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HomeArts & CultureVin Diesel talks about his return as Xander Cage in xXx: Return of Xander Cage

Vin Diesel talks about his return as Xander Cage in xXx: Return of Xander Cage

A secret agent with an extreme-sports background, Xander Cage has always been a character close to Vin Diesel’s heart.

“I am very much into extreme sports,” says the Fast & Furious star. “I was into them growing up in New York City, and I can’t tell you how many dangerous things I did – until I started to do these action movies.”

Realising he might be pushing his luck, “I started to pull back in my real life”, he says – but the action man’s alter-ego embodied by Cage, a character he played in 2002’s xXx, still bubbled away inside him.

Twelve years later, Diesel, who will turn 50 in July, is back in the somewhat prosaically titled xXx: Return of Xander Cage.

The agent re-emerges to track down Pandora’s Box, a gadget that can control all satellites in the world. Along the way, he assembles a new team, including Scottish actor Rory McCann (best known as The Hound in Game of Thrones), Orange Is the New Black star Ruby Rose and Chinese actor-singer Kris Wu.

With rival xXx operatives on the trail, Diesel finds himself up against Chinese action star Donnie Yen (recently seen in the Star Wars spin-off Rogue One), Thai-born superstar Tony Jaa (Ong-Bak), Bollywood actress Deepika Padukone and British MMA fighter Michael Bisping.

Diesel has been desperate to relaunch the xXx franchise for years, and says he regrets turning down the opportunity when he had the chance.

“Back in 2003, I was so precious about scripts that I didn’t let anything go,” he says.

When he passed on a sequel at that time, Ice Cube was hired to play another xXx agent in 2005’s much-maligned xXx: State of the Union. After that, the franchise fizzled out, though Diesel never gave up hope of resurrecting Xander Cage.

“There was a turning point where I realised there are people that have adopted the character,” he says.

Strangely, it was his friend, the late Paul Walker, with whom he co-starred in the hugely popular Fast & Furious films, who helped him see this.

“Paul used to say this: ‘Who am I to not be that character for that moment for them?’”

Diesel recalls that Walker, who decided not to appear in the third Fast & Furious film, Tokyo Drift, would be walking down the street “and people would say: ‘What, are you too good for us?’ He felt like he was holding something back from so many people”.

As the Fast & Furious franchise became a billion-dollar-grossing vehicle, it became increasingly important to Diesel to find a way to bring back Cage after the emotionally gruelling shoot for Furious 7, a film – partly filmed in Abu Dhabi – that was interrupted for months after Walker’s death in an off-set car crash.

“If it wasn’t for a darker period of my life or the experience of finishing Furious 7, I might not have fought so hard to play a character so fun,” says Diesel. “I needed to play Xander now more than ever in my life…it was something truly therapeutic and something I really needed to do.”

This did not go unnoticed on the set, says director D J Caruso.

“As Xander Cage, it’s a character that, allows him to relax and have fun, he says.

“He’s not brooding, he’s not too heavy.”

Caruso, whose film credits include I Am Number Four and Disturbia, admits it is not hard to see why fans are so loyal to Diesel (he reached 100 million followers on Facebook last year).

“What Vin brings to the table is that movie-star thing you can’t really explain,” he says. “He has that endearing quality that people love.”

Even so, pitching him against an action star such as Donnie Yen – as Xiang, the leader of the rival xXx team – is smart thinking. “For me, it’s about the character,” says Yen. “Whatever it takes for me to get into the character, I do my best to give the audience what they want.

“If they want me to jump up and kick Vin Diesel, or get punched by him, then by all means. Everything has to fit into the story.”

Typical of the outrageous stunts scattered throughout the film, Yen and Diesel are seen in the opening sequence engaged in a motorbike chase that begins in the jungles of the Dominican Republic (doubling for the Philippines) and finishes on water.

“Having me ride on a bike with Vin, chasing across the water and up the land, all kinds of really wild stunts – I think that’s very spectacular,” says Yen. “That’s something I’ve never done before.”

The stunt on the water was performed by Robbie Maddison, the renowned dirt-bike rider, who became the first man to ride his machine on the waves of Tahiti.

“We could take the motorcycles to a whole other level,” says Caruso with a grin.

But for all the outlandish stunts, Diesel reckons the key to the success of movies such as this is a lot more down-to-earth.

“The best action scripts not only have the mandatory set pieces that are gonna make you go ‘Ahh’,” he says, “but something that touches your soul, a story that people can relate to”.

xXx: Return of Xander Cage is in cinemas now

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