Around 2012, Vin Diesel signed on to lead a film adaptation of the TV series Kojak, about an upbeat but cynical New York detective. A year later, he mentioned on Facebook that he wanted Ang Lee to direct the project. While that didn’t happen, the two found a way to work together with Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.
During an interview with Collider at the film’s press junket in New York, Diesel explained:
“I have always said that I wanted to work with Ang Lee. Before the hiatus, before the force majeure during the Furious 7 process, I was gonna have a huge window to make a movie and I wanted to do Kojak, and I wanted Ang Lee to direct Kojak. This is before I knew he was already working on something, and I think that’s where it started. He knew that I wanted him to direct Kojak and then he was creating this role.”
In Billy Lynn, Diesel plays Shroom, a character that wasn’t as “fleshed out” in the original book by Ben Fountain. On film, he’s this buddhist commander for Billy’s unit and his lessons ring in the soldier’s mind when he comes home from Iraq for a victory tour across America.
“It was [Lee’s] creative stamp that was referenced in this Shroom character, and so he said to me, “He is a soldier that’s like Rambo meets Buddha, so I feel like your the person to play this role.” And, so, yeah, I guess that’s how it happened.”
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk also stars Kristen Stewart, Garrett Hedlund, Chris Tucker, Steve Martin, and newcomer Joe Alwyn. The film is now playing in limited release and expands in more theaters nationwide on November 18th. Watch our interview with Diesel above, including some tidbits on Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 and Baby Groot.