When Scott Caan was cast in Varsity Blues, he wondered whether or not he’d made a big mistake.
“I had never really been on location for a long amount of time. When you’re in your 20s and leaving all your friends and family, you have no idea what it’s going to be like,” Caan told EW. “I was complaining to my friends like, ‘I’m not going to like any of these guys.’ A bunch of actors, you know?”
Paul Walker was one of the first people he met. In another world, the handsome California native could have been one those awful actor-types that Caan feared he’d have to tolerate. But if you’ve read anything about Walker, that wasn’t the case. “[We] immediately started talking about surfing and jujitsu and got an apartment together that night,” he said. They settled on a two-bedroom outside of Austin, where they’d live and party and bond for the duration of the shoot. “It was like a frat house,” Caan laughed, remembering that there would regularly be up to seven people crashing on their floor and couches.
It was also the beginning of what would become a 15-year friendship.
Despite the intense, immediate connection between the competitive adventure lovers, being working actors meant that Paul and Scott spent more time apart than they did together, often going months and sometimes years between visits.
“I like to say, ‘Paul would do Paul sometimes,'” said Caan. “He would be super connected, and then he would have a trip or a mission or something that he wanted to do, and you’d go, all right, Paul’s going to go do whatever Paul does, and then in six months he’ll tell you about it and you’ll pick up right where you left off.”
The next time they teamed up professionally was for 2005’s Into the Blue. “It’s about these characters, these best friends who are constantly in competition with the diving stuff. I had that relationship with him,” said Caan, who jumped at the chance as soon as he heard that Walker was on board. Their first scene together found the friends play-wrestling — oddly appropriate for two men who bonded over an interest in jujitsu.
“I wonder if Paul didn’t get a hold of the script early and say, ‘Oh, we’ve got to be wrestling,'” Caan laughed.
Besides losing a good friend, the industry also lost an actor who may not have reached his full potential. Caan went to the premiere of Running Scared with Walker and remembers thinking: “That’s not somebody who’s just trying to phone it in and collect a check.” He knew that Walker had an edginess and a passion in him that he hadn’t been able to explore on film. “The unfortunate thing is he was just so goddamn pretty. It was hard for people to put him in those roles,” said Caan.
Walker clearly led a full life outside of his acting work and often stressed that movies were just one aspect of him, but Caan saw another side of his friend. “He downplayed it. He was like, ‘Look, this isn’t my thing.’ But he’s a passionate dude and passionate people cannot [do things] half-assed. It’s just not part of who he is. I think part of Paul was downplaying it too. I feel like when we’re sitting around being guys he’s of course going to say, ‘Oh, this is just my job.’ But he cared about it a little bit more than I think he liked to let on,” he said. “There was a lot more for him to do and a lot more for him to try as an actor.”
Caan was actively working on developing projects for Walker that he’d do once he’d finished with his big-budget franchise. “Not to take anything away from the Fast & Furious, but he could do that stuff in his sleep,” he said. “Two months ago, I got a call from him and his partner Brandon [Birtell] saying when Paul’s done with all these bigger movies, he wants to do a small movie. He knows I make small independent movies and he wanted to do something that he could really put his heart into…[Brandon] goes, ‘Look, he has these two scripts that you wrote and he wants to do them.’
“In the 15 years that I’ve known him — and it’s a small business — I’ve never heard a single person say anything bad about Paul. Not a single person. And I know people say bad things about me. People have said bad things about just about everybody that I know whether it’s true or not,” said Caan, who expressed multiple times how much he loathes the Hollywood grief-machine. But Walker was different, and that’s why he wanted the world to know just how unique an experience it was to be able to count him as a friend. “He was a mensch. When people pass, I know everybody likes to glorify who they were. In this case, for me, he literally embodied the word. He was just a straight-up, classy, no-Hollywood-bullsh– kind of guy.”
Caan last saw his friend over a year ago in Hawaii. “I literally still can’t process it. He was a special, special, special dude who just kind of lit up the room and the people who were around him,” he said. “He was one of two or three people in my life who I’ve met like that. I don’t know how everybody else felt, but as I said, when he calls you ‘friend,’ that means ‘brother.'”