Discovered on the London streets by Guy Ritchie and cast in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Jason Statham has catapulted to movie star fame, and also does his own action stunts. Reprising Charles Bronson's elite hitman in the reboot of The Mechanic, Buzzine gets the exclusive scoop in this revealing behind-the-scenes interview.
Izumi Hasegawa: Was it intimidating or daunting to take on a role that was made famous by Charles Bronson?
Jason Statham: Obviously trying to do anything that's been done well before has a certain amount of expectation, and you're always going to get people that are going to compare it. This is many, many years later; we're not trying to do exactly the same thing. We're trying to do something that has a little bit of a modern spin on what was done way back when.
IH: How much did you look at the original?
JS: I tried not to look at it too closely. I'd seen it a couple of times before. I signed on to do the original screenplay! It got sent to me and I knew they were making it again, and I said yes to the exact word-for-word original screenplay. There were no rewrites or anything. Then I went away, did a film, came back, and it was completely different! I knew it was in the right hands because Irwin [Winkler] and the likes were in control, so I knew it was going to have a great set of producers taking care of it.
IH: How long ago were you actually talking about being signed on to that? Was it years?
JS: No, it was probably about six months before we filmed it.
IH: You have a lot of experience playing characters that are lone wolf archetypes with inner turmoil and have problems with interpersonal relationships. Do you feel that you're being typecast? Do you like playing these characters?
JS: They say a lot less words. I get paid by the word now. [Laughs] There's a lot less to say, so it's soothing on my vocal cords. I don't know what it is, but they just seem to keep coming back. I tend to get asked to play these parts–maybe they see something in me that makes them come after me for these roles. I don't know. I particularly like the relationship between me and Ben [Foster]. I just thought he was very interesting and full of suspense. There are just so many aspects of why he should, and then so many aspects of why he shouldn't. When there's a personal conflict, I think it's very interesting to see.
IH: Given that you perform probably 99% of your own stunts, how involved are you with the stunt coordinator in preparation and planning for execution of them, and how much comfort do you get working with a guy like Noon [Orsatti], knowing that he's the guy behind the scenes?
JS: There's a big team, actually. It's not just Noon: there's Chad Stahelski and Dave Leitch. It's funny--I train with them all the time over in 8711, which is their gym that they run very close to LAX. We're all good friends, and they have the best team of stuntmen. But I'm involved every step of the way with all the stunts. My opinion counts for a lot because I'm going to be the one doing them. [Laughs] So if they don't sound too good, then we'll change it up.
IH: The director told us you're very fearless about performing stunts, like being at the top of a building and jumping off a bridge. What's your most adrenaline-pumping experience from this movie?
JS: You just talked about the two stunts there--they're the ones that stand out in my mind: the jump from the bridge and the coming down the side of the building, which was particularly fun because I got to do it with Ben Foster. He's a man who's really fearful of heights, so to see someone's face quivering in the wind...but it was very brave in the same breath. Those kinds of situations are full of adrenaline and they're very exciting to execute. You always question whether they're safe. There are no guarantees that something can't go wrong. There's always a thrill to it.
IH: Did you really like doing these sorts of stunts when you were young?
JS: I used to be a high-diver for years. I wasn't always walking on the end of a bridge, but I was always throwing myself around doing silly things.
IH: Would you ever have any interest in doing a breezy romantic comedy or some kind of intimate character thing that didn't have any action in it?
JS: Usually the good stuff that comes from that genre is always going to the right people--Ben Stiller and all the people that are so good at it. The stuff that comes my way from those areas is not so good. We tend to stay away from it.
IH: Aside from the physicality of this, what was the biggest acting challenge for you in playing this role?
JS: Making it authentic. Giving the situation an authentic moment, and that's the challenge with every scene you do. Every time you're on camera, it has to be authentic, and the challenge is that.
IH: How did you get into acting? I read that you were doing all the diving, and then one day Guy Ritchie saw you. Boom, you're an actor. What happened there?
JS: He was making a film called Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, and I used to sell perfume and jewelry. He was casting people from the street. A friend of mine, Vinnie Jones, who was a soccer player–football player, as we say–Lenny McLean was a bare-knuckle boxer, he was cast in it--all people from areas that were not the traditional place, such as drama school or RADA. I fit the bill for one of the characters that he'd written about.
IH: Physically, you mean?
JS: No, the opening scene was about a guy selling wares out of a suitcase, so I gave a certain amount of authenticity to that, and that's how I got the part. Right place, right time. Exactly.
IH: It seems like you don't need any preparation to do these stunts. What do you do to keep fit for stunts?
JS: We train with all the stuntmen; everyone likes to keep in shape. A lot of the stuff we do allows us to do the choreography, the fights, whatever it is that we need to do. It's no good--us drinking in the bar every night and waking up hungover, so we have a certain amount of fitness to keep going, and flexibility.
IH: What kind of training do you do?
JS: We do a lot of fight training--martial arts training.
