Answer by Jonathan Brill:
Paul Walker wasn’t really the lead in the Fast and Furious series, but he’s never played in a more high profile role in a bigger movie.
Walker played second and third bananas in a bunch of great teenage roles in high profile movies before The Fast and the Furious such as Pleasantville, Varsity Blues, The Skulls, and She’s All That. He was the perfect complement to the stars of those films, and so made the perfect choice to complement the far more charismatic Vin Diesel in a relatively low-budget action film targeted at teenagers called The Fast and the Furious. But the thing that made him one of the best second bananas in history made it impossible for him to really hold a movie on his own.
Not for lack of trying. He had a real shot in the screen adaptation of Michael Crichton’s Timeline, Running Scared, and eventually Takers – but none of those movies were really great, and his performance never warranted any opportunities that were any better.
Here’s what I wrote about his role in:
Paul Walker wasn’t going to bring home any Best Actor awards and one could even argue that The Rock and Vin Diesel are bigger draws in the series, but Walker’s Brian O’Connor was the glue guy that tied all the narratives together. He played a familiar, good buddy down the street-type whose only faults were allowing his loyalty to cloud his judgment and a weakness for driving too fast. Basically, a character everybody could love. Walker was the Nick Carraway of the series, allowing us to use him as the boring, good guy protagonist while Diesel and even Tyrese got to take their turn as the sexier and more interesting Gatsby. In the way that Fast and Furious is the vehicle through which grown-ups indulge in a bit of fast-driving, rule-breaking fantasy, Walker provided the perfect lead for us to project through to connect with the compelling characters and stories in the series.
The thing about Nick Carraway types is that they’re complements to whomever they’re playing with, but won’t ever shine bright enough to hold the spotlight. Walker was great at this, but unfortunately it means he wasn’t destined to carry a movie on his own, and as we’re trying to appreciate his body of work, we’re left looking for glimpses of him behind bigger stars.