Editor’s note: This is part of a weeklong series about “The Fast & the Furious” and its impact on the car world.
It was great being pals with the movie reviewer at The Arizona Republic, the guy who not only would see all the A-list new releases but would often take me along. And once in a while, he needed to tap into my expertise of car-guy stuff.
Such was the case when in 2001, he asked me to go with him to see The Fast and the Furious, a film that promised to tap into the Los Angeles street-racing culture and the new generation of import tuners, which previously had not been plumbed to any depth by Hollywood.
The movie was pretty cool, although I was disappointed that it deviated from the tuner racing scene to become more of a cops-vs-bad-guys caper story. Still, there were some impressive chase scenes, stunts and such, always good for popcorn munching.
But the best part came later when my movie-reviewer buddy told me that the lead actor, Paul Walker, was in town for an interview and I was invited to go along. Interviewing movie stars was old hat for him, but I was excited about meeting this new leading man who had so much going for him.
We went up to Walker’s room in a Phoenix luxury hotel and knocked on the door. It swung open and there he was to greet us with a cheerful smile on his face. No PR presence or entourage to be seen, just the movie star and the two newspaper guys.
This, I quickly learned, was Walker’s laid-back approach to the media and stardom in general. He was a regular guy, great-looking of course, but still like someone you might know from the neighborhood, or a guy you’d shoot pool with at the bar. No glitz, no pretention, just a relaxed demeanor as he answered our softball questions about making the movie, cars in general and how his life had taken such a great turn.
Although at that point, no one knew what a big deal The Fast and the Furious would be or that it would spawn endless sequels, or that Paul Walker would become a bona fide Hollywood icon for legions of young fans. Or that sadly, after so much success, he would die at such a young age in a senseless road crash.
But on that day, during our hotel-room interview, I mentioned to him that he reminded me somewhat of Steve McQueen in the film role, and he jumped up with excitement. McQueen was his movie hero, a wide-eyed Walker said, and this was apparently the greatest of all compliments that one could make to him.
We hung out with Walker for about an hour, an enjoyable time that went by too quickly. My impression even to this day is of a totally nice guy who was comfortable with his movie fame without making too big a deal about it. All I know is, his death in 2013 made me profoundly sad, as it still does today.
Read our other “The Fast and the Furious” coverage: