Vin Diesel and Co-stars Explain the Crazy World of ‘xXx: Return of Xander Cage’

Vin Diesel Xander Cage

It has been 15 years since Vin Diesel graced the screen as Xander Cage in 2002’s xXx, which saw the massive movie star portraying super spy for the extreme sports generation. Diesel didn’t reprise his role in 2005’s xXx: State of the Union and worked instead on revitalizing his trademark franchise The Fast and the Furious. Better late than never, Diesel has revived xXx with xXx: Return of Xander Cage, a wild action movie that is remarkably silly and a whole lot of fun.

At the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills, Diesel and an array of his costars along with director D.J. Caruso held a massive press conference in support of their film. In fact, there were so many people on stage that few got to answer any questions aside from Diesel, not that it should come as a surprise that the actor-producer would dominate proceedings. xXx: Return of Xander Cage is his baby, and his work as star and producer puts him front and center in all matters relating to Xander Cage.

“I’m just going to take this minute to say thank you God for this incredible cast,” Diesel said of the film’s expansive and diverse cast.

“That was something that D.J. Caruso was really, really adamant and ambitious about, because it’s very ambitious to put a cast like this together,” Diesel elaborated on the global cast that comprises the gang backing Diesel’s Xander Cage. “I had been a fan of Donnie [Yen]’s for quite some time and the idea of bringing him into this kind of franchise just felt new and fresh and there are so many different styles. The way Donnie approaches a combat sequence is different than the way that [MMA star] Michael Bisping might approach it, different than the way Tony Jaa might approach it, or any of the characters here. To go into Bollywood – again, I knew Deepika [Padukone] from a screen test years earlier for Furious 7 – and to go into Bollywood and get the queen of Bollywood to bring into our global cast was so, so cool and it just keeps going. This was Nicky Jam’s first time being in a movie and he killed it. Ariadna [Gutiérrez-Arévalo]’s first time being in a movie.”

If you thought that perhaps Vin Diesel would run out of words to praise his cast, you’d be sorely mistaken. “Bisping was just a monster in the movie,” he continued. “This guy over here, Tony Jaa, his fighting style is completely unique. We’ve seen him and we’ve been in awe of him. I remember Quentin Tarantino being in my living room – I remember Quentin Tarantino in my living room talking about Tony Jaa in my living room and saying, ‘Oh my god, you gotta see Ong-bak. He’s so incredible.’ And he was my good luck charm in Furious 7, so when he came to this cast I felt like, okay, this is going to be, as my son says, a giant hit. Nina Dobrev comes in and she wanted to audition for a role that was not written for her type. It was a real comedic role. You see Nina and you see her beauty and you go, ‘How is she going to be so funny?’ And then she comes in and grabs ahold of that role and you can’t stop laughing when she comes on screen. She just has that presence.”

With so many cast members, Diesel still wasn’t done heaping praise on his co-stars. “Then D.J. says, ‘I got this guy, Tony Gonzalez.’ I’m like, ‘The tight end that’s the most incredible tight end?’ ‘Yeah, he’s going to be incredible in the movie.’ And then Tony Gonzalez comes in and he kills it in the movie and brings something incredibly fresh. Then, of course, Hermione [Corfield] is another incredible force in the film. She comes in and kills it. And then my little brother who has never done an American film before, this guy over here, Kris Wu, comes in and the second we start filming and do our first scene together everyone on set goes, ‘You guys have known each other for ten years.’

“And Ruby Rose, the goddess Ruby Rose. You all have heard me talk about Ruby Rose. That relationship between Adele and Xander is not like anything you’ve seen on film. There is so much unconditional love. It’s such a gender irrelevant bro-romance. It’s so powerful and it’s so today and we were very, very cautious – conscious of establishing that relationship. And to see that play out on film right now is just remarkable,” Diesel concluded by taking a long breath between wide, toothy smiles.

“But again, thank you God for this amazing cast!” he loudly proclaimed once again.

But 15 years is a long time between installments in a franchise. Why the long wait? “First of all, my assistant told me not to say this but I gotta be real, I needed to do xXx for myself because I needed to play a character that I could laugh again and smile again,” Vin Diesel explained. “I also felt it was time to introduce to the world a global cast in the way that we have that we have introduced the world to a global cast. There’s something so cool about the idea of going into other film markets and including their celebrated heroes and incorporating them into this franchise. In addition to that, I don’t think people have been having that much fun at the movies. I think that, you know, my son just on my way over here, my son Vincent, was saying how much he loves xXx and his sentiment was ‘It’s just fun, dad.’ That’s something I’m really proud of. So I think that’s why right now I think xXx needed to come out. I mean, is there political parallels? I don’t know, but I think more than anything the world needed a movie where we could just have fun.”

One thing that xXx: Return of Xander Cage pulls off that few films of its size even attempt is pass the Bechdel Test, which is a test that originated in a comic strip nearly 30 years ago. The rules are simple: the film must have two female characters, they must have a conversation, and that conversation must be about anything other than a man. It’s often failed in massive blockbusters despite its simplicity.

“When I was reading the script, I was like, ‘There’s a conversation here that needs to be had,’” Ruby Rose said of the film passing the Bechdel Test with ease. “And that is that these women are just so unique and different and special in their own way from Becky to Serena to Adele and to Toni Collette’s character as well. And they’re so necessary. And they’re so authentic and organic as well. The only thing I had trouble with was trying to pretend I didn’t like Deepika for, like, two months. Because we clearly adored each other and we’re just like, ‘Nope. Nope. Nope. Can’t be friends. We’re not supposed to like each other.’ And then we finally got to that scene and we’re like, ‘Ah, let’s just do this thing.’ And we have this amazing scene where not only do we realize that we’re going to be stronger if we join forces than to be separated and also gets rid of that pitting women against each other thing that I know a lot of cinema does.”

For Deepika Padukone, the strength of the female characters was key to the film’s appeal. “I think every woman in this movie is just so strong and powerful, not just in the movie but our own personalities are so strong and I think that’s what we bring to this movie,” she said. “That’s what makes this film unique – that the women in this movie are so strong, intelligent and powerful, like women in the world are today.”

The diversity in the cast also extends to the film’s action, with a wild array of fighting styles gracing the screen. For Donnie Yen, he approached with a sense of calm. “I just came in and had fun,” the action star said. “I know that I’m going to be working with Vin and that’s real exciting, and it was really exciting. Every day was like a carnival for me. He’s this very warm individual, a great producer. You know what? I think you could be an agent. You’ve been selling me and everybody else.”

“Donnie would come in so chill and relaxed. I’d be like, ‘How are you?’ ‘Yeah, I’m good,’ like with a little tea,” Ruby Rose said of her co-star. “Then I look at the script and it’s like Donnie’s going to do all this crazy things.”

“For me,” said Tony Jaa, “it’s my honor because I come from Thailand. Thailand is a really spiritual and wonderful country. I just wanted to say thank you, Vin Diesel.”

Perhaps the most interesting fighting style to appear in xXx: Return of Xander Cage was devised specifically for the film and is unlikely to appear in any other movie. “We were really trying to be really ambitious with the Xander character in creating something called MXMA,” Diesel explained. “Which is something you’ve never heard of and Bisping will tell you that he’s never heard of it, but the idea is martial arts with a motocross bike. In that sequence you see when Xander is fighting he’s beating you up with his motocross.”

In case you were wonder just what kind of craziness you could expect from xXx: Return of Xander Cage, MXMA might give you some idea. And that’s simply the tip of the absurdist action iceberg of xXx.

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