If Looks Could Kill

Last week, Vin Diesel, in black from head to toe, greeted reporters at the New York premiere of Sidney Lumet’s film, Find Me Guilty.

“Hi, have you seen your look-a-like on American Idol?” asked a tall brunette, referring to shorn-headed, big-packaged contestant Chris Daughtry.

“No,” said Mr. Diesel.

“Do you watch the show?”

“I’ve never seen the show.”

“What do you like to watch?”

“What do I like to watch? Sidney Lumet movies. And lots of them.”

For his role as the comic-savant mobster Giacomo “Fat Jack” DiNorscio, Mr. Diesel packed on over 30 pounds. More interesting: with the aid of synthetic hair and some blush, Mr. Diesel also plays a Caucasian.

“It was all movie-making magic,” he said. “Sidney Lumet said I’m going to get the best make-up artist on the planet to do this.”

“Do you still have the hairpiece?” asked one reporter.

“What hairpiece? Mr. Diesel said.

Plumping for pay to nail a part in a movie is nothing new. But race—discounting the Wayans Brothers’ follies—is another story altogether.

“What’s Vin Diesel’s nationality, his ethnicity, his background?” asked the actor Andre Braugher at the premiere’s after-party at Gallagher’s Steakhouse in the theatre district. Guests wove though a forest of circular counters on iron stalks sprouting from the restaurant’s floor.

“It reminds us always of that omnipresent sort of convention in the film industry in which people with dark hair can play anything,” Mr. Braugher said of Mr. Diesel’s on-screen performance. “So, Al Pacino can play Italian or Cuban or Jewish or anything, and that’s how movies are made and sold. That’s the power of the box office. And once again, it’s a testament to the power of the actor to win people over in terms of their portrayal. I mean, it is what it is; it’s star power itself at the box office.”

Annabella Sciorra, whose big theatrical break came in 1991 when she played opposite Wesley Snipes in Spike Lee’s “Jungle Fever,” plays Fat Jack’s ex-wife.

What does think of charges against HBO’s The Sopranos—that it is… marinara-face? Lasagna-face? (What is the Italian-American equivalent of blackface?) She is, after all, portraying a mobster’s wife.

“I’m just an actor, you know,” she said. “I don’t really have issues with The Sopranos or with this film and I think the people that do need to do other things and be more active in their lives and they should go out and make the movies that they want to make about Italian-Americans that they think are interesting.”

—Nicholas Boston

If Looks Could Kill