Let's Discuss: Remembering Paul Walker

The tragic, and shocking news that Paul Walker had passed away in a car crash alongside his friend Roger Rodas has cast a long dark shadow. Even over a week later, the news is still powerfully surreal. Walker, an actor mostly known for his role in the ‘Fast & Furious’ franchise, was not an actor that came around every day nor was he your typical celebrity.

There was something that always set him apart, an enduring light of decency that was constantly at the surface of any role he played. He had the striking looks that could have easily seen his career typecast playing the conceited, preppy guy forever and because of a spirit that spoke to more than that, he went another direction.

For years, Walker perfected the art of being the exceptionally handsome, "every-man," that audiences could root for. He possessed a rare mix of warmth and humor that made him easily accessible as a screen-mate to a plethora of co-stars. Never was this clearer than in his memorable turn in road-thriller “Joy Ride” opposite Steve Zahn and the criminally underrated beach-yarn, “Into the Blue” with Scott Caan.

He knew buddy chemistry, something mainstream audiences seemed to pick up on in the “Fast” franchise with his chemistry opposite Vin Diesel, in the original. He knew how to play off of other actors, a rare gift and he made them better because of it. 

From the outset of his career, it was clear that he was an actor devoid of ego. He played the supportive straight guy archetype with vigor, when others wouldn’t have applied themselves as readily or at all.

He also knew how to pick projects, a skill that requires an actor to not only choose something based off a script that could translate completely different on-screen but to know that in the span of a year or more, it would still be relevant.

Hearing that Walker was in a movie was, personally, a telling vote of promise. Flashing back through his movies in the last week, I came to realize that there wasn’t much I hadn’t seen or failed to enjoy.

Aside from the “Fast” franchise, there was the retro-comedy “Pleasantville”, the football dramedy “Varsity Blues”, the guilty pleasure rom-com “She’s All That”, the preppy thriller “The Skulls”, the time-travel drama “Timeline”, and the dog weeper “Eight Below”. Those were higher profile films and they were substantially entertaining.

When it comes to his lesser known films, their box office unpopularity wasn’t due to a lack of quality. The action-comedy “The Death and Life of Bobby Z”, the Christmas drama “Noel” and life-contemplator “The Lazarus Project” which can still haunt a late night, thought process, were all vastly respectable films and he was really good in all of them. His movies were always something fun to look forward to. Truth be told, he’s been one of the most consistently seen, screen actors in the last 15 years.

When it comes to a personal favorite, “Running Scared”, a gritty crime-thriller that has developed a quiet cult following is what stands out among his filmography. His work opposite Vera Farmiga gave him a chance to show a different side to his work and he grounded the emotionally frenetic hyperbole that engulfed the film with his sincere screen persona and passionate performance.

It was one of his only movies where the audience was given substantial doubt as to whether he was playing a good guy. Because of his performance, it allowed room for the audience to question and the emotional stakes were significantly heightened as a result. It is a must-see movie and it owes most of that to his presence.

More than all of the movies, there is something that Walker left a much more indelible impression with, personally, his off-screen persona. When his career began to really catch fire, he was on countless entertainment television shows and at the time, something that always struck me was how he always talked about his daughter, freely, and endearingly.

He was a proud father. Where other entertainers have shied away from talking about that aspect of their lives, perhaps in fear they’d somehow lose their sex-symbol status, Walker never did. He beamed talking about her and it was this refreshingly genuine openness that set him apart. I always had and will have a personal respect for him just because of that.

In an industry where everybody talks about everybody; especially actors, I’ve never once, heard a bad word about him and for a guy who’d been in the business as long as he was, that is an outstanding endorsement. Missing the man behind the movies is where his loss hits especially hard and the tremendous outpouring from people in the last week, truly speaks to his impact.

It was just October when writing about “Joy Ride” had elicited an exciting recall. Now, there’s the heavy knowledge that there won’t be many more new movies with him in it. From now on, there will always be a void where his presence should’ve been.

Movies have a way of making you feel that actors will live forever and in a strange way, they do. Strikingly, Alec Baldwin had mentioned this in his 2013 doc “Seduced and Abandoned” as being, one of the most alluring aspects of being captured on-screen for posterity. I hadn’t truly realized how powerful that was until now and it’s something fans of Walker can be grateful to have.