UNIVERSAL CITY, Calif., June 8, 2001 — He may share a first name, the blond hair and the piercing blue eyes of another famous actor, but it’s the durability and respect of Newman’s career that Paul Walker is after. That is, if matinee idol-dom doesn’t get in his way.
Not that being handsome really hurts. After all, the 27-year-old began in showbiz at age 2 as a model for Pampers and worked through his teens with guest spots on Highway to Heaven, Charles in Charge and Growing Pains. And it was his jock-next-door looks that made him believable as a surfer in Meet the Deedles, a basketball player in Pleasantville and a quarterback in Varsity Blues.
But can Walker, who played the antagonist in She’s All That and The Skulls, convince audiences he’s ready for something different? In The Fast and the Furious, opening June 22, Walker takes on the leading role as a detective who goes undercover in the world of street racing to find the mind behind a big-rig hijacking ring. His investigation leads him to racing leader Dom (Vin Diesel), but their growing friendship — and his attraction to Dom’s sister, Mia (Jordana Brewster) — complicates things.
California-bred Walker, who is as friendly in person as his broad smile betrays, is enthusiastic about the film in part because he got to attend “driving school” to learn how to maneuver some of the trickier action sequences. The car enthusiast also performed most of his own stunts, which gave him additional acting adrenaline.
“I love doing action. I love it. It’s so much fun,” Walker says. “I want to be as involved in it as possible. It’s either [you’re] sitting around and watching someone else do it, or doing it yourself; I’d rather be doing it myself.”
One of the stunts called for Walker to jump from a Toyota Supra to a semi truck that was speeding down a highway at 80 miles per hour.
“I’m basically holding on for dear life,” he says. “We had a safety harness, but that’s not gonna stop your head from hitting the asphalt. There’s no way around it; it definitely adds to the intensity level. [But] we didn’t have any accidents, no injuries [knocks on wood], which is just awesome.”
But while Walker’s role will further endear him to the Teen People set, he’s looking ahead to the movies that could break him out from the pack. His next movie, a thriller called Squelch, teams him with Leelee Sobieski, Steve Zahn and The Last Seduction director John Dahl.
“I love movies like Braveheart, The Last of the Mohicans, epic films. I love Michael Mann — he also did Heat,” Walker says. “David Fincher I think is awesome, another director I’d really like to work with. My next choice will probably be more director-driven; there’s a handful I’d really like to work with.”