Interview Date: 01/21/2011
Run Date: 01/26/2011
As comfortable with a joke as a knock-out punch, Jason Statham is not just an action star and martial artist, he's an honest-to-God movie star. He has been since he first hit the screen in Guy Ritchie's comic crime tale "Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels" and its bigger budget follow-up, "Snatch." Following that up with a major role in the 2003 all-star caper, "The Italian Job," Statham is best known these days as the star of the "Crank" and "Transporter" franchises. Pushing 40, he maintains his discipline of doing as many of his own stunts as is practical and, appearing even more massively muscular in person than he is onscreen, he's stayed in shape for it. Meanwhile, even if most of his movies are far from instant classics, his considerable abilities as a performer are only growing. He had no problem playing a more complex role in the widely praised fact-based heist film, "The Bank Job," or holding his own with the likes of Sylvester Stallone and a roomful of uber-macho-men in last year's "The Expendables."
Nor does he lack any authority when stepping into the considerable shoes of ultimate filmic avenger Charles Bronson, and then sharing the screen with master thespians Ben Foster and Donald Sutherland, in his newest action vehicle. "The Mechanic" is director Simon West's remake of the hypnotically nasty 1972 actioner/character study. Statham portrays a professional killer who finds himself forced to eliminate his mentor who also is his only friend (Sutherland). Soon after, he finds himself mentoring the late friend's black sheep son (Foster) and learns, once again, why professional murderers tend to be lone wolves. Considering that it's from the director of "Con Air," it's no surprise that this new version severely tones down the chilling sociopathy and seriously amps up the action, which includes a hugely impressive leading-man leap from a very tall looking bridge. (Prior to finding his way on to the big screen, Statham was a competitive diver.)
In person, Statham comes across as almost exactly the guy you'd expect, right down to a Cockney accent that is significantly stronger in person than in some of his recent roles.
Bullz-Eye: We’ll just start right off talking about the movie. Now, I know you’re a fan of the original "The Mechanic.” Have you actually seen it lately or just read the script?
Jason Statham: I haven’t seen the original for a couple of years. I tend not to do that. I read the script and tried to stay away from any influences by seeing the new one.
BE: But you have fond memories of seeing it as a younger person?
JS: Yeah. I mean, I’m a big Bronson fan, you know, I’ve seen a lot of his films. I’ve always admired the heroes of the past, and Bronson is one of them.
BE: For sure. You mentioned some others earlier today, including Steve McQueen.
JS: Yeah. It’s almost repetitive to say. A lot of people have the same taste. You know, you mention Paul Newman and Steve McQueen, these are like the gods of their time. You know, they’re the guys’ guys. but the women like them too, I’m sure.
BE: That’s how it’s supposed to go. Now, I had forgotten before doing a little research that you were originally a diver. So, obviously, that jump off the bridge…it looks amazing on film.
JS: Yes. It’s funny, having come from that world and having a lot of balls with heights has paid dividends when we come to do a stunt like that. It means I can do it for real instead of having someone who looks like me trying to do it.
BE: When you’re talking about balls with heights, for those of us who get scared going out on a ladder, is it just something you didn’t have a fear of in particular, or is that something you had to work on?
JS: You could never just walk up to the top board and go, "Oh, this is easy." There’s always a progression. And you always have to build up your confidence. For me, it’s something I’ve done for so many years, so now it’s so ingrained it’s like riding a bike. If I get on a high board or a high sort of area, I can stand at the edge and I feel very comfortable. I’ve stood with my toes on the end of a platform for many years, so to stand there with all my feet on the edge of a very tall building is not a problem.
BE: Kind of going on the same theme, I’ve noticed a lot of very good actors, including you, who have a background in athletics. Do you think there are similarities, in a way, between athletics and…
JS: Who would you be mentioning?
BE: Oh, boy, a lot of people. Even someone who you kind of remind me of -- John Wayne.
JS: Oh, yeah?
BE: He was a football player at USC. Lots of people have done things that people have sort of forgotten about, because later [they became famous as actors]…some people were ballet dancers, which is very much like being an athlete.
JS: Yeah, yeah.
BE: I’ve just noticed there’s a lot of good actors where you kind of go into their background and you see some athletics in there.
JS: Yeah, it’s a good point. I don’t know. It gives you a good competitive spirit, and we have a great attention to focusing and preparing and sacrificing things. When you’re in a competitive sport, it’s all about preparation. And so you can learn a skill quite quickly. Or for what I did, the action choreography is very important so you can pick things up, you know, if you move your body and you can make adjustments, physically, very, very quickly. Some people, you know, they don’t have a sense of their limbs like people that come from sports. I don’t know. It’s a lot to do with confidence, but I think the focus and the preparation is very similar.
BE: I've read about a lot of people who've said their ballet training was helpful, like Chloe Moretz, from “Kick-Ass" [who I interviewed recently]. They all say that preparation was great for doing action sequences.
