And then I realize—no wonder he’s so uncomfortable. Diesel has put himself on a pressure-cooker timetable worthy of Jack Bauer. He’s transitioning fast. It took Gibson two decades and four Lethal Weapons, not to mention What Women Want, before he amassed the cash and the cojones to take on The Passion of the Christ. And here’s Diesel, a relative arriviste, trying to vault from The Pacifier to a Hannibal-in-Punic trilogy like he’s crossing the street. Of course people are looking at him. They’re scratching their heads over those violent lane changes, waiting for him to swerve off the road.

By now, the Soho House is being pounded with hip-hop, the billiard room is filling up with smoke (including some from Diesel’s own American Spirits—“Things’ll kill ya”), and the actor’s BlackBerry is starting to buzz persistently. He’s got plans, he says, but he won’t say with whom. “If I gave you even the initials,” he says, “it would be all over the newspapers tomorrow. Got to keep it q.t.”

Okay, maybe he’s screwing with me. But whatever. A man with plans this big probably needs to keep some of them to himself. All that’s left now is the Big Exit—the confident $20 Million Man striding off to his unknowably impressive appointments. Except the Big Exit never comes. Instead, there is the Self-Conscious Retreat: As we get up to leave, Diesel says, “Watch this. Walk in front of me and see what happens. Don’t walk behind me, because you won’t catch it.” So I do, and sure enough every head in the room swivels as we pass—men and women, ogling. In the lobby he says, “See what I mean? Sick. What’s wrong with people?”