You know how you can tell Vin Diesel is a role-playing game nerd? I mean, aside from knowing he wrote the foreword to the Dungeons & Dragons 30th anniversary retrospective and all of his fake tattoos in xXx were references to his D&D characters. You can tell he’s an RPG nerd because the man loves side quests.
Side quests, for those who don’t know, are optional objectives in RPGs, often taking exorbitant amounts of time or resources to obtain some item, achievement, or simple sense of satisfaction. Lots of players overlook or purposefully ignore side quests. But others go for them—maybe all of them—simply because they love what they’re doing and they want to find some more cool stuff related to the thing they love.
These labors of love can create a fuller, more enjoyable experience that endears players to a game they may have otherwise been on the fence about. Similarly, while his prominent roles in genre films certainly place Vin Diesel squarely in the popular consciousness, it’s his commitment to and enthusiasm for his interests that make us love him.
Diesel’s quest began, at least on major stages, writing, directing, and starring in a small film about his own racial and psychological identity (Multi-Facial), which caught the eye of Steven Spielberg. Spielberg asked him if he wanted to try getting involved with explosions and combat in Saving Private Ryan, and now here we are, more than a dozen Diesel-launched action-franchise movies later, with another due out this weekend.
Between Saving Private Ryan and Riddick’s debut in Pitch Black, Diesel changed all our childhoods by providing the voice of The Iron Giant. (Go ahead, say “Suuupermaaan.” I’ll wait.) He’d come back to the voice acting a few times in video games and animated shorts, often overlapping with his Riddick work in tie-in games. (You know who made those games, by the way? Diesel has his own video game production company, Tigon Studios.) Then, last year, he turned in perhaps the greatest three-word voice acting performance in history as Guardians of the Galaxy’s Groot.
Still not buying the side quest angle? Diesel learned the character’s signature phrase, “I am Groot,” in every language in which the movie was being released, so he could voice Groot in each version. He went on to attend the British premiere on stilts, wearing an “I am Groot” t-shirt.
That picture, and that attitude, speaks to what makes Vin Diesel great. It doesn’t matter where his life’s A-plot seems to be heading; Diesel finds the stuff he likes, and he embraces it wholeheartedly.
That attitude is perhaps most evident in his turn as real-life mobster Jackie DiNorscio in Find Me Guilty. No one expected the guy who played a murderous space convict and a family-obsessed car thief to convincingly portray a member of the Lucchese crime family—which is really kind of stupid of them, in retrospect. As in most of these side quests, Diesel did a fantastic job, even if not many noticed.
That’s not to say Diesel’s self-involved; far from it. The guy’s a big-time philanthropist and sweetheart. He gives back to his old neighborhood, donates to myriad causes, and is known to be quick to share his love of games, even teaching Dame Judi Dench D&D on the set of The Chronicles of Riddick.
Diesel’s “I’m doing it for me” professional approach, coupled with his unbridled enthusiasm, makes him the kind of actor I love to follow. He’s clearly having fun out there, blowing shit up, stealing cars, and building hodgepodge families…and making video games and running a record label, while he’s at it. If he wasn’t having fun, he wouldn’t still be doing it fifteen years after his big break. Because that’s what side quests are for: the joy of going after something you want and not worrying about the rest.