”Halfway through his cranberry soda at Soho House, the posh members-only club in New York’s overrun meatpacking district, Vin Diesel gets rattled. Two guys in hipster glasses have grabbed the table next to us in a not-so-subtle bid to intrude on a Movie Star’s personal space. Or so Diesel believes.

“There’s a million tables,” says Diesel, eyeing the interlopers in the mostly empty restaurant, his sandblasted voice rising all goofy and slurred, like he’s imitating a drunk. “But the monkey has to come over and look at me. And like, What is it? You can’t call it. It’s not a foul. It’s just surreal to me.”

Surreal? The man’s a star. He must be used to this sort of thing by now. But as diners start to trickle into Soho House’s steel-and-brick Drawing Room, Diesel, who was already restless—shifting back and forth in his chair, wringing his napkin, high-fiving me until my hand hurt—turns visibly annoyed. Now this…affront. I try to get him back on track, and he tries too. He does. But he’s got this point to make.

“Do you know what the fuck I would do if I could be a dick?” he says, screwing up his eyes like a pity-me schoolboy and making me laugh out loud. “My hands are tied. I can never be a dick. If they give me cold soup and I complain, now they got a story for the paper. ‘Eh, guy didn’t like cold soup. Who the fuck’s he think he is?’”

Up to this point, Diesel has answered that last question in bold, marquee type: He’s the first multicultural action star, a man who loves heisting cars and blasting bad guys. To look at him, in this crowd of jaded strivers with its tired Sex and the City vibe, he appears wholly unambiguous. Tight tee. Bulging biceps. Glowing Bluetooth clipped to his ear. Yep, action hero. Mr. Badass.

And yet, there it is, something lurking underneath that impressive cranial outcropping. Something soft that’s making him squirm. Here’s a guy who should be wearing a $20 million–a–picture grin. Instead, he’s sweating a couple of mouth-breathers, juiced about their walk-on part in his life. And then I realize what it is. Diesel wants way more than his fans might be willing to give him. He wants Brando status. He wants to make trilogies. He wants respect. And why should we be surprised? Diesel has always wanted more.

Just look what he did after gaining multiplex stardom with The Fast and the Furious and XXX, each of which grossed $140 million–plus. Most action stars would have run those franchises into the ground with sequels before moving on. But Diesel jumped off the action-movie bullet train and into the funny car of last year’s estrogen-fueled comedy The Pacifier, in which he plays unlikely nanny to a bunch of suburban bed wetters. It took in over $100 million.