JS: Yeah, there’s no substitute. If you come from a sport and you want to do…especially if you’re doing action movies, yeah, you’re way ahead; way, way ahead.
BE: And this is a little more serious than some of the other movies you have done.
BE: I mean it's a little more grim. How do you approach that?
JS: I was quite happy, because a lot of the movies I do, they end up…most of them are a PG rating. A lot of the better sort of action movies that I have enjoyed of the past always seem to have a bit more of undiluted content. So I was glad to do a "hard R" that had a bit more of a grim reality somewhere in there. So, yeah, I was quite pleased about that.
BE: Do you think your co-star Ben Foster, who’s obviously very good at playing sort of disturbed individuals…
JS: He’s great at that.
BE: Do you think that helped you?
JS: Oh, God, yeah. He raised the game considerably. He’s very intense and, yeah, he was so good for the part. I mean, it’s a pleasure to work with somebody like that, because like I play this much cooler guy, he’s the ying to my yang. You know, this kid’s a hot-headed kid, and I think it was a great pairing. He’s such a great actor. He brings so much to the table, and I was very thankful for that.
BE: Going the opposite direction, you’re obviously very good with comedy. We'll talk more about that in a second, but you’re doing your first animated voice, as Tybalt in “Gnomeo & Juliet”.
JS: That’s right.
BE: Well, what was that like? Was that your first voice acting?
JS: Yeah. It’s weird, because you don’t have any images. You just have some sketches on a piece of paper saying, “This is the scene here.” It’s the opposite of what you might think. You have to do all of the voices’ and then they animate to the voice.
BE: Right. You do the voice first [before the film is animated].
JS: Yeah. You have to go in there. Thank God I was with somebody that was the best in the business to do it. They have made so many great animated films. But it’s difficult because you’re not looking at anything. You don’t have much…what kind of emotion to put in there, and you end up doing all kinds of stuff going, "Oh, my God, I hope that doesn’t sound ridiculous." It was fun in the end.
BE: Cool. Now, have you thought about doing a straight-on [comedy or romance]? I don’t know if you’re familiar with the old movie “The Quiet Man,” with John Wayne.
JS: I haven’t seen “The Quiet Man,” but I love John Wayne.
BE: He didn’t do a lot of straight-ahead comedies, but that was his one full-on romantic comedy that’s kind of a classic [and I could see you doing something in that vein]...Have you thought about doing just a straight forward comedy that’s not so much an action film?
JS: I would do it if the script was good and I felt that I could do something good with it. I certainly would if you had a good director. If it was right for me, for sure. I would never try and stay away from something because it was just the wrong genre. It’s just a lot of the material that comes my way from those genres, it’s just not good. I thought, “Well, if it doesn’t work, it’s just going to be a disaster.” You need some kind of guarantee that it’s going to be watchable.
BE: Well, I definitely think you would like "The Quiet Man" -- there's a good boxing scene, anyway.
JS: Yeah? I’ll take a look.
BE: I have one last question, they tell me. Have you heard Kevin Pollak’s impression of you?
JS: No. Is it good?
BE: It’s excellent.
JS: Oh, yeah? No, I haven’t, but I would like to hear it, now that you’ve said that. You know who else does a really good impression of me, that I haven’t heard as well? Edward Norton does a really good one of me, apparently. I haven’t heard that, either.
BE: Well, this one’s on Pollak's last comedy special, so it shouldn’t be too hard to dig up.
JS: I’ll dig that one out.
BE: It’s all about how he’s afraid of you.
BE: You’re doing “The Killer Elite,” or you did “The Killer Elite”?
JS: We finished it, yeah.
JS: That’s a good crowd to be amongst, yeah.
BE: So what can you tell us about it? How’s it going to be different from the original? Or is there anything that you can tell us about it at this point?
JS: It’s not a remake. The title is very misleading, because the book that it’s taken from is called “The Feather Men,” written by Sir Ranulph Fiennes.
BE: It’s not connected to the Sam Peckinpah movie from the seventies?
JS: No, it’s not. We might have to do something about that. You’re not the first to say it.
BE: So, what’s this movie going to be about?
JS: I don’t want to give you too much of a spoiler, but you can look it up, it’s a book called The Feather Men, by Sir Ranulph Fiennes, and that will give you some idea.
BE: And you’re playing kind of a …
JS: I’m playing someone that is hired to do a job. It’s hard for me to give too much away because I’ve been told not to.
Post-script: I took Statham up on his suggestion to look the book up. "The Feather Men" turns out to be a fact-based, though possibly exaggerated, account of a group of Cold War-era vigilante British ex-servicemen who took it upon themselves to extract vengeance for a series of killings of members of the English Special Air Service.In other words, we can expect to see Jason Statham do some more harm.