Despite the global success of the “Fast and the Furious” franchise (the sixth installment comes out this summer), Paul Walker hasn’t emerged as a Hollywood star. As he told Indiewire at the recently wrapped SXSW Film Festival (supporting his indie thriller “Hours”), much of that stemmed from not wanting to be one in the first place. Now? Not so much.
Aside from “Fast & Furious 6,” the actor will be appearing in action-comedy “Pawn Shop Chronicles,” the thriller “Vehicle 19” and “Hours,” which is the directorial debut of “Final Destination 5” screenwriter Eric Heisserer and is the story of a father (Walker) struggling to keep his baby girl alive in a flooded (and deserted) hospital during hurricane Katrina. Walker also recently signed on to topline “Brick Mansions,” an action pic from the makers of “Taken,” based on the popular French thriller “District B13.”
In our interview, Walker candidly explains why it took him this long to get serious about his craft, reveals his surprising side job and talks about life as a single dad.
So I read on IMdB you executive produced “Hours”…
Yeah. What does it really mean? I mean it’s, you got a little more of a voice. The thing that I like though, you just have more control of the tone.
Is this a passion project for you?
Yeah, it was something I just connected with, I felt like it was pure. It wasn’t trying to be anything more than what it was. I mean, it’s pretty fucking simple. The thing I liked about it is if you just go and you tell the truth, then anybody that has a heart I’d like to think can go ‘Oh I relate’ or get a sense of whatever it is. To me I just like the purity of it. I’m always doing the big action thing, running around and being cool guy, which is fun from time to time. It was nice just being honest and tell things from the heart, I guess.
Was it a grueling shoot? It looked it.
I think emotionally it beats you up pretty hard. The thing that’s nice is you can just trust it and live it and be in it every day and I’m good. I know the story, like I said, it’s pure. The thing I didn’t realize though, like I said, you’re emotionally invested and just living it every day, and the victory is my victory — because we shot it in sequence. At the end it was pretty emotionally draining, but I was like, ‘I fucking won!’
To me the way I was raised, everyone’s all military in my family and we’ve always posed questions. From the time I was a little kid my father, my grandfather, my uncles were always creating hypothetical questions, like ‘How would you react if this happened?’ ‘How would you respond to?’ y’ know. I mean something as simple as a guy coming up to you, you know the bank teller, the guy putting a gun up to your head. So with something like a disaster, it’s like ‘Oh shit I know this.’ You want to think that if you were tested or challenged in a way like this, especially because I’m a father, you know that you would react, you do whatever it would take to make sure that your baby made it through it. And you would just pray you have the strength, you have the determination, the willpower to see it through. So in a way I got to go and do it.
Was it your idea to shoot it chronologically for performance sake?
No, it was Eric’s. But it’s challenging. I think it was just better for tone and headspace. You know, Eric has never directed before but he’s a sharp guy and he knew that he wanted to have everything working in his favor. He was overprepared — and that also gives you a lot of peace of mind. And I realized going into it, we sat down in our first meeting, I was like, wow. I mean you’ll see he’s just a real guy, no bullshit pretense, he’s just a real dude. He knows what he knows and he loves what he loves and he has opinions. And he’s a good team captain because tone is really important to him and I say tone — not just what we’re seeing on the paper. The work environment is healthy, it’s a constructive environment. Some guys rule by fear and other ones rule by, I think, having a good heart and sensibility. He’s one of those.
Were you wary of the film exploiting the Katrina tragedy for the sake of thrilling people?
I don’t look at it that way. There’s some people that’ll probably say that, but some people will say anything. To me I was just like ‘Oh it’s a pure story.’ But it wouldn’t have mattered, the circumstances could have been anything, some guy in the middle of nowhere. It just worked. With all the incentive and everything going on in New Orleans, it was kind of perfect. When he wrote it it was just a little short story and then it morphed into this feature film. But I don’t know… I never thought of it that way.
And you shot it in New Orleans, right?
Yeah that’s what I’m saying, because the incentive, all the tax incentive filming in Louisiana, all over the south. And it was cool because I’d never been there before. It was fun because the majority of the crew was like ‘Ah fuck I was here, I was going through this,’ ‘Man it was like that,’ ‘This is what I experienced.’ So for a lot of the people that were there it was personal.
What was it like to share that experience?
I think sharing the experience with them you just saw their work ethic, I think it brought maybe a little more accountability. I think we had just a hardworking crew and the people there were just into it, you could tell they were excited. It’s a contagion, it’s a nice flow, it’s this reciprocating thing, you just see everybody busting ass and going on a little further. We’ve got unions, we’ve got grips, we’ve got guys working electric. You know, there’s nobody going ‘Oh, that’s my department.’
