Early Roles That Fast And Furious Actors Would Like You To Forget About

In 1998, CBS series “48 Hours” ran a news story covering Hollywood wannabes trying desperately to break through. Infamously, it featured both Vin Diesel (soon to make a breakthrough with “Saving Private Ryan”) and “Requiem For a Dream” director Darren Aronofsky, then promoting his debut film “Pi.”

But Diesel might never have been noticed by CBS unless he made a bid to establish himself as an actor and filmmaker with his 1995 short film “Multi-Facial.” A semi-autobiographical story about an actor who, like Diesel, found that his multi-racial heritage made it difficult to him to fit within Hollywood casting agents’ cookie-cutter notions about ethnicity, the short played at the Cannes Film Festival and drew the attention of Steven Spielberg, who cast Diesel “Ryan.”

In 1997, Diesel made his feature-length debut as a filmmaker with “Strays,” a low-budget indie drama about a bouncer/small-time drug dealer (played by Diesel) seeking a more meaningful life than the one afforded by hanging around with his knuckle-headed pals (including a young Mike Epps). Diesel, who also wrote and co-produced the film, showed an aptitude in front of and behind the camera, but struggled to escape the weight of the film’s pretensions. Broad pronouncements like “life is a matador” are offered up (repeatedly) as profound wisdom, while the shenanigans of Diesel’s pals appear designed to parallel the male bonding rituals in Martin Scorsese’s “Mean Streets,” but hew closer to the empty-headed antics of “Entourage.”

Diesel shouldn’t be embarrassed by “Strays” — it’s an ambitious, self-funded effort by a young filmmaker with a burning desire to speak his mind. Although it may have fallen short of saying anything meaningful or novel, it did suggest that Diesel could carry a picture, which he soon underscored with “Pitch Black” and “The Fast and the Furious.”

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