'm going to be the next action hero, don't think for a moment I'm going to disregard the acting and think that the action can take over. The acting is what I need to do."

At the same time, Diesel was seemingly becoming uncomfortable with his rising profile. He told US Weekly (via PitchBlackWorld), "My closest friends would say I was happier before I had money and fame ... I used to really laugh at the movies, and now I can't."

The Pacifier helped soften his image

After starring in several action films, Vin Diesel made a play for family-friendly stardom in Disney's "The Pacifier." He plays a buff, headstrong Navy SEAL who is assigned to babysit the children of a man involved in something nefarious. As you might imagine, hijinks ensue. He told Film Monthly that he was happy to have already developed a recurring character type he could subvert expectations of, less than a decade into his stardom. "... [The role] already had this built-in element where it played on people's perceptions of previous characters I played, and that's what was fun about it," he said.

The film also helped soften people's perceptions of the actor, as he spent the press tour insisting that he had a real heart beneath all the muscles. He told Phase 9, "Put a nine-month-old baby in Vin Diesel's hands, and you're going to get a big softie." Director Adam Shankman even did some public-relations heavy lifting on the star's behalf, telling that he was surprised to discover that Diesel didn't resemble his tough-guy persona. He explained, "I was like, 'Oh, God! You're a softie!?'"

It wasn't just kids who softened his image on set. The actor told IGN that there was an on-set duck-related mishap, which saw him bitten in an odd spot that few action heroes would fess up to. "[I had] a duck hanging on my ear ... [I was] wearing a duck earring," he laughed.

Diesel became a family man

For a while, Vin Diesel kept his private life to himself, preferring to avoid press speculation about who he was dating and what he did in his off-screen time. As he explained to The Irish Examiner in 2006, he was trying to maintain some Old Hollywood mystique for himself. "I'm not gonna put it out there on a magazine cover like some other actors," he explained. "I come from the Harrison Ford, Marlon Brando, Robert de Niro, Al Pacino code of silence."

However, Diesel was indeed in a long-term relationship with model Paloma Jimenez. A couple of years after starring as a muscle-bound Navy SEAL with a paternal side, the action star decided to start his own family. He told Parade that it was actually "The Pacifier" that made him get serious about being a father. "It took a couple years after that to find the right person and to hopefully be mature enough to be a great father which is really all you want to do," he said.

His daughter Similce was born in 2008, and he told Variety that he almost missed her birth because he was shooting "Fast & Furious," the franchise's fourth installment. In fact, it was his co-star Paul Walker who encouraged him to leave set. "He said, 'Vin, you go into that hospital room, and you cut the umbilical cord. It will be the best day of your life,'" Diesel recalled. "That's the day that she was born."

Fast Five reinvigorated the franchise

After a mild career slump voicing characters in video games and starring in dismally reviewed films like "Babylon A.D." and "Fast & Furious," Vin Diesel's career came roaring back in 2011 with "Fast Five," one of the best-reviewed films in the series. The film reinvigorated interest in the madcap storylines of the series and the action-packed adventures that had been building at that point for a decade.

This fifth entry in the series paired Diesel — now a little older, a little wiser, but still clad in sleeveless t-shirts — with Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, whose character, Luke Hobbs, gives the others some trouble as they plan a heist. "We were looking for a very formidable adversary in the cop role, and by incorporating Dwayne Johnson that adds a fresh flavor to the film," Diesel told "That character facing off against Dom is an interesting pairing." Johnson would stick with the franchise for several more films, including his own spinoff "Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw."

Diesel was particularly proud of this film, telling the Los Angeles Times that he expected the "Fast & Furious" movies would sooner or later start receiving awards consideration. "I wouldn't be surprised if there is some Oscar talk around this ... sooner or later, people are gonna say, 'Wait a minute, just because they are for the working class doesn't mean they're not great.'"

Breaking the Internet with a Rihanna cover

In 2013, a grainy video hit the internet of Vin Diesel performing a karaoke version of Rihanna's ballad "Stay." Dressed in a rumpled suit and with his trademark bald head covered in stubble, Diesel crooned the 2012 hit while standing next to a projection of the song's music video. His performance surprised everyone, shocking fans with his tender, yet gravelly singing voice, which sometimes leaped into an odd sort of falsetto. Some fans were into it, with one tweeting that they found the cover ... arousing. Others couldn't take the usually-macho actor seriously, tweeting, "I fully laughed watching Vin Diesel singing 'Stay' by Rihanna!!! Too funny loooooool."

