ust outside of downtown Miami, away from the beaches we know so well, several souped-up cars are revving up for 2 Fast 2 Furious.

  Vin Diesel may not be around behind the steering wheel this time around, but 29-year-old Hollywood heartthrob Paul Walker is back, reprising his role as the renegade undercover cop, but stripped of

his badge.

  Now, Walker's Officer O'Conner, is on the run, and is recruited to infiltrate the Miami street-racing circuit in an effort to redeem himself. The new flick is under the direction of John Singleton (Shaft) who is happy for the change of pace.

  "I went to film school because I was interested in all types of movies and I believe that I can make all different types of films" he explains between setting up shots and doing a bit of fishing on the side. "I have been keen to make it hip and fun, as it's my first PG-13 film, but at the same time I want to find a
little edge in it, so it's not just a bubblegum movie."

  The director admits to feeling some pressure in delivering a sequel to the original hit. "The biggest pressure has always been to make the coolest movie possible. My goal is for people to see this film and forget there ever was a first The Fast and the Furious. I think I've been basically imbued with the task of being able to set this up so that there's able to be a third, fourth and fifth one, and that's a great challenge."

  Paul Walker, who was starting to establish himself at the time of The Fast and the Furious, has since emerged as a major Hollywood player. Relaxed, tanned and fit, wearing jeans and a red T-shirt, the fast-talking star says that nothing much has changed despite his elevated star status.

  "The only thing that's really changed is that I think a few more people from Hollywood seem to know who I am and I am on more people's radar," the actor says. "Aside from that, back home I still hang out with the same people and do the same things I always do, except hang around malls."

  While co-star Vin Diesel and director Rob Cohen opted not to return to the anarchic world of illegal drag-racing in 2 Fast 2 Furious, Walker recalls, with a laugh: "The contract from the first one had an option on me."

  Replacing the pair is Singleton behind the camera and singer Tyrese Gibson as a
character called Roman Pearce. "I liked Tyrese right away," says Walker, "because he was real and seemed to me like a kid that was really excited to have the opportunity to potentially be in a movie."

  In the sequel, Walker describes his character as that of being "like Vin's character in the first one," adding: "Police don't fare too well in prison and that's what I am potentially looking at, so I take off immediately."

  "I use the skills that I've acquired being a cop to more or less figure how to live underground, such as coming up with an alias." There, he meets a sexy undercover cop, played by beautiful model Eva Mendes. "She goes undercover with the biggest drug lord in Miami and ends up living a kind of double life," Mendes explains.

  "She gets really personally involved and ends up living with him and indulging in his lifestyle. She kind of likes it, but she's still trying to do the right thing and then she meets the other undercover cop, Paul Walker. And she likes him, too, so she's kind of a little promiscuous little thing who's caught in the middle of this triangle."

  Although Mendes doesn't do as much driving as she would like, car fanatic Walker relishes living out his own personal obsession with cars, which began well before The Fast and the Furious came his way. "Growing up, there were always Motor Trend, Car and Driver and Automobile magazines around the house, and in high school I used to go to the drag races all the time," says Walker.

  Starring in The Fast and the Furious has turned him into a semi-professional circuit racer. "I've gone into circuit racing and I'm actually going to be licensed just shortly after finishing this film," he says, excitedly.

  The actor couldn't be happier and, while his good looks might overshadow his abilities as an actor, Walker is unconcerned. "Up until recently, I just thought I was the luckiest guy in the world and it was just a matter of time that people found me out and I wouldn't be doing this much longer. But with the success of the first Fast and Furious, I'm like, 'Whoa, man! I think you should really start enjoying this now because, if you want, you could potentially stay around as long as you like.' "

  Director Singleton has nothing but high praise for his young star. "He's a real good-looking guy and a lot of the people that he was working with before wanted him to be just that and not to ACT, while I was like 'You're going to act your ass off during THIS movie.' "

- Paul Fischer