Jason Statham may be best known for being a purveyor of pulpy, palpable thrills, but even he is occasionally interested in more than just making short work of the maximum number of enemies. In his new film Killer Elite, he plays a retired hit man drawn back into service, only to find himself being hunted by an equally formidable adversary, and testament to the film’s complexity and serious is the quality of his co-stars, who include Clive Owen and Robert De Niro. That said, although the film also provides some more thoughtful ideas, it never fails to offer the sort of excitement audiences have come to expect from something starring Jason Statham.
We caught up with Statham earlier this week via telephone as he talked from the set of his new project, Taylor Hackford’s Parker. In addition to discussing his collaboration with De Niro and co. on Killer Elite, Statham offered a few insights about how he plans to flex his muscles among so many other action stars in The Expendables 2, and reflected on what he’d still like to accomplish as he continues to develop his Hollywood career.
Movies.com: This seems like a slightly more serious or grown-up sort of thriller than some of the others you’ve been in. was that part of the appeal of it or what did you especially like about this film?
Jason Statham: Yeah, definitely it was the maturity of the piece. I’ve always been inspired by the Bourne movies and thrillers that are a little bit more grown up, and I felt this had that tone. And it proves that because you’ve got the great heavyweights of Robert De Niro and Clive Owen, and crap material doesn’t attract those two. So we got something good, we always knew that. And that was the main reason, yeah.
Movies.com: Does the nonfiction aspect of a story like this change the way you prepare for the role?
Statham: I don’t think it makes a difference to the role. You know, if I’m playing something like Crank, I mean, how do you prepare for a movie like Crank, since it’s just a fantasy-based thing. So this is definitely more of a reach for me in terms of what’s going on. I mean, my relationships here have got a lot more conflict, so it’s not so much about the preparation. It’s about collaboration with the director.
Movies.com: In The Mechanic and this you play characters who, from the audience’s point of view, you’re the hero, but looking at the story objectively, you’re the bad guy. Do you think of yourself as the hero in these stories, or how do you look at characters like these?
Statham: This particular movie doesn’t have any bad guys. There’s no sort of line between who’s bad and who’s good. I’m sort of a good person doing bad things but for the right reasons. But I don’t know – it’s just what the material dictates.
Movies.com: In terms of working opposite Robert De Niro – you’ve certainly had some big costars, but what do you have to do when you’re working against someone like him?
Statham: Well, look the fact is you never act alone, and you’re only as good as the person opposite you. And if they’re bringing something, which he always does, then it sucks something out of you – and that’s the facts right there. They just draw out something you’re not used to. So for me, that’s what I feel.
Movies.com: Do you think you and he share something in common as actors – or did you discover something while working with him?
Statham: Well, we don’t do an analysis, we just tried to give some authenticity to the parts we were playing, you know. We’re just there and it feels right.
Movies.com: De Niro has always been known for transforming himself. How important is that for you? I think you said in past interviews, this is how I look so it’s tough to change people’s perceptions, but do you feel like you transform yourself in these roles, even internally?
Statham: I don’t think a performance is based on transformation. I think authenticity is what’s required – and that is exactly what’s required, nothing more than that. I mean, a lot of actors choose roles that require a big transformation; I mean, Bobby De Niro is one of the greatest actors the world has ever seen. Probably of 20 of my top movies, he’s in ten of them, so you can’t compare what he can bring. But in terms of a transformation, there are other great actors that didn’t do what he has done. For example, Clint Eastwood played in a ton of westerns and he did a ton of characters, and he was a guy who could play himself in lots of different ways – but it was always him. So they’re two great movie stars but they’re on two different levels in terms of transformation and performance.
Movies.com: Are there any actors or filmmakers in particular that you would especially like to work with?
Statham: There’s so many talented people out there, so many. You know, I reached a peak working with De Niro – he’s been my Number One favorite actor. But there’s so many other brilliant, brilliant actors out there, and brilliant filmmakers. The list is endless. Yeah, there’s so many talented people. But I don’t want to provide a shopping list for now (laughs).
Movies.com: In Expendables 2, just looking at the size of the cast, how much room do you have to flex your muscles so to speak with so many other people in the movie?
Statham: It’s a ton of guys having a bit of fun. This is The Expendables; we’re not trying to do something special, we’re trying to make an entertaining film. And there’s nothing better than a bunch of familiar faces. And for me, Mr. Stallone is the living action hero – he’s the ultimate action star. He’s a movie star and he always has been, and he’s the most recognized man on the planet in terms of the movie industry. So working next to him is nothing less than a huge privilege. There’s no substitute for it. I mean, I’ve done a lot of films and I’ve worked with a lot of people, and working with him is just pure pleasure. And there’s a lot of people coming to the party, and I don’t choose and cast the film, so there’s a lot of familiar faces coming to the next one.
Movies.com: In the original, you had a big part, so do you have to worry how much screen time you have this time around, or because you’re making a piece of entertainment, it doesn’t matter if you have 5 minutes of screen time, or 105?
Statham: Yeah, that’s the main objective, that everyone enjoys it and gets their money’s worth. But in terms of screen time, it is what it is; I’ve done plenty of films, and I don’t need to be at the front of anything. I mean, I’m making movies, and I’m right in the middle of one right now. I’m doing one with Taylor Hackford that is going tremendously well, and I’m the lead in that – and this will be a nice way to relax and not have the pressure to jump in with the other guys.
Movies.com: What sort of criteria do you look for in film roles? Do you take on roles seeing them as markedly different than one another, or is the challenge bringing something different to each one?
Statham: It’s always a challenge. There’s so many elements that are out of your control that if the result isn’t as it should be and it’s critically slammed or something, you get the slack. So what we’re trying to do now is to have more control over the movies, and more control over the production – and then you are responsible. And I feel that is the challenge now, trying to have more control over the film, and more collaboration, and not have people that don’t know what they’re doing and being attached to that kind of crap.
Movies.com: Do you feel like you’ve had a signature role yet? I read a story describing you as the last action hero, but you need a role that people will always think of you in. Do you feel like you have one already?
Statham: No, no, I certainly don’t and it’s a very good question. I think everyone in their career, hopefully if you get the opportunity to have that, sometimes people don’t even get that chance, but if that chance comes, I feel that it’s around the corner. Hopefully it’s around the corner. I mean, I’m working with better people now, I’m working with amazing, quality directors; I mean, who would have thought I would be working with Taylor Hackford, and I’d just come from working on a movie with De Niro and Clive Owen. Just a few years ago, that wasn’t on the horizon, so I’m definitely going in a direction that would provide me with a great role that could be my signature piece.