Paul Walker took everything in life at a slow pace – except cars.
He not only starred in five of the six “Fast and Furious” box-office hits, in which he played an undercover cop in the world of illegal street racing, but he owned and raced his own cars. His death this weekend in a fiery crash in a Porsche was shocking and tragic but not totally unexpected. The blond-haired, blue-eyed actor, described by one director as “a young Steve McQueen,” loved his cars.
Here is an excerpt from a 2009 interview with the Orange County Register that gives you an idea of what fast cars meant to the actor, whose life was cut short at age 40 on a road north of Los Angeles as he headed from a charity event. The car was driven by a friend, but authorities have not determined a cause for the single-vehicle accident. Police have been quoted as saying that speed probably was involved.
Q: How old were you when you got your first car?
A:I was 18.
Q. What was it?
A. A 1986 Ford Ranger pickup truck.
Q. When did you get your first speeding ticket?
A.Probably within a month of that. They nailed me.
Q. Who taught you how to drive?
A.My mother. My father didn’t have the patience for it, particularly for a stick. I learned on my mother’s automatic. But then they gave me my father’s truck and I had to learn a stick the hard way. I can’t even duplicate now what I did to that poor truck.
Q. How excited were you to get your license?
A.I can’t describe it. It symbolized freedom. That’s what a driver’s license is all about. But I have to say that I had no problem being picked up by my friends with licenses for the two years before that. That’s why I waited so long to get my license. My friends were right down the street and were always willing to pick me up. I didn’t have to pay for gas or insurance. I was no dummy.
Q. Now you’re in movies that inspire other kids to drive. Do you appreciate the circle of life inherent in that?
Walker was born in Glendale and attended high school in the San Fernando Valley. His mother was a model, and she encouraged her son to follow her into the profession. By the time he was 18, he had been in more than 60 national commercials. He gave up modeling and tried his hand at college, but was not nearly as successful. In fact, he attended six or seven colleges in as many years.
“I worked the community college circuit,” he told the Register. “I didn’t take to college. I couldn’t sit still that long.”
He got small roles in films such as “Pleasantville,” “The Skulls” and “Varsity Blues” and immediately moved to Huntington Beach to get away from the glare of the Hollywood spotlight.
“That’s why I live in Huntington Beach,” he explained in another interview with the Register. “I can just disappear. My representatives can’t get a hold of me and that’s the way I like it. They even call my mom looking for me but she won’t tell them anything.”
When he was hiding out in Orange County, he lived with friends a few blocks from the beach and said his time was pretty much divided between the two loves of his life – his daughter, who lived with her mother but visited her dad on a regular basis, and outdoor sports.
“I play basketball and volleyball. I skate. I surf. I race cars. I do everything people do outdoors in Southern California because that’s what I am – a guy from Southern California.”
He also went broke. To get by, he panhandled in front of Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm. If you were approached by a handsome young man in front of those theme parks in the early 1990s with a story about desperately trying to get to Sacramento to see his girlfriend, you might have met Paul Walker.
He said later that those years of panhandling helped him with his acting skills, and in 2001, his career made a dramatic wheelie when he was cast in “The Fast & the Furious.” He starred in the sequel, was left out of the third film because it took place in Japan, and then returned for the fourth, fifth and sixth films. He had been filming the seventh “Fast & Furious” film, which was expected to be released next summer.
The franchise not only made him rich, but brought him to the attention of other filmmakers, including Clint Eastwood (“Flags of Our Fathers”) and Frank Marshall (“Eight Below”).
“He’s a real movie star,” Marshall said at the time. “The camera loves him, he’s got presence and he has charisma on screen. With those qualities, along with those blue eyes and outdoorsy image, he reminds me of a young Steve McQueen.”
Producer Neil Moritz, who hired Walker for three films, added: “Paul is one of these guys who appears on screen and you have to watch him. He’s got those incredible looks, but he also comes across as a real man. Girls want to be with him and guys just want to be him.”
Still, Walker seemed at odds with his fast-rising profile in Hollywood. Although he said he wanted roles that didn’t involve driving fast cars, he seemed to shy away from the spotlight. He once turned down a lucrative offer to play the title role in “Superman.”
“My accountant hates me for that one, but that’s not what I want to do with my life. I don’t want to do just anything that comes around because it pays a lot of money. I finally care about my career and I’m going to pick my jobs very carefully.
“And, if that doesn’t work out, there’s always panhandling.”
By BARRY KOLTNOW/ ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
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