The past decade has been quite a ride for Jason Statham, a former member of Britain's National Diving Squad who later became a street hustler before being discovered by a young, up-and-coming director named Guy Ritchie. Searching for authenticity, he cast Statham in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and the rest, as they say, is history.
Statham has continued to work with Ritchie while establishing a name for himself in movies like The Italian Job as well as the Transporter and Crank franchises. Last year, Statham found himself acting opposite action movie legends Sly Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis and Jet Li in The Expendables, cementing Statham's status as a bonafide American action hero.
To start off 2011, Statham attempts to fill the shoes of another hard-boiled legend of the action, Charles Bronson, in a remake of the 1972 cult classic The Mechanic. As Arthur Bishop, Statham is a "mechanic" (a hit man) who specializes in making the death of his targets appear to be accidents. After his mentor Harry (Donald Sutherland) is killed, Bishop agrees to mentor Harry's son Steve (Ben Foster). Simon West (Con-Air) directs from a script by Richard Wenk (16 Blocks) and the writer of the 1972 film, Lewis John Carlino.
Movies.com sat down with Statham at the posh SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills this month for an exclusive interview about The Mechanic and his busy year to come, which includes a sequel to Expendables as well as The Killer Elite opposite Clive Owen and Robert De Niro.
Movies.com: Were you a fan of the original Mechanic and was that part of the attraction?
Statham: I'd seen it years ago and I'd forgotten how good the script was. I was like, 'Wow, this is f***ing great. I actually signed on to do the original screenplay. I didn't know which way they wanted to take it. I knew of Irwin [Winkler]'s past, a few good movies in his bag and I'd met Simon West before as well. I knew the kind of films he'd done and I thought it would be a smart idea for us all to do it. [We got] Ben Foster and away we go, we [had] something good going.
Movies.com: Were you mindful of setting yourself apart from Bronson's performance?
Statham: I stayed away [from watching it again] just because sometimes you get attached to something you see and think, 'Why didn't they keep that?' All of a sudden you get too attached to what you do and don't like.
Movies.com: Ben Foster is quite a different actor from Jan-Michael Vincent in the original.
Statham: Yeah, Ben Foster's a lively character. He's very hot-headed. Intense is the correct word.
Movies.com: Does that carry through off-screen?
Statham: Oh yeah. He's very much like you might imagine him to be if you're that presumptuous. He's got a lot of opinions and some f***ing great ideas. For a director, it might be a good or a bad thing, but I think it's brilliant because everything that he brought to the table I just thought was great.
Movies.com: Do you feed off that kind of intensity from a co-star?
Statham: Yeah, I do. You know, I think Ben would be a great director as well…Thank God we had a great director like Simon West who's very collaborative and very responsive and welcoming to ideas. But Ben was definitely full of takes on how we should do the scene. He brings a lot to the table and I love that.
Movies.com: He told us earlier that he felt compelled to rise to the occasion when he found out you were doing the stunt where you guys jump off the building.
Statham: Exactly. There you go, that just shows you the kind of intense guy he is. He's putting all of his fears in the back pocket. He's got a strong, strong ego and it's what makes him so good as an actor. He definitely knows what he wants.
Movies.com: Since you've become known as an actor who usually does his own stunts, do you feel an added pressure, that no matter how big the stunt is you have to do it?
Statham: Yeah, my ego gets in the way. If I say, 'Can I have a stunt double?' that story would go around rather quickly. But you know what? I enjoy doing the action and the stunts.
Movies.com: Do you think of those things as you read the script? Like, uh-oh, I'm going to have to do that one.
Statham: No, you know what, I never do. I always think, 'They better drum up something where it pushes me.' It's the opposite to what a thespian might feel. There's nothing that's going to frighten me with the action. I know all the stuntmen, the stunt coordinators and I know I'm in great hands. It's always safe. No one's going to be put in a compromising position, especially me.
Movies.com: Of all your movies, what stunt has been the scariest?
Statham: The helicopter stunt in Crank. I had to do a very small sort of fight sequence where I'm outside the helicopter and the blades are turning 3,000 feet in the air. You're not in a harness, you just have a small belt and a very thin wire that will save you from falling if you do slip on the skis. The whole time you're outside of the helicopter and if you look down, it's you and 3,000 feet. It's pretty scary. You get the sewing machine leg where the adrenaline's going so much that you can't stop your legs going. It's crazy.
Movies.com: Did you feel that being in The Expendables last year was a graduation of sorts into that pantheon of classic American action heroes?
Statham: Yeah, you know what, Stallone said some really complimentary things about me and I was like, 'Wow, that's my hero right there.' And so, yeah, I think it was an endorsement by the man himself to say he's worthy of being in the big American action movies. That to me was tremendous and I'm forever indebted because of that. I just thought I'd be doing these small, sort of silly action films. To be part of the big Hollywood action movie and to be alongside Stallone and all those other guys was really great.
Movies.com: And what's the status on Expendables 2? Is there a script?
Statham: I don't want to be the spoiler. I don't know anything about a script, but we'll be doing it this year for sure. For sure. It's very exciting.
Movies.com: 2011 is a big year for you. You've got Mechanic about to come out, you just shot The Killer Elite with Clive Owen and Robert De Niro and now another Expendables.
Statham: It could be a good year. I'm taking a couple of months off now. I think I'm going to need some time to get in shape after the Christmas binge. (Laughs)
Movies.com: Is Expendables sort of a physical competition with all these huge, muscle-bound guys, to see who is in the best shape and who is the strongest?
Statham: You know what? I can't compete with them. Stallone's in such good shape. It would take me years to get in that kind of shape. He's just got the genes…I could never get to the physical level that [he's at], so I'm just going to have to come up with some skills with a knife or something, [or] do something else.
The Mechanic opens in theaters nationwide on January 28th, 2011.