There really is just something about watching Jason Statham. I've been trying to put my finger on it for quite some time, and, even after talking to people who are both fans of his and not, the best I've been able to come up with is that he just has "It." He has this special quality of charisma and bad-ass that just draws you to him on the screen. On top of that, he makes guy movies for guys. While not all of Statham's films have been winners in the past, you can't say that you didn't at least enjoy watching him do his thing while he was on-screen. People fuck with Jason Statham... and then he makes them pay a severe price for their stupidity. It's a simple formula that's worked time and time again in building Statham's action career, and, considering he's one of the only working actors today that consistently turns out action films, he's developed quite an audience who has been starved for those type of films for far too long.
I first picked up on Statham right at the beginning of his career, as, in his first two films he featured prominently in a pair of Guy Ritchie ensembles - LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS and SNATCH. With the latter, he was able to make the leap across the pond to Hollywood, where he was cast in GHOST OF MARS and the Jet Li flick THE ONE. From there, he was able to make his entry into the action world, with the first installment of THE TRANSPORTER series putting him on the map in that respect. He was able to diversify a bit more after that, playing Handsome Rob in another well-received ensemble piece, the F. Gary Gray remake of THE ITALIAN JOB, in addition to a villainous role in CELLULAR, opposite Kim Basinger and Chris Evans. He reunited with Guy Ritchie once again for REVOLVER before being drawn back to action films, running off a string of flicks that included a couple of CRANK movies, another go-around with Jet Li in WAR and DEATH RACE. After establishing himself as the modern day action star, Statham was then recruited to be a part of Sylvester Stallone's action epic THE EXPENDABLES (and later its follow-up), playing Lee Christmas. A remake of Charles Bronson's THE MECHANIC was next on the agenda, along with his first appearance in an animated film, voicing Tybalt in GNOMEO AND JULIET. He teamed up with Robert De Niro and Clive Owen for KILLER ELITE and then got back to kicking the asses of those who crossed him in SAFE.
He has quite a few projects lined up on his docket - HUMMINGBIRD, HOMEFRONT, HEAT and another EXPENDABLES - but first Statham is starring as the title character in PARKER, Taylor Hackford's adaptation of one of Donald Westlake's 24 books featuring the anti-hero. The Parker character has been the basis for a number of films over the years from POINT BLANK to PAYBACK, but Statham's take is the first to actually use the Parker name.
I sat down to talk with Jason Statham last week as he rolled through South Florida, which serves as one of the settings in the film. I was instantly taken by not only how forthcoming he was (always refreshing when someone is in the middle of selling their movie) but also how funny he is, a trait that seems to have been lost over the years of his doing action. This wasn't the soft-spoken, man of few words that audiences have been accustomed to. This was a boisterous guy with a fluid sense of humor that we haven't seen since those early Ritchie films. Seriously, Hollywood... I know it's awesome watching Jason Statham kick the shit out of people left and right (I enjoy it immensely), but let's get this guy more material that takes advantage of this side of him.
We were only set up to have about 10 minutes, but the second the publicist came in to give me the signal to wrap things up, Statham waved her off, and we kept on going until they were about ready to end the interview a bit more forcibly for holding up their entire day. So enjoy my talk with the very honest Jason Statham...
The Infamous Billy The Kidd - I just wanted to ask you, at first... I’ve been watching you since the very, very beginning.
Jason Statham - Oh, nice!
The Kidd - When you did the Guy Ritchie films.
Jason Statham - Oh fuckin’ hell, that is the beginning... Right.
The Kidd - I remember seeing LOCK, STOCK [AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS] in the theatre, actually.
Jason Statham - No fuckin’ way... That’s a rarity, yeah?
