Born to a theater director and a psychologist (and sometimes astrologer), in interviews, Diesel has been guarded about his ethnic background. He started acting at the age of 7 at the Theater for the New City and continued to work with the theater throughout his adolescence. After working as a bouncer at several Manhattan nightclubs, studied English at New York’s Hunter College.
Diesel dropped out of college short of graduation in order to create his first film, Multi-Facial. Diesel wrote, produced, directed and starred in the short film about a struggling actor willing to play any ethnicity in order to work. The film was accepted and screened at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival in 1995. His following film, a full-length feature called Strays (also self-produced), was accepted at the Sundance Film Festival.
Diesel’s work attracted the attention of noted director Steven Spielberg, who was then starting work on his World War II epic Saving Private Ryan (1998). Spielberg tailored a featured part for Diesel and following the movie’s release, Diesel found big-budget opportunities coming his way. In 2000, he turned in a noted performance in the otherwise-ignored Pitch Black. He then joined Ben Affleck and Giovanni Ribisi as a crooked stock-broker in Boiler Room.