In the outpouring of shock over the sudden death of Paul Walker last weekend, everyone who had personal encounters with the actor seemed to agree that the only movie star-like thing about him was his striking good looks.
I met the actor at a promotional event for “Varsity Blues” in 1999 and was impressed by his guy-next-store niceness and the even-handed way he connected with everyone around him — whether they were fellow actors, movie studio PR people, the press, or the hotel servers who were working the junket.
Walker seemed unaware of his own attractiveness and he behaved as if his growing fame was the result of luck rather than talent.
The actor was seriously dressed down for his press interviews — he looked like he might have just rolled out of bed — but his charisma could not be hidden and his straightforward manner set him apart from some of the other performers I met that day (Jon Voight was so emotionally wound up about something that he was unsettling to be around, to say the least).
Walker clearly enjoyed the way that movie money was enabling him to pursue his love of the outdoors, traveling the country, and meeting new people.
In an earlier era, with a studio to groom and guide him, Walker could have become an A-list star, but he often appeared to amble from film to film with minimal interest in the roles he was playing. The actor’s looks gave him the sex appeal of a major league movie star in the Paul Newman tradition, but many of his performances were under-powered emotionally.
Landing the lead in the 2001 hit “The Fast and the Furious” was both a blessing and a curse for Walker, granting him a lucrative franchise that lasted 12 years — he was working on the seventh movie in the series at the time of his death — but making his work as an actor secondary to the spectacular stunts.
I think Walker was at his best in the underrated 2001 thriller “Joy Ride” (above), where he appeared to be energized by having to play off that live-wire character actor Steve Zahn in the role of Walker’s black sheep brother.
I doubt that Walker’s appealing underacting was enough to build a cult on, but he had the sort of undeniable star quality that added lustre to any movie in which he appeared.