IH: Any specific kinds?
JS: It's a combination of everything: punching, kicking, kickboxing, jujutsu, whatever it is. It's not specific to a certain martial art--it's movie martial arts. It could incorporate any array–it could have a judo throw, some kind of an aikido move... The people I train with have a skill and knowledge in all the martial arts, and it's all put into a style that is appropriate for the situation and for the character that you're playing. We're not trying to play a particular guy that did kung-fu all his life. It's not that specific, but it has a lot of influences from many different martial arts.
IH: How many hours do you work out?
JS: There are no rules; there are no specific hours that we train, or a particular time. We don't have any set regime.
IH: When was the last time you got on the high dive board, and how does that compare to the stunts you do in movies like this?
JS: I haven't been on a high board for years--God knows how many years. I can't even think back to the last time I climbed on the ten-meter platform. But it's pretty damn scary. It's scary because you have to do three and a half somersaults, standing backwards, spinning in a direction where you can't see where the water is. If you come out at the wrong time, there's a horrendous slap and you can wound yourself--you can perforate your eardrum. The fear comes from the immediate pain, that you know it's going to hurt.
IH: What was your best dive when you were diving?
JS: I suppose anything that's spinning in a forward rotation. When you're diving, you do a dive from five different groups: forward, backward, reverse–which is what you guys call a "gainer"–an inward move, and a twisting move. And on platform, you do a handstand, so there are six groups.
IH: Do you see a comparison between being an athlete and being an actor in that both require great concentration, preparation, and performance?
JS: I think there's a lot to be said for that. It does allow you to concentrate and focus, sacrifice, and dedicate yourself to whatever it is, whether you want to learn an accent or play a particular role. I think there is a comparison there, yeah.
IH: The producers were saying that, by casting actors like Donald Sutherland and Ben Foster, it upped the ante and forced you to go to another level as an actor.
JS: I think you're only as good as the people opposite you. If I get an opportunity to work across from someone like Ben Foster or Donald Sutherland, it raises the game for sure. You have an immediate confidence; there's nothing like it. I just did a movie with Robert De Niro and Clive Owen--the same thing. Once you work with these people, you just go, "Wow." You can't screw it up with these guys because they're just so good.
IH: Who do you play in that, and what is your interaction with these guys--especially De Niro?
JS: De Niro plays a father figure to me--he's like my mentor. I don't really want to talk about it too much; we have a great relationship. Clive Owen, on the other hand, is my nemesis. We'll talk about that movie the next time I'm around.
IH: You just finished a movie right before this; you worked with some of the biggest action heroes of all time, and there is the connection to Irwin Winkler, who produced Rocky, and you worked with Sylvester Stallone on that. Is there more Expendables coming up?
JS: We're trying to do another one. Yes, we certainly are. I think the reason to do a sequel is because people have enjoyed the first one to a point where it's made a lot of money, and I think the inspiration comes from that. [Laughs]
IH: You really upped the game of the old guys.
JS: I don't know about "upped the game," but I'm acting with them, yes!
IH: I remember reading an interview after you first worked with Donald Sutherland, saying he was such a wealth of experience and there's no substitute for that. Do you know if anybody is talking about you that way?
JS: Not yet!
IH: You've worked with a lot of younger people. Do you think you've been considered a mentor to any of them?
JS: I can't think so, no. We're talking about Donald Sutherland and people like De Niro--they've got so much; their careers have expanded. I can't even think of how many movies they've done. There's a body of work there that I just don't have. We're getting there.
IH: What kind of movies do you like to see? What's the last really good movie you saw?
JS: I just took a holiday recently. I'd say one of the best movies I've seen of the year was The King's Speech. It was so good. I also saw The Fighter with Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale, and I thoroughly enjoyed that. I love a true story. They're the last two films I've seen over the last couple of weeks.
IH: Your character is a loner, but how about you?
JS: No, I've got quite a lot of friends. I'm not as lonely as the characters that I play, thank God.
IH: Do you go out to bars and have guys' nights out?
JS: We certainly do, yes! You must know the English people! We have a few nights out, where we can get them.
IH: What did you say to Ben when you were on the top of that building? Did you rib him or give him words of encouragement before jumping off the building?
JS: I said this: "Three, two, one, GO." No, you can't prepare anyone for that. That's all that's running through your mind: "At what point do we get to get down from here?"
IH: He was saying, by the sixth time, he was ready to go up again, but the first time was really scary...
JS: To confront a phobia is just the most...there are hardly any words for it. People run away from their phobias, and if you've got a fear of heights, to get up at a height of 300 feet is not on the menu.
IH: After Guy Ritchie found you on a street corner selling jewelry, at what point did you know you wanted to pursue acting as a career?
JS: What I was doing wasn't paying the bills. This was a career that might have ended very quickly; who knows how many films I was going to do? But I knew it was a chance to do something else.
CBS Films' 'The Mechanic' is released on January 28, 2011.