You’re having quite the year with so many films coming up. Do you feel like you’re experiencing a second coming of sorts?
No, I think I’m just playing a little more now and I never wanted to before. To be honest with you, I wanted it to all go away.
I wanted to be a marine biologist.
I read you went to school for that.
Yeah, I always wanted to use it so I figured out ways to make that happen. I’ve got projects developing right now. Jean-Michel Cousteau, who’s the son of my idol Jacques Cousteau. We’re working together and I’m working with Michael Domeier. I’ve been doing shark research and we’ve been doing tidal stuff and more educational stuff with Jean-Michel, which is fun. We’re going to schools and talking with kids — I get to have my kid with me, too.
Because of what I represent to certain people, because of what I’ve been labeled as in this world as an actor, it allows me just a little more access. Kids listen to me more. I could use that to my advantage. I fell in love with the ocean when I was just a little kid, four or five years old, I was a junior ranger, I was going out and doing intertidal stuff, walking around and sticking my finger in my first sea anemone and picking up starfish and all that. It gripped me when I was young. So Jean-Michel comes, he’s sort of like minded with that, like you get them young and hold them forever. So just taking more advantage of that and running with that mindset, it’s fun.
Is the reason you’re busier than ever on the acting front because you’re more secure in the other areas of your life/career?
To me, I have a daughter that’s 14 years old. I’ve always been more of a transient sort of dude, I’ve always gone with the energy and the way it takes me. And she’s living full time with me now; I’m a full-time single father as of this past fall. This opportunity’s been put in my lap so I want to seize it, I want to make it work. And if it isn’t exactly what I want then I want to figure out a way to make it that. So all this information I’m sharing with you and where I’ve been on this journey, that’s open conversation. I mean we talk about it all the time. She’s getting to a place now where she’s trying to figure out who she, what she is in this world, forming a sense of identity, trying to find her sense of purpose, her style and all this stuff. So I think it’s the more we talk about it, this is just kind of life’s path.
Everyone’s in a difference at different times, everyone learns in his or her own time whatever it is they’re supposed to learn and what’s supposed to be revealed to them. It’s cool, she gets it, she appreciates it. She’s here with me at the festival. She gets into it, she wants to go into environmental law right now. That’ll change next week. It’s a fun time for both of us and she’s a cool partner, she’s the best partner I’ve ever had.
I’m getting the sense that you embrace acting more now as a kind of artistic endeavor?
Yeah, I think it, you know there’s different challenges in it. It was never something I really wanted, I didn’t have to work for it. Do you really appreciate it when something’s just handed to you? It was handed to me at an early age and I realized that unless you really take control of it and own it, it’s always going to feel that way. Whether you’re coming in as a producer or just coming in as an actor, just bring what you can bring. Whether it’s just mindset, as a producer I feel that’s a big part of what I bring into it. I’m a problem solver, I love people. The more complicated they are the more I get into them and I just want to understand what makes them tick.
I have a way of just being ice, and just cooling situations and making things work. It’s important to me. I’ve always taken it that way as an actor. I’m really sensitive too and it’s as important to me. Life’s too fucking short. What we’re doing is pretty cool, but let’s make sure we’re having fun doing it. And it’s important to me that people feel appreciated because that’s when you get the best in people. Give people ownership, give them the pat on the back, give them the kudos they deserve. It’s the same token if someone’s slacking, you know you can point it out to them, but there’s a constructive way of doing it, the right way to do it. And then there’s asshole way of doing it.
I pride myself on — I like being that person, I like that I have that mindset. Eric and I we’re going to work together again. Peter Safran, we did “Vehicle 19” together and we have the same code, the same ethics when it comes to the way we handle business, the way that we treat people. It’s really important to me. In any industry where there’s a lot of money to be made, those people are hard to find because there’s a lot of elbows and it’s ‘Me me me me me.’ When you find people that have the mindset ‘No it’s us, it’s the team,’ that’s refreshing.
Is it that sense of teamsmanship that keeps bringing you back to the “Fast and the Furious” movies?
“The Fast” is tough, it’s not easy. It represents too much to too many people. But that’s what also makes it fun. We have people that come from very different walks of life, Vin [Diesel] and I in particular, you know East Coast, just different mentality, different mindset, different childhoods. And so I don’t speak his language, he doesn’t speak mine, but we do complement one another. There’s times where I drive him fucking crazy and he drives me nuts, but that’s the beauty of it. It’s like there’s always been a respect.