Welcome to Days of Diesel, a limited SYFY WIRE series that will celebrate actor Vin Diesel's various, often baffling, but always entertaining cultural accomplishments as we look to the premiere of Bloodshot and the return of Dominic Toretto in Fast & Furious 9 this spring.
When considering why Vin Diesel is one of the premiere movie stars of our era, it's important to consider the extent to which he's irreplaceable. There is no other Vin Diesel. He is not a Chris, a lab-made male hunk with three interchangeable counterparts. There's not a predetermined slot he fills in the Hollywood hierarchy that gets swapped out with a new actor of the moment every three years. There is only one. There will only ever be one.
While there's a lot about Diesel that contributes to that singular nature, from the simultaneous camp and utter sincerity that radiates from his performances to his unique ability to pull off white jeans/white tank top combos, nothing lends more to it than his voice. There is nobody on this Earth today, nor has there ever been, who sounds like Vin Diesel. Vin Diesel has a voice that can only be described as exactly what you'd expect a 270-pound man named Vin Diesel to sound like. Stating that it sounds like he is constantly gargling gravel does not do it justice and also makes it out to be significantly more unpleasant than it is. It doesn't feel like hyperbole to say that he wouldn't be the movie star that he is without it.
Think about the most iconic lines of the Fast & Furious franchise. "Ride or die." "I live my life a quarter-mile at a time." Literally any moment Dom mentions, "Family." Now, play those quotes back in your head in a different voice, perhaps that of Paul Walker or Dwayne Johnson. It just doesn't work, does it? Diesel's voice, when paired with his utter sincerity as a performer (this is a man for whom winking at the camera as Johnson so often does is not an option), takes turns of phrase that skew towards the utterly ridiculous and makes them work, makes them iconic.
Diesel's charisma is earthy, elemental even. Often he resembles less a man and more an extension of the earth, as though a tree's roots crawled up out of the ground, dragging stray rocks with them, and became a sentient being that refused to wear sleeves. And so much of that raw appeal is present in his voice. It's a microcosm of what we love about him. When Diesel speaks he sounds like something other than human, which is so often what we perceive him as — his characters are frequently either literally (Groot, Bloodshot) or figuratively (Dom Toretto, Riddick) superheroes. It only makes sense that his voice sounds not of this world.
That sincerity we love about him is also present in it. Diesel has been accused of being a bad actor in the past but often it feels like he isn't acting at all. He's deceptively naturalistic and if line readings sound stunted it's often because the character is meant to sound stunted in the moment (this does not include The Pacifier, which is a bad movie with a bad performance). There's such integrity to his voice you can't help but believe what he's saying, or at least admire him for trying to get a line reading right.
Like Diesel himself, there's no replacement for his voice. He's in the unique echelon only otherwise occupied by actors like Christopher Walken, H. Jon Benjamin, and James Earl Jones, performers whose voices cannot be replicated, only imitated by mediocre comics at an Upright Citizens Brigade improv night.
Speaking of which, you can't imitate Vin Diesel successfully. This is partially because his voice is too deep for most registers to even reach, but also because even if you can get your vocal cords to go that low you can't properly replicate the inflection, the sincerity that drips from every word he says. You may be able to pull off a decent parody, but there's no imitating something as unique as the voice of Vin Diesel.
I would let Vin Diesel sing me to sleep. I'd let him read The Iliad or The Odyssey or a monthly selection from Reese Witherspoon's book club. Just let me hear it, just let me hear Vin make beautiful music with only words. Equally soothing and riveting, his gravelly bass will cut through any pretension or cynicism caked around your heart and make you feel whole again. He is not Vin Diesel without it, nor is it as striking a voice if it isn't coming from him.