Obviously tired, but still looking very good—Vin Diesel, strolls into the Regency Hotel in New York and immediately begins talking. “You know, you do the premiere and you go to the after party because so many people worked on the project and you want to see how people are responding to your work. Then you are trying to sign off with directors for future projects and making excuses for why you didn’t read a script you were supposed to read Monday. You finally get everything wrapped up. You arrive in New York at 4 a.m., you have to be up at 7 a.m. and you’re lying [in bed], it’s about 4:30 a.m., and you start to think, ‘What the hell am I going to say on [David] Letterman.’ You’re never going to sleep,” laughs Vin, flashing a sexy smile. This is just a peek inside the 35-year-old’s hectic schedule since he’s been dubbed not only one of Hollywood’s most sought after actors, but also a bona fide sex symbol.

This month the Diesel man stars in the action flick A Man Apart with Larenz Tate, best known for his roles in Menace II Society, Dead Presidents, Love Jones, and scheduled to play Quincy Jones in the upcoming Ray Charles biopic Unchain My Heart. Diesel plays DEA agent Sean Vetter and Tate his partner Demetrius Hicks who capture the well-known drug lord Memo Lucero. With Memo out of the picture, a new drug lord known only as Diablo rises to power and has Vetter’s wife killed. Her death sends Vetter on a self-destructive path to catch her killers. “[I love] that complexity,” Vin says. “That obvious struggle for him to find a way to cope with the lost of this woman he loves.”

“These people are soul mates, Larenz adds, “truly in love. And love will make you do anything. The love story drives this film and Vin’s character. But to be honest, if the character Demetrius Hicks wasn’t in the film, it wouldn’t have the true substance it has. The fraternal connection, the camaraderie, the brotherhood that Vin and I have in the movie is really the anchor of the picture. And I am happy [Demetrius] wasn’t Joe Sidekick. When I think of Joe Sidekick in action movies, I smell an death early for Joe Sidekick,” Tate says, laughing.

Although known for such action-packed roles as XXX and The Fast and the Furious, Diesel, born Mark Vincent and from New York’s Greenwich Village, does not want to limit himself. “I do want to do a romantic comedy,” says Vin, who used to be a bouncer (that’s where he got the moniker Vin Diesel) at several NYC hot spots. “[I am working on this film] New York Giant. It’s about an athlete who has to go to charm school to save his relationship. [Kind of an] Any Given Sunday meets My Fair Lady,” he says, laughing.

We caught up with the workaholic, who admits that even when he’s not filming movies, he’s thinking about movies, and chatted about A Man Apart, his dating status and why his roles always seem to blur racial lines.

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What drew you to this film and this character?
Believe it or not, the love story. This is an opportunity to play a character who loves his wife so unabashedly and you don’t see that a whole lot — especially with tough guys. This guy loves his wife so much that his friends make fun of him. It’s almost awkward that he can’t even look at another woman. Here’s a guy who finds himself in a strip club and almost sabotages a whole operation because he won’t get a lap dance. And he won’t get the lap dance because he feels it will compromise his marriage to a woman that is [dead].

In this film, Diablo can be interpreted in several ways. What’s your take on who Diablo is?
I don’t know who Diablo is [laughs]. I am trying to figure it out like the rest of us. I almost want to give you the question and find out what you think because as an audience member you are the most important element in this film. I think Diablo is the drug itself. It is this virus, the greed, this multi-billion dollar business and everything that goes into this business. And what the film does is juggle who the different suspects [are] to kind of mask what the real Diablo is. The real Diablo in my mind is the cocaine.

Most of your roles tend to blur racial lines, is that purposely?
Yeah. When I was growing up there were no multicultural actors — [my independent film] Multi-facial explains a lot of it — everyone was pigeonholed. Sidney Poitier did a very important press conference where he talked about being a man and being regarded as an actor. In some way, that’s what I do by playing characters that are racially ambiguous or by blurring those lines [and being] an actor first and foremost. [I’m] doing my part. There are going to be a lot more multicultural kids coming around in the future, and to be able to make a way for them is a good thing. Never has it been clearer than now that the idea of being an actor and just being a human being without being pigeonholed is so necessary. [I am] saying judge me by my talent, judge me by my character, and judge me as a man and a human being.

You kind of burst onto the scene, but you’ve been on the grind for a minute—tell us a little about how you broke into the business.
I started acting when I was 7, hustling to get off off-Broadway plays. I went to California when I was 22, thought that the door would open up for a New York-trained actor, came back a year later a failure. I couldn’t make it in Hollywood, so I had to come back to New York and do it the New York way, which is you make it yourself. You make your own opportunities. There is a certain kind of hustle you get from growing up in this city. So I was bouncing and saved $3,000, and I made a short film called Multi-facial that I wrote, directed, starred in and financed. Then I worked on the phone telemarketing for a year and made $47,000 with a friend of mine. We pooled [our money] together. The reason why it’s so simple for me, it’s just about making good films because I paid to make movies [once]. And, just the idea of making movies was equally gratifying, whether I was or was not getting paid to do it. I had to make movies. If you see Multi-facial or Strays you can see that love for filmmaking early on, to the point where you’re dedicated. Instead of buying a car or clothes, I would save every dime and put it into the film. I wouldn’t buy a stitch of clothing that I couldn’t return at the end of the month if I couldn’t eat. I made $2,000 last for six months in New York [laughs]. I just hustled in every single way that I could.

Earlier you talked about the great love story in this movie and how it drew you to the film. Is this a feeling you currently have in your life?
I look forward to it. I am not in a relationship now because I have this ideal image of relationships. My father and mother have been together for many many years, and [that] is my idea of what a relationship [should be.] And I kind of want to do it right.