We love the fact that Vin Diesel is one of Hollywood’s biggest nerds. Travis Johnson reflects on the awesome nerdom of the smooth-scalped star, who is a Dungeons & Dragons addict and created his own video game company.
There are two Vin Diesels, really. There’s the shaven-pated, muscled-up action movie star, who fights, drives and shoots his way through high octane franchises like The Fast and the Furious, Riddick, xXx and this week’s new hopeful, Bloodshot. And then there’s gamer geek Vin Diesel, who likes nothing more than getting around the table with his fellow nerds and slaughtering some orcs in Dungeons & Dragons.
He’s the jock and the nerd, the yin and the yang. And while he’s not the only one – fellow hunk Joe Manganiello is another avowed fan who converted his basement into a gaming dungeon, while other stars known to roll d20s include Will Wheaton, Felicia Day, Dan Harmon, Patton Oswalt and many more – he’s the Opener of the Way. Our boy Vin is no casual; by his own admission he’s been playing since the late 1970s.
Diesel doesn’t just love his geeky hobby, he’s evangelical about it, calling the game “a training ground for my imagination” and bestriding Hollywood making converts and even bringing elements of it to the big screen. How nerdy is he? Let us count the ways…
1. In xXx he had his favourite character’s name tattooed on his stomach
The 2002 action flick xXx sees Diesel as extreme sports nut and reluctant NSA agent Xander Cage, who is recruited by Samuel L. Jackson’s shady spymaster to save the world from… well, we don’t remember because that movie was resoundingly average.
Cage is a typical millennium-era uber-bro, complete with a full suite of sick tattoos all over his rig. However, he also appears to be a secret nerd. The ink on his stomach spells out the work “Melkor,” which is a) the big baddie in J.R.R. Tolkien’s largely impenetrable The Silmarillion, and b) the name of one of Diesel’s old D&D characters: Melkor Tar Morloth, half-Drow adventurer. It’s crypto-nerdery at its finest.
Not happy with just getting Dame Judi Dench to appear in The Chronicles of Riddick, the campy, epic 2004 follow up to his breakout film, Pitch Black, Diesel also allegedly taught the revered British thespian how to play Dungeons & Dragons while killing time in between takes on set. Dench reportedly took to game with gusto and apparently still plays, acting as Dungeon Master for her grandchildren. Bless.
3. He founded his own computer game company
Diesel’s love of gaming is both analogue and digital. Tigon Studios is a video game developer largely dedicated to creating games based around Vin Diesel characters and properties. Their output so far includes three Riddick games: The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay, The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena, and Riddick: The Merc Files; the driving game Wheelman; and they apparently have RTS game Barca B.C., based on the Punic wars between Carthage and Rome, in development.
Diesel has long wanted to produce and star in a biopic of Carthaginian general Hannibal Barca, so this is very on brand. However, given the company’s official site is missing, presumed defunct, the current state of play is a mystery.
It’s always good to be able to give back to a community you feel a sense of belonging to, and in 2004 Diesel was able to do just that when he was invited to pen the foreword to the book 30 Years of Adventure: A Celebration of Dungeons & Dragons. An involved history of Dungeons & Dragons published to mark the games 30th anniversary, the tome includes essays from the likes of comedian and talk show host Stephen Colbert and Samurai Jack creator 30 Years of Adventure: A Celebration of Dungeons & Dragons.
But Diesel’s recollection of his twin brother introducing him to the game at age 11 is genuinely heartwarming. He goes on to describe his excitement at getting his first D&D rules set as a Christmas present from his grandmother.
“There it was, our first D&D set, the first in a long line of manuals, tomes, and handbooks that would eventually grow into a vast wealth of sacred knowledge,” he wrote. “That Christmas present, given in love from my Grandmother, unknowing of its power and impact, would prove to be a portal into a never-ending world of imagination.”
For real, the 2015 urban fantasy blockbuster wouldn’t exist if screenwriter Cory Goodman hadn’t had a chat with Diesel about his old D&D character, the aforementioned Melkor, who happened to be a witch hunter. That conversation grew into the story of Kaulder, an immortal warrior who polices the hidden magical community of New York City.
“The idea of doing an action-fantasy film was always appealing to me,” he recalled in an interview for The Writing Studio. “I met with screenwriter Cory Goodman (Priest) five years ago and we geeked out about Dungeons & Dragons and next thing you know I get this amazing script about a witch hunter.”
The game-to-screen journey was flipped when, on promotional duties for the resulting film, Diesel played a session of D&D with the team at Geek and Sundry, and Dungeon Master Matt Mercer of Critical Role presented him with a custom Witch Hunter character class to play. Ol’ Vin was clearly in heaven.
6. His birthday cake in 2015 was a pile of sourcebooks
Seriously, just look at that.