He told People the performance was meant as a Valentine's Day gift for his partner, Paloma Jimenez. He also defended his love of RiRi, explaining, "People say 'I didn't know you were a Rihanna fan?' How could you not be a fan of her voice, her gift?" he asked. His Valentine's Day karaoke vids became something of a tradition after "Stay." In 2015, he covered Gwen Stefani and Adam Levine's "My Heart is Open," and in 2020, he sang Lewis Capaldi's "Someone You Loved." 

He is Groot

In 2014, Vin Diesel returned to his voice-acting roots, providing the voice for Groot, the sentient tree-like creature who is part of the titular "Guardians of the Galaxy" gang in the Marvel film. Famously, the character only says three words at a time, and those words are always merely, "I am Groot."

He told The Guardian that he took the role because he viewed it as a challenge. "It appealed to the thespian in me. You're talking about a very challenging character to pull off. How could you really create a whole character with three words? To really bring the emotion and chart the arc," he stressed. It's a challenging character that Diesel very much pulled off. The actor received widespread praise for his performance, wherein he managed to imbue each line reading with the appropriate emotion and inflection. The actor also recorded the character's lines in multiple languages, according to a behind-the-scenes featurette.

In addition to his voice work, Diesel also performed motion capture for Groot. He wore the stilts that made him tree-height at the London premiere of the film, paired with a shirt reading his character's iconic triple word catchphrase. The experience of acting as a tree was apparently calming for Diesel who told The Guardian that the role prompted some self-reflection. "I guess I never really realized how much I did always love trees," he mused.

Vin Diesel named his daughter after Paul Walker

In 2013, Vin Diesel's beloved friend and co-star Paul Walker died in a tragic car accident, leaving the cast and crew of the "Fast & Furious" franchise reeling. Diesel visited the site of the crash and addressed fans who had gathered to remember his co-star, telling the crowd (via the Los Angeles Times), "If he could see for himself that all of you have showed up to show my brother love at this hard time, and his family gets to see all of you show the love that you've shown Paul, it's going to stay with me forever." At the time of Walker's passing, they were partway through shooting "Furious 7." The film was finally released in 2015 and was finished thanks to a combination of CGI and Walker's brothers, Caleb and Cody, stepping in as body doubles. 

Weeks before the seventh film's release, in which the franchise said goodbye to Walker's character, Diesel's partner Paloma Jimenez gave birth to their third child. They named her Pauline in honor of Walker. Furthermore, Diesel told Today that he felt Walker's presence in the delivery room as Pauline was born. The actor recalled, "There's no other person that I was thinking about as I was cutting this umbilical cord. I just ... knew he was there." 

He launched a singing career

In 2017, Vin Diesel contributed vocals to Kygo and Selena Gomez's hit song "It Ain't Me." He wrote on Facebook (via US Weekly), "Who would have ever believed how mixing my voice with @selenagomez could be so powerful!" While his vocals are mixed into the single, Diesel also posted a version of the song that sounds more like a duet. During an episode of "On Air With Ryan Seacrest," the actor explained that — like much of his work — the dance track has strong family roots. "When I hear the song, I think of my 5-year-old daughter Pauline tilting her head and singing the song and mouthing the words and it melts my heart," he said. 

When he Zoomed in to The Kelly Clarkson Show to promote the tune, a clip of the virtual audience swaying awkwardly on their audience screens went viral online, representing our strange new reality. Diesel further elaborated on the reason for the song's existence, telling the "American Idol" winner that because he wasn't able to spend the year on a film set, he had discovered a different way to express himself. "I've had another creative outlet, another way to show you, or share with you, my heart," he grinned. 

Cooking up beef with Dwayne Johnson

At some point in 2016, Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson fell out. In 2021, their beef officially boiled over into public view amid the release of "F9: The Fast Saga." Speaking to Mens Health, Diesel suggested his co-star didn't like how he was producing him on the set of the "Fast & Furious" franchise. "... At that time, I could give a lot of tough love," the actor explained, before going on to compare himself to one of the most celebrated directors of all time. "Not Felliniesque, but I would do anything I'd have to do in order to get performances in anything I'm producing."

When Vanity Fair asked Johnson about Diesel's remarks, he was apparently very amused. "When I read that, just like everybody else, I laughed. I laughed hard. We all laughed. And somewhere I'm sure Fellini is laughing too," he said.

As speculation mounted about a tenth film, Diesel reached out to his former co-star over Instagram to beg him to return to the franchise and finish the story. "My little brother Dwayne ... the time has come. The world awaits the finale of Fast 10," he wrote. "You must show up, do not leave the franchise idle you have a very important role to play ... I hope that you rise to the occasion and fulfill your destiny." Will the two brawny heroes put aside their differences and go for one last ride together? As of 2022, the answer is unknown.