The Kidd - Yes. So I was curious... A lot of what you do is very action driven, and the Guy Ritchie stuff was a little bit different than stuff you’ve done later. Like it’s a lot funnier, it’s a lot more dialogue driven and what not. And I was actually having a discussion earlier this week about LOCK, STOCK and SNATCH. I was just curious, from your perspective... Did you have a preference as to which one is your favorite, or which ones sits better with you over time as far as looking back at that point in your career?
Jason Statham - I’m so fond of those films. Y’know what? If Guy Ritchie made two films a year, and put me in them, I’d be in those films every fuckin’ year! I would never say say no to him because I never tire of that smart flavor. Like that’s the kind of movie that I like to watch. The characters he created and the dialogue, it’s just... That really just hits hard for me. I love that stuff. And it’s just a shame that he doesn’t make more of them, or there’s not... y’know... somebody else is doin’ it. Tarantino is someone that I would crawl over broken glass to work with to fuckin’ work with. He just makes movies that I love. I just cannot say anything more than that. But you can only eat from what’s on the table, so... y’know. I’m trying to work my way there. One day... Who knows. I’d love to get a part with Tarantino... But that’s the kind... They sort of have a similarity in their style.
The Kidd - Yes. Guy has a little bit more visual flavor to his stuff, but they are very similar in terms of... ensemble pieces, very crime driven...
Jason Statham - And the dialogue’s fucking... ten out of ten...
The Kidd - Absolutely.
Jason Statham - And the characters are just brilliant. Unfortunately I have another passion. I like action movies, too. I’ve been inspired by Bruce Lee films, and I love the movies that Stallone has made... That’s the great thing about cinema, there’s a lot of things... It’s... You just have to try and fit into it somewhere, and try to do the best quality thing that’s in front of you. Unless you want to sit on the sofa and pretend something’s going to come your way through the fucking window. You have to be realistic and you have to look at the offer and you havet o see what you’ve got, and you’ve gotta work. Or not. And a lot of people are very specific, and they’d rather not work... they would rather not take a chance. But, you know, I’ve worked with a lot of first time directors, sometimes it’s worked out great, sometimes it hasn’t. What with [Mark] Neveldine and [Brian] Taylor, we did CRANK they’d done nothing before, and it was fucking... I got one of the greatest compliments from Guy Ritchie himself. He says, “Statham, that’s the best movie you’ve done in a long time.” [Laughs] And I’ve made choices that I haven’t been so lucky with, but that’s part of the excitement. The good thing about PARKER is that you’ve got Taylor Hackford and Nick Nolte...
The Kidd - Jennifer Lopez...
Jason Statham - Yeah. And Donald Westlake is the writer [of the PARKER books]... So, you know, the quality is there.
The Kidd - Let me ask you about the action. Because... There was kind of a shift in the industry, a little bit, and there weren’t a lot of people doing anything outside of these big budget spectacle action films except for, really, you. The Rock did a few, but then he started doing the childrens movies and everything, but in terms of this era of cinema, it’s really been Jason Statham kind of just holding together action. Now it seems like it’s cycling back a little where, you know, Arnold is coming back, and Bruce Willis and Stallone, kinda tying into THE EXPENDABLES. Why do you think that is? Where the industry shifted away from these action films that a lot of people had careers in. Especially in the 80s, that was a really big push in Hollywood, to do these real big... These personal action films. So why do you think it is that they shifted away from, now it is that they’re coming back?
Jason Statham - You know what? I wish i had the answer. I know that a lot of the studios went crazy on the fuckin’ superhero stuff, you know? They just generated so much money that they wanted to push for that. And, y’know... gonna turn my grandma into a fuckin’ superhero. You know... you don’t have to have any physical skills, you just have to be ready for the CG effect. So for me, I’ve never been inspired by comic superheroes to play on a personal level. I like Jackie Chan, who does his own shit. I love Bruce Lee, who can really do his own shit. So, y’know, that’s... If I had my own dreams to come true, that’s the path I’d like to go down, not me putting on a cape... But, I realize that there’s such an audience for that and that’s why the studios have been filling that hole.
