‘WATCH YOUR BACK & KEEP WORKING’
Action star Vin Diesel explains how he fought, danced and found his name
During the day, the youthful dreamer juggled his off-broadway roles in the '80s with selling light bulbs as a telemarketer. But at night, Mark Sinclair did what he may have been known best for: fight unruly clubgoers as a bouncer at Tunnel, the Manhattan hot spot known for its rave and hip-hop scene. He also picked up an alias: Vin Diesel.
Decades removed from his life as a bouncer, Diesel, 55, is among Hollywood's highest-grossing actors thanks to his role as Dominic Toretto in the Fast and Furious franchise that's spanned 22 years and brought in billions of dollars. The saga's 10th film, Fast X, is expected to be among the last times Diesel and the family hit the road.
The New York City kid gravitated toward acting thanks to his father, Irving H. Vincent, an acting instructor and theatre manager. When he was seven, Diesel, his fraternal twin, Paul, and some friends broke into Manhattan's Theater for the New City for a good time.
Their mischief was upended by the artistic director, who responded with a proposition.
“I thought she was going to call the cops,” he said to CNN in 2002. “She said, `If you guys want to play here, come every day at 4 o'clock and learn your lines.'”
After appearing in his first play, Diesel found it difficult to consistently land roles. To help support his acting bug, he took a job as a bouncer at Tunnel around 1984. His body was changing, especially his biceps, which he named “the Kryptonics” after the skateboarding wheels of the '70s.
“At 17 years old, I was working at the clubs to keep my days free to go on auditions,” he said to Industria in 2013. “I wasn't getting a lot of work as an actor, and I spent a lot of time in the gym.”
In the '80s and '90s, Tunnel was one of the city's most famous clubs. Tunnel was so hot it attracted a variety of clubgoers, including some who were likely to throw down at any given moment.
From the start, Diesel said he did not want to be a victim in life.
Becoming a bouncer allowed him, in his own words, to be “a gunslinger for hire” against the Tunnel patrons who were looking to drink, fight or both.
He told Men's Journal in 2017, “I was kicking (butt) on a nightly basis, which helped with the frustration of not landing parts.”
Yet, he needed some sense of security — and to not be addressed as Mark Sinclair. He once explained that the “Vin” was easy because it was a shortened version of his father's last name. The “Diesel” part, he said, came from friends who described him as full of energy.
From then on, Vin Diesel was ready to fight, even though he tried his best “to avoid violence” whenever possible.
Rapper Busta Rhymes remembered Diesel fondly from his nights working the door at Tunnel.
“Real talk, he used to break faces in the Tunnel,” Rhymes said in a social media video, Diesel laughing next to him.
His time at Tunnel wasn't just about the fights. There was dancing — lots and lots of dancing. An instructional breakdancing video of a young Diesel — with a full head of hair — has been shown repeatedly on daytime and late-night shows.
Ricky Marcado, a former manager at Tunnel, recalled in 2002 how Diesel couldn't stay away from the club.
“He would come in on his nights off and dance by himself,” Marcado said to CNN. “People would stop and watch him.”
Around the time Diesel left Tunnel, his luck in acting began to change. In 1995, he wrote, directed and starred in the short film Multi-facial, an effort that would begin to change friends' and family members' perception of his other work, he told the New York Times in 2017. “Everyone just thought I was the bouncer who did theatre on off-off-broadway,” he said. “Then I showed the movie and 20 minutes later, when the movie ended, the whole audience never looked at me the same. Friends from my neighbourhood, friends who bounced with me, even my own parents, they looked at me so differently. I can't even describe it.”
Diesel and the club where he made his name as a bouncer went in opposite directions in 2001. In June of that year, Diesel starred in The Fast and the Furious, a No. 1 hit that earned $40 million in its opening weekend and made the actor a box-office attraction.
Two months later, Tunnel shut down after not paying nearly $2 million in rent. The club had been the scene of a shooting, a stabbing and a fatal drug overdose, and Gatien, the owner, later pleaded guilty to tax evasion, according to the Times.
Decades and dozens of films later, Diesel admitted to Men's Journal that the lessons he took as a bouncer proved valuable to him when he became the heartbeat of his Fast and Furious family.
“I was a bouncer for nine years — it was all I knew how to do — and my training was to not talk loosely, reveal my (stuff ) to strangers,” he said. “That's still my thought process all these years later: Shut your mouth, watch your back and keep working till your (butt) falls off.”