|Paul Walker. 1973 – 2013.|
Born in 1973 to a sewer contractor and a former fashion model in Glendale, California, Paul Walker, or Paul William Walker IV, had early beginnings as an actor, appearing in his first commercial when he was 2. Walker would begin his rise by venturing into television, appearing in television shows like “Highway to Heaven” and landing a lead role in “Throb”. In 1998, Walker makes the transition to feature films with his debut appearance in Steve Boyum’s “Meet the Deedles” that would launch his acting career for years and easily with plenty more years ahead of him.
While many will always remember the late Paul Walker as Brian O’Conner from the “Fast and Furious” franchise, there are many roles throughout his acting career that may have gone unnoticed but do not deserve to be forgotten. Walker’s career is one that has gone through various phases from the heartthrob next door to the hardened action star, as he experimented with different genres until he became known as the speed devil behind the wheels.
In memory for his untimely demise at the moment when his acting career was heading towards its peak and away from just being in a single franchise, we look back at the major and minor roles that had left an impression and would forever be preserved in the everlasting memory of film.
After his feature debut in the silly comedy “Meet the Deedles”, Walker’s young and dashing looks would earn him his next role in Gary Ross’ “Pleasantville”. In this satirical black-and-white comedy about two ’90s teens being transported into the world of a morally decent ’50s sitcom, Walker plays as Skip Martin, the captain of the local high school basketball team, who gets tangled with one of the modern teens, played by Reese Witherspoon.
Walker gives a swooning performance as the straight and charming guy bound for greater things in his life when Skip’s youthful innocence for a healthy (and ‘safe’) relationship gets broken by the wiles and aggression of Witherspoon’s character that would spark a change to tear apart the morally uptight community of the sitcom world.
“Pleasantville” would be remembered as one of the early roles when Walker was capitalising on his squeaky clean image to be the object of desire for teenage girls, as he continues using that image to be in favourite teen romantic comedies like “She’s All That” and “Varsity Blues”.
The Fast and the Furious (2001)
After making the much disliked “The Skulls” with director Rob Cohen, the director initially pitched “The Fast and the Furious” to Universal as a vehicle for Walker to stardom. However, it was Vin Diesel growling muscle-bound bad boy that would overpower Walker’s cleaner undercover cop Brian O’Conner in the world of underground racing. This created some doubt that Walker would be remembered for being in that one movie with death-defying stunts in fast cars.
After a few attempts to step out from the fast cars, little did Walker expect that “The Fast and the Furious” was the start to his most defining franchise that he would appear in every installment of it, except for “Tokyo Drift”. If it hadn’t started here, his name would not have been as remembered by those who mourn his death today.
Into the Blue (2005)
After a less well received sequel to “The Fast and the Furious” in 2003, Walker decided to dive deeper into character in John Stockwell’s “Into the Blue”.
Walker is Jared, a bum diver living in the Bahamas with his girlfriend when he and a couple of friends find a shipwreck filled with treasures and valuable substances. While thinking they had struck an underwater jackpot, Jared and his mates face a different problem on land when a loan shark, who one of his friends owes to, comes sniffing for a hefty repayment and is willing to go for dangerous extends to get it.
Aside from Jessica Alba in a bikini, “Into the Blue” would be remembered by the women who couldn’t get their eyes off Walker’s abs. It also gave an avenue for Walker to play as a tough leading role for a hard-hitting thriller, combined with his natural looks and attractive physique.
It was only too bad that the fad of seeing leading men topless and beaches didn’t last long, because the water-themed environment was a natural fit for Walker as he is a passionate marine biologist off screen and even appeared in a special National Geographic program about sharks.
Running Scared (2006)
Not being able to float as just someone with the looks in squeaky clean roles, Walker needed to add something grittier and found that challenge in Wayne Kramer’s crime thriller “Running Scared”.
This time as Joey, a caring family man who is secretly a ‘cleaner’ for the mob who is tasked with making sure that the bloody mess left behind from the mob’s dirty jobs are ‘cleaned’ of any evidence. When Joey comes into possession of a gun that is crucial evidence against a mobster, Joey’s secret job comes to light when those who would rather see the evidence disappear comes and endangers his family.
This mostly underrated gem may come to be known as one of the best kept secrets of Walker’s performance (and one of the most profane as well). His performance of rage and desperation is so powerful here that it would have been the case for him to pursue down the path of a villain if he hadn’t been called back to resume his duties for “Fast & Furious” in 2009.
Flags of Our Fathers (2006)
Showing that he does have some weight for drama in the heartwarming “Eight Below”, Walker’s credentials as a serious actor will never be dismissed after his role in the war epic by Clint Eastwood. Walker plays as Hank Hansen, one of the men who fought in the bitter battle at Iwo Jima during the waning years of World War II, culminating in the symbolic rise of the American flag when the battle is won.
Part of the reason why Walker was cast in “Flags of Our Fathers” could have been for his boyish all-American look that was vital in portraying the terrible changes brought about by war, but it was role that couldn’t just rely on good looks alone. Walker added strength and depth to his character that made a connection with a real person, rather than just another nameless soldier who died in the war.
Vehicle 19 (2013)
“Vehicle 19” was seen most often as Paul Walker’s attempt to strike out on his own with his own action franchise, given the similar premise involving a car but without the presence of his “Fast & Furious” co-stars. It was also the first time Walker started making contributions behind-the-camera when he acted as an executive producer for this made-in-South-Africa thriller, that sought to catapult further his most recognisable role as a skilled driver meeting tough situations.
It would be fair to say that Walker pretty much carried “Vehicle 19” on his own as a culmination of all the roles that he has been through, mixing grit and strong screen presence. Despite some minor faults in the script, Walker’s acting was faultless and did press the buttons that he would have been an effective one man show. By and large, “Vehicle 19” was a promising start to what would have been an exciting solo career ahead for Walker, if it hadn’t been tragically cut short.
There should be little doubt that Walker would have kept up the momentum in the yet-to-be released “Hours” and “Pawn Shop Chronicles” (his reunion flick with Wayne Kramer), though fans of his who would be watching them will be feeling a sense of loss instead of anticipation, and his absence in the next installment of his most beloved franchise would surely be felt.