Remembering Paul Walker

June 2003 By Philip Berk

Vin Diesel didn’t want to do 2 Fast 2 Furious

Been there, done that, he said

Instead he chose to do A Man Alone

What he failed to realize was, what made Fast and the Furious so successful was not Vin Diesel but the chemistry between him and Paul Walker. 

Ironically Walker walks off with the sequel.

At his press conference I tell him how much he’s grown as an actor in the intervening years. No longer under the shadow of Vin Diesel he seems completely self confident in a role that calls for just that. 

To my my surprise he answers, “You’re gonna make me blush.”

And he does.

His hair is darker than it is in the film.

Blondes have more fun, I tell him.

Jokingly he replies,”Personally I prefer brunettes.” 

Though once overshadowed by the likes of James van der Beek (in Varsity Blues) and Steve Zahn (in Joy Ride) not to mention Vin Diesel, Walker is obviously a young man on the verge of stardom. 

In 2Fast 2Furious again he plays a former cop working with an undercover agent to nail the bad guy.

Later in the year he heads an all-star cast in Richard Donner’s Timeline.

Two years ago when I interviewed him, he left a bad taste in my mouth. I judged him reckless and irresponsible for not marrying his high school sweetheart when she became pregnant. At the time he was twenty six.

“When it happened I wasn’t prepared to be a dad. When I found out, I was freakin’ out to say the least. I called up my dad, and his advice was, “Hey, look, you’ve got one of two ways to go about it. You can step up to the plate or you can run from it.” So I stepped up to the plate. For the first year it was, ‘Oh, she’s so cute.’ It was like holding a doll. There’s really not much you can do. But now at two and a half, she’s into everything. We go to the zoo, we have annual passes to the botanical gardens.”

Has becoming a father tamed him?

“I’d say definitely it’s slowed me down. I’m still a daredevil, but when I do things, that’s always in the back of my mind.”

No chance for them getting together?

“We’re best friends. We grew up together. We started dating in high school. I wasn’t ready for marriage at the time. We still talk, we get along really well. We spend a lot of time together, but that’s a delicate situation, having a child out of wedlock. I’m really fortunate that it worked out really well. We spend a lot of time with our daughter together.”

Do they have a legal agreement?

“No, nothing legal. We didn’t need it.”

Does he share custody?

“I see her on average three to four days out of the week, but she doesn’t sleep over. I’m a big fan of (marriage counselor) Dr. Laura Schlesinger who believes the healthiest environment for a kid is the mother’s home. They need to feel stable, they need to feel like, ‘This is home.’ So I spend the day with her, but I always return her at the end of the day.”

At the time he was trying to establish himself as an actor.

But four years earlier he  dropped out of college and decided to bum around.

What prompted that?

“I chose to live that way. I bounced from house to house, garage to garage. I lived in my car.”

How come?

“I had friends who were graduating from universities. They were miserable.  I didn’t want to do that. For a while I even panhandled. I could’ve been waiting tables, but it was not thrilling enough. I wanted to live that side of life. So I came up with these scams, ways of making money. And I’m glad I did it, because now I can say I’ve seen both sides. And you know, those are some of the most fun times I’ve ever had in my life.”

Any one that sticks out in his mind?

“It might sound terrible, but it worked. At the time I was desperate. I needed money.  I could’ve gone home, but it was a thing of pride. My parents were aware I wasn’t doing what I should be doing, that I was slacking off. I decided to go to Magic Mountain (a theme park.) I thought, ‘What better place to make some money!’ So basically I preyed on unsuspecting families. My scam was, ‘My girlfriend and I are down from Sacramento. We want to go to Magic Mountain, but we don’t have enough money to get in the park.’  You find some really generous people at Magic mountain!”

For how long did he do that?

“For about a year and a half.”

So now he appreciates the value of money!

“I don’t spend a cent. I don’t even pay rent. I’m living with a friend right now.”

That was Fast and Furious 1.

At the 2Fast and 2Furious junket, he’s a changed man.

Gone are his swagger and his braggadocio.

He’s handsome as ever but noticeably subdued.

My first question to him is, How is he getting along with his daughter? 

“It’s going real well. I see her a lot but not enough. Last year I was gone for nine months. That’s really one of the trade-offs in this business. You have to be away from family and friends.”

How old is she now?

“She’s four and a half.”

Did she visit him on location?

“She came and saw me quite a bit, and as a result things are going pretty well right now. And I’m thinking of taking the remainder of the year off just to get back to being a dad and spending time with her.”

Does she stay overnight now?

“Yeah, she stays with me quite a bit.”

Does he have a girlfriend?

“Yeah I have a girlfriend I’m very serious about, but I’m not going to give you her name or occupation.

Is she an actress?

“No I don’t date actresses. We’ve been dating five years now.”