The Kidd - To shift into PARKER, there’s been 24 novels built around Parker. And I think there’ve been about eight films that were Parker-esque that kind of used Parker as a model, but this was the first time they actually had the name Parker attached to the character. But if you go down the list you have people like Lee Marvin and Jim Brown, and...
Jason Statham - He was called “Walker” and “Porter.”
The Kidd - Which are like...
Jason Statham - Close! [Laughs]
The Kidd - Not that it steals from it, but it borrows so heavily from it and this is the first time that they were actually able to use it.
Jason Statham - Yeah...
The Kidd - So when you get this role, and you get this character, do you look at any of these films and see how the character was approached to begin with? Do you go back to the books at all in terms of trying to get a feel for how the character should be played? Or do you just take what’s on the script and just say, “I’m gonna... This is how it’s gonna go.” What’s your approach to putting your own spin on the character, but then also, for fans of this lengthy series, also paying tribute to that?
Jason Statham - Yeah... Well there’s a lot of fuckin’ people to keep happy. You try to keep the fans of the book happy, you have to try and really be respectful to Donald Westlake and what he wrote... A book is a lot longer than a 90-minute movie... Like what do you take from it, what are the characteristics that you can... What can you show in the film. So in the end you have to let that responsibility go to somebody who knows what he’s doing, and that’s Taylor Hackford. He has an interpretation, and he will bring the qualities that you need from the character. But, you know, I’m aware of Lee Marvin’s POINT BLANK, and Mel [Gibson’s] PAYBACK, and it’s great to see them, but as a reference... I don’t think I gain anything by looking at that. We’re making a story that is today. It was modernized, whereas Flashfire, which is the book that it was based on was written a long time ago, so we modernized it and put it... The state fair was very different back then when it was written. So I was like, “Aw fuck, I really liked the way it was back then.” I dunno! There’s things that I didn’t particularly favor, but for today’s audiences, you have to understand, they don’t want to watch a period robbery.I don’t think so. Maybe they do! Unless it was a factual robbery, that actually took place, and you have to really... you have to get your fucking onions right. This wasn’t that. So... It was a choice of Taylor and I. He’s a brilliant filmmaker, and he really... You just go with the flavor that he wants.
The Kidd - The thing that’s very interesting about Parker is that you have this sort of principled criminal that is... I think he says something like, in order to be civilized, we have to follow rules.
Jason Statham - “Civilized people need to follow rules.”
The Kidd - Yes. And he stays true to this code of... He’s very true to his word. That’s the only thing that he really has is his word. He’s a thief, and he knows it. He’s not looking to hurt people, but if you force him to, he will, and I think that’s different from a lot of criminals in terms of this approach that he’s sort of an anti-hero. Not someone that you root for, but that you’re still drawn to kind of root for out of necessity.
Jason Statham - There’s something that stuck in my mind. It was like, when he... Y’know, he nurses himself back to a state where he can get back on his feet, and then he goes to rob a check cashing place. And in his bag, there’s two guns. There’s a little tiny one, and then there’s the big one. And he looks at what he has to do, and he chooses the little gun. Because he can just shoot this guy with the big gun. He chooses the small gun so he can just shoot him in the leg and march him inside and five minutes later get what he needs... He says, “I’ll shoot you in the fuckin’ eye if you don’t do what I say.” But this little gun was the choice of weapon so he wouldn’t bleed so badly so he can get the money, and he says “I’ll call you an ambulance in five minutes.” He gets exactly what he needs to do out of the situations, but at the same time he has a conscience. “I don’t want to hurt these fucking guys. I’ll just use this fuckin’ little instrument to get done what I need to do.” And then you talk about... He’s a man of his own word. When he’s... I love what was written about... You’re supposed to torch the hay bales behind the live stock.... And then he fuckin’ tells him once... And then he tells him again right before he fuckin’ kills him! [Laughs]
The Kidd - Yes! He’s like, “No, this the detail that needed to be done. It’s altered a little bit and I’m very not happy with the fact that you deviated from the plan in any way, shape or form.”
