His life on screen in Fast & Furious films often bled into his off-screen existence, and Paul Walker embraced every minute of it.
Walker, who died in a car accident on Saturday at the age of 40, spent five movies playing former cop Brian O'Conner to Vin Diesel's racing street tough Dom Toretto, and they became such signature roles for them both that Fast fans would often ask Walker how Dom — not how Vin — was doing.
"I get that a lot," Walker said Monday from the Atlanta set of Fast & Furious 7 in one of his last interviews. "I'm Brian a lot more than I'm Paul Walker, which is awesome. When I hear, 'Hey Paul Walker!' my hair stands up on the back of my neck. It's uncomfortable. But when I hear 'It's Brian!' it's cool. I like Brian."
OBITUARY: Paul Walker dies at 40
Walker, a native of Glendale, Calif., was a child model and star before garnering roles in movies in the late 1990s such as Meet the Deedles, Pleasantville, She's All That, Varsity Blues and The Skulls.
His breakout, though, was 2001's Fast & Furious, which first teamed him with Diesel. Fast & Furious 7 (due out July 11) is the latest in the franchise. Walker was scheduled to return to the Atlanta set next week and wrap his role on the film Dec. 14 after visiting his daughter Meadow, 15, and friends over a Thanksgiving break.
Family became a major part of Walker's life offscreen but also with his Fast cast members, filmmakers and crew.
"When I did the first one, it was a cool movie where I got to run around in race cars, shoot a gun and kiss a hot chick. That's where I was at in my life then," Walker said. "Now that I'm older, there's a reason we're still here. The themes we hit on early on, whether the audience even realized what it was that was drawing them in is irrelevant. The second you lose the family, how significant are we?
"It's funny to see the people connect with it the way they do. I had no clue — I didn't get it. And now more I get it and I see it."
And for Walker, Brian was much more than a character who lived his life a quarter mile at a time. He was a guy who do anything for his wife and baby, or his crew.
"The guy's a sucker for family. Brian's a heart guy, he just is," Walker said. "He's dealing with daddy issues and the things that most of us are that are unresolved. What he's looking for, and he wouldn't be able to articulate it, is anything that's going to allow for healing, things that he's missed out on.
"What's Dom really representative of to him? He's the father and the older brother he never had. It's not a buddy. Brian doesn't even realize it. He gave up on having that kind of family or life before he even knew it was possible, and I don't think he ever thought it could be as great as what he has."
As much as Walker enjoyed the character moments, he also loved the work of an action-movie star: Just last week, he was working on one stunt where he ran off the back of a bus, jumped and had to grab the bumper of a car.
Being real and authentic was important for Walker because that's what the audience demanded, and he wanted to give it to them.
"That's what's capturing people," the actor said, "unless of course you're doing The Avengers where you've gotta be larger than life and you've gotta be out there and turn green and drag your arm down the side of a building and jump all over the place. But for us, I like having (special effects) to fall back on. You allow the creative minds to get in there and figure out how to do it real, and it gives you more to be proud of."
One of Walker's final on-screen roles was also one of his most intimidating. In the indie drama Hours (in select theaters and video on demand Dec. 13), he stars as a man who fights to keep his newborn daughter alive after birth complications amid the onslaught of Hurricane Katrina.
"What I've found recently is the heart, the soul, whatever you want to call it, it doesn't differentiate: If you really live the experience making a movie, it's the same as living it in real life, as crazy as it sounds," Walker said. "My victory in that movie was my victory in real life.
"You walk away with that, walking a little taller and a pop in your collar," he added. "You learn a lot about yourself. It's heroic in a different way. We're pretty awesome when we're tested. Call it the human spirit or whatever you want, I like celebrating our victories."