(His daughter is only four and a half!)

Any plans for marriage?

“I don’t know. One day at a time, one day at a time.”

In the course of this interviewed I learn  that he comes from a traditional, conservative Mormon family.

“My father was blue collar. He was a sewer contractor. I grew up in suburbia surrounded by police officers, firemen, and general contractors.”

So how did he get into acting?

“I never wanted to act. I did it when I was younger. My mom was a model. My mom’s awesome. To this day I don’t really understand why she fell for my dad. My dad’s great, but my mom is awesome. After they got married, they had me and after that my mom needed something else to do besides being a mom, so she contacted her former agent, and he suggested she bring in her baby, and they signed both of us. I was running around going to auditions. I did a number of commercials.  But by the time I got into junior high, I was like any other guy, I had girl friends, I played sports. Acting really wasn’t something to consider. And I knew what hard labor was, what a real job was, having spent my summers working for my dad.”

Then what happened? 

“I tried school for a while and it was really rotten. I attended city college, at one time I thought of becoming a veterinarian, then it was majoring in business. I had friends that were graduating and they had degrees in environmental chemistry and they were miserable. That’s when I said, ‘I don’t want that. I’m just going to take some time off, relax,  and kinda live life.’ So I had various jobs. And then just by chance a casting director for Touched by Angel remembered me from when I was a kid. He tracked me down, I went in and read for it, and I got the part on the spot. After that, he got after me like a dad would get after a son. He said, ‘I think you’d be foolish if you don’t take acting seriously.’ So I took it to heart and started auditioning. Within a month I got Pleasantville, and I’ve been working ever since.”

After Pleasantville he did Varsity Blues. Then he played Freddie Prinze’s rival in She’s All That, Claire Danes’s boy friend in Brokedown Palace, and Joshua Jackson’s buddy in The Skulls.

Fast and Furious of course made him a star,

Does he mind being the token white among the multi racial cast? (his 2Fast costars are African American (Tyrese and Ludachris) Japanese (Devon Aoki) and  Hispanic (Eva Mendes.)

“I guess I epitomize the All American with blonde hair and blue eyes — no question about that —  but it was fun. A lot of my fan base now is ethnic. That’s a market, a demographic, that I might not have been accepted into. But now as a result of Fast and Furious, I’m cool.”

Does he have any idea why he appears so comfortable this time round?

“I think it has to do with the fact that it wasn’t a new undertaking for me, whereas for the others it was. I knew what it was about. I’ve been living it for the last three years with the various kids I’ve bumped into, Fast and Furious fans who can quote the movie. So knowing there was a built-in audience waiting for the sequel, it just made me a lot more comfortable.”

What does his father think of his acting now. Does he consider it a real job?

“He definitely does. I can’t imagine any parent not being proud of the success I’ve had.”

What’s his relationship to fast cars?

“Let me just say, I terrify my mom. I’m definitely an adrenaline junkie.”

What’s the fastest he’s ever driven?

“I’ve been in excess of 180 miles an hour in the tracks.”

How many tickets has he gotten?

“Do you have to ask! But I’m a good boy now. My driving record is actually quite clean. I love to speed, but I realized a while back that the highway patrol has nothing better to do than cite me. So I make a point of driving my truck. It keeps me slower.” 

What kind of car does he drive?

“I’m ashamed to admit it. I actually own a Nissan Skyline R34. I love Japanese cars. “

How Mormon is he?

“I was raised Mormon but I think of myself as a non-denominational Christian. My family and friends are into it, the people I grew up with.”

How many brothers and sisters does he have?

“Actually there are five of us. My fifteen year old brother loves The Fast and the Furious. Whenever he knows I’m in the area, he calls me on my cell phone and asks me to pick him up at school. And then he asks me what car I’m going to be driving. Of course if it’s one of the flashier cars, he wants me to come even more. When I show up, he has half a dozen cute girls there with him. Walking the red carpet doesn’t really excite me, but to see him enjoying it and really getting it, that’s what’s really fun for me.” 

At one time he announced for the new Superman movies, and then he dropped out. What happened there?

“Do you have to bring that up?”

Was it because of the Superman curse?

“No, I’m not superstitious. It wasn’t that.”

Was it because he’d have to sign for three sequels?

“Yeah seven to ten years, I think. They wanted three of them, and you gotta figure seven to eight years.”

A major project with (director) Rod Lurie recently fell through.

So what is he doing next?

“I’m really particular about what I want to do. I don’t want to sit around and wait for the right parts to come around because they don’t just drop in your lap. So I am being really proactive. I am sitting down with writers and friends. Cole Hauser is a good friend, and we want to make a western. We’re hoping to get John Dahl to direct.” 

Hauser, by the way, plays the bad guy in 2Fast, 2 Furious.

Sadly, Paul was killed in a car crash in 2013.