Reporter's Notebook: Vin Diesel Has Left the Building

Waiting for Diesel - H - 2020
Or: A night covering the 'Bloodshot' junket in West Hollywood.

Industrious Sony Pictures publicists are already putting out fires as I get to the London Hotel in West Hollywood on March 6, about 45 minutes early for a 5:20 p.m. interview with Vin Diesel. The studio is holding a junket for Diesel’s latest movie, Bloodshot, touted as his first time starring as a live-action superhero after playing Groot in the Guardians of the Galaxy films.

Press junkets, which I’ve attended off and on for nearly a decade, are never well-oiled machines. They are packed with Hollywood characters with conflicting agendas and they always run behind but usually end up being entertaining in their own chaotic way. So, in the spirit of movie junkets — where the idea is to get some sort of earned media for a project ahead of its opening weekend — here’s an account of how the Bloodshot presser went. 

The event surrounding Diesel is running behind, but nobody is particularly surprised by this. The star is known for his impossibly deep voice and affinity for tank tops, not his punctuality. Sources who have worked with Diesel say that he has kept movie crews waiting for hours while riding his scooter around set or showing friends his beloved margarita machine he keeps in his trailer. And I still remember where I was that day in 2016 when Dwayne Johnson's Instagram feed took a break from its regularly scheduled gym pics to talk about some, um, interpersonal issues he was having with a co-worker.

Behind the check-in table set up in a hallway, there's a video feed of Diesel sitting somewhere on the second floor of the London, a journalist across from him asking questions, and a Sony employee dutifully listening to the stream to make sure things go smoothly. An apologetic publicist tells me they are running behind. I now won't be speaking to Diesel until after 7 p.m., but I can hang out in the luxury suite that's full of fellow journalists and fancy food.

No big deal. Junkets are also great places to kill time, so I leave the hotel and spend an hour at Book Soup, where I buy a copy of The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, about how Silicon Valley is transforming capitalism into something sinister and destroying democracy. I'm going over my game plan for Diesel while walking back to the hotel. From hours of podcasts and videos, I know he's a tough interview — he can run out the clock without saying anything of substance. Or he can turn in poor interview performances that end up as unintended headlines.

Or another Diesel will show up, one that’s thoughtful and revealing as he speaks about being the young actor who had the guts to give Steven Spielberg notes on Saving Private Ryan or turning down $500,000 from Harvey and Bob Weinstein for artistic reasons back when he had no money. He's got stories to share about helping make blockbusters more diverse years before inclusion was a broad mandate in Hollywood. Tonight is a junket, so I only have 15 minutes, but hopefully I’ll get something of interest.

At 6:30 p.m. I'm back in the hotel suite. There are two suites set up, one for the journalists, the other an HQ for Sony. I pop my head into Sony HQ and folks are talking about something I don't quite catch — about moving something around in the schedule. I check out the journalists suite. Not much action there, just two strays like myself waiting around for our late interviews.

I grab my book and take a seat in the hallway, where things are more interesting. Diesel's publicist and team are concerned. Interviews are running behind, and they seem worried about how long they can keep the actor's attention. The lead publicist holds a piece of paper with a list of all the interviews they have committed Diesel to. The publicist doesn't want to cut anyone who is here in person, but cuts must be made, because dear God they need to get out of there by 8:30.

"He sucks on the phone," says the publicist, recommending they dump all the phone interviews scheduled for the evening. (I’ll pause here to note that I never publish off-the-record comments, but overheard remarks are fair game for Hollywood Reporter writers.)

Things devolve. The main publicist debates out loud: Should they cut GQ's video shoot? (I assume he means the Iconic Characters series.) That wouldn’t be good, given how popular that GQ series is, right? The publicist bandies about the names of a few movie blogs. Will they actually move the needle for Bloodshot's box office? Will they do anything for Vin's image? Probably not. Dump them.

I head back to the suite, and a few minutes later a journalist comes in after a short interview with Diesel. The interview was good, she says.

At 7:10 p.m., nearly two hours after my interview was scheduled, I’m making small talk with a crisply dressed man with a kind face. He's been coming in and out with snacks, bussing dishes. He works at the London and notes he enjoys being at the center of the junket scene, seeing the energy of the stars and journalists coming through week in, week out. "You're in it now," he tells me.

By now, I'm alone in the suite. I pick up the book again. Surveillance Capitalism author Shoshana Zuboff writes that we are entering an era in which companies "not only know our behavior but also shape our behavior at scale. … The goal now is to automate us." Depressing. At 7:20 p.m. I hear Diesel's booming voice. He is out in the hall, cheerfully giving his thanks to the team. Did I hear a goodbye?

It's 7:40 p.m. and people I haven't seen before are coming in and out of the suite, but they don't have anything to do with setting the interviews, so I don't bother to ask when my time will come. I’m now in full airport mode. There’s no need to ask the ticketing agent when your plane will be ready during a delay; it won’t make the boarding process happen any faster. I keep reading.

At 8:15 p.m. another Sony publicist walks into the suite, with bad news. Vin has left the building, and he's not returning. I mention that it’s not her fault and tell her that I enjoyed my time eating Sony's food in a nice hotel room and reading a book. (I’m Midwestern.) The rep suggests we can reschedule for a phoner next week. 

Didn't I once hear an anecdote about Diesel and phoners? I can't quite remember.

Anyway, Bloodshot opens in theaters on March 13.

A coda: With events in Hollywood (and even Vin Diesel tentpoles) being canceled or delayed left and right, I'm thinking of how much I'll miss them until things get back to normal. Months back I was on a red carpet standing next to a journalist from a rival outlet as all of us awaited the arrival of the film's star. After two hours, the star was ushered past us, granting us no interviews. The reporter from the rival publication spoke up. He yelled that it was disrespectful to keep us all waiting outside for hours and grant no interviews. The actor glared back, confused, but he kept walking down the carpet with his publicist. We started packing up, but two minutes later the actor returned alone, and stormed straight toward the reporter. I feared the actor would punch the reporter, but instead he simply pointed his finger, and said everyone there was just trying to do their job — including the publicist, who just wanted the movie to start on time. But, the actor would grant an interview. He said he respected the hell out of the reporter for saying something.