Jason Statham - To me, that’s just great writing. And I love that. Those little details only exist with the good writing, so I love that.
The Kidd - Let me ask you just two more quick questions. You’ve kind of, especially in your action thing... It’s a Liam Neeson thing, now. Like you have Liam Neeson now, and people... You look at people and you’re like... “Why do they keep fucking with Liam Neeson?” And in your movies it’s almost the same way. People fuck with Jason Statham, and then he beats the shit out of them or kills them. Why won’t they just leave you alone? People who look like Jason Statham, people who sound like Jason Statham...
Jason Statham - [Laughs]
The Kidd - At this point, you’re just wiping through the population of people who cross you.
Jason Statham - It’s great fun, I love it. I wouldn’t have it any other way! [Laughs] I dunno, it’s... It’s a good recipe for fuckin’... fun action films, right? [Laughs]
The Kidd - Absolutely. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Like, this movie, I know they’re going to cross Jason Statham, I know he’s gonna get pissed, and I know they’re going to pay the price at the end of it.
Jason Statham - You get it with Sly, you get it with Arnold... They’re... FIRST BLOOD is one of my favorite fuckin’... Y’know... cross with this guy and... [Stallone voice] “I’ll give you a war you won’t believe!” For me, that movie is just... That sticks in my mind about crossin’ the wrong dude. I love that.
The Kidd - I know that there’s been a lot of talk about doing another EXPENDABLES...
Jason Statham - Yeah...
The Kidd - ...and there’s rumors all over the place... Jackie Chan’s name has been brought up, Nicolas Cage has been brought up, John Woo’s name has been brought up to possibly direct it. And I know Stallone has been trying to figure out the pieces and the producers are trying to figure out what is going on with it next. Have they given you any type of indication about when they’re looking to do EXPENDABLES 3, or what type or story, or who’s going to be a part of it? Because you have a ton of projects that are all lined up, and I’m just curious about where it would slot in.
Jason Statham - That’ll be done over this summer... Somewhere, no one knows, this summer, is EXPENDABLES 3. The names that are bandied around are the ones that you just mentioned right then. Sly’s got such a way about him, and people want to work with him. You can’t say no to this guy because he’s so respected and so loved. For me he’s one of the great filmmakers. He’s a writer, director, actor...
The Kidd - Well yeah, you’re doing HOMEFRONT, which he wrote.
Jason Statham - Well yeah! He wrote that for himself, so I’ve got that... I’ve got the watchful eye of Sly putting that together. He just understands filmmaking. Y’know, you work for him and you’re just... You come away, you get so much experience by working alongside him. For me it’s... There’s no one made more of an impact on me than Sylvester Stallone. He’s just... you learn so much from him. He just knows how to do it. He’s fuckin’... He’s constantly writing... He’s a creative machine that just doesn’t stop, and he’s just fucking great at what he does.
The Kidd - Does that help you in terms of doing action films then? Especially doing THE EXPENDABLES, because you have all these guys that did action films before. Are you able to, when you come off the set or when you come off the project, are you able to learn almost in a kind of mentorship way from these guys about like, how the genre works a little bit better, how to improve it, how to make it better for the audiences...? Are there things that you’re able to take away from them?
Jason Statham - Yeah, you do. You listen and learn. You’ve gotta have ears when you’re working about these people otherwise you’re fuckin’ ignorant and stupid. Yeah... I bring a lot of things that just rattle around in my head just from being in the company of these guys. They’ve been there and done it and they’re still doing it. You’ve gotta learn from the best, right? [Laughs]
The Kidd - A pleasure.
Jason Statham - Love talkin’ to you.
PARKER opens in theatres this Friday, January 25.
"The Infamous Billy The Kidd"
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