“Never meet your heroes” is a commonly used maxim. It’s certainly one that plays on your mind when you’re in the fortunate position to meet and interview one of your favourite action stars.
So bear in mind that, when it comes to Jason Statham, I’ve written more about the man’s work and career than most people write for their final year degree thesis. For me, he’s already a legend.
It’s a long running in-joke here at Den of Geek that any article written about The Stath is always met with a stock supply of comments, so much so that we’ve even taken to supplying some cut and paste options to save time. We’ve championed Statham for many years and will no doubt continue to, as he further cements his reputation as the king of action movies. He remains absolutely loyal to both the genre and to making films aimed squarely at an older audience, refusing to sell out in the name of commercial success – here’s hoping there’s never a day when one of his film posters depicts him holding an upside down child, or a dirty nappy.
Now, Jason Statham isn’t terribly keen on interviews by his own admission, something that was even disclosed at the start of one of his appearances on talk show Lopez Tonight, yet during that interview Statham came across as funny and charming with no sign of being uncomfortable. Before my interview I expected that he might be somewhat guarded, perhaps even quiet, so imagine my delight when I walked into the room only to be greeted by a smile, a handshake and a man so laid back I actually felt bad for bringing the conversation round to a formal level.
In town to promote Safe, a fantastically funny and brutal action thriller, Statham actually seemed much happier to just chat, with no sense of airs and graces, full of laughs and whose workmanlike attitude to making movies was utterly refreshing.
As we sat down, I noticed that he seemed a little tired, so I asked him if he was okay, leading us straight into the interview – it transpired he was currently on night shoots for Hummingbird and can’t sleep during the day, so as he put his feet up and attacked a giant mug of coffee, we went straight into the interview with talk of booze…
So you must be exhausted?
Yeah it’s hard to sleep in the day, you ever tried it?
Not for a long time.
It’s easy when you’re on the back of a bender [laughs]. Sleep for three fucking days!
That’s what I’m intending to do tomorrow.
No drinking for me, not while we’re working.
Because of a strict exercise regime?
Well, you just want to be present you know? [chuckles]
That’s why I didn’t have one before I came here!
Anyway, congratulations on the film…
When did they make you watch it?
In the morning, or in the afternoon, or in the evening?
It was Wednesday evening after a full on day, and I was absolutely exhausted and could barely string words together. But I watched the film and came out buzzing.
Oh good! I’m always curious [when they make you watch the film] as there’s a certain crowd that must… if they see an action film like, I don’t know The Expendables at 9am, obviously it’s going to be a little bit much for their head. So if you’re not of a certain make up it might be the wrong time of day to watch a film, usually the evening’s a good one so you got a decent straw.
Strangely enough I do remember seeing Crank 2…
Ha! That’s an evening one too.
They put it on at 10.30 in the morning and I made the mistake of drinking too much Red Bull before I went in, which was an interesting experience.
Right in line with the film, yeah.
Your performance in Safe is, I’d say, arguably your best one to date, because you have a complete range of emotions from suicidal to absolute rage. There seems to be an extra dimension to every character you play, is that something you seek out?
Nah, I mean you eat from what’s on the table. When people deliver scripts to you if it’s got enough in it, then you end up doing it. It’s just about what comes your way, but obviously you’re looking for the most interesting way to bring the character to life and the more range there is in there, the better off the performance is gonna be.
It seems too typical to a lot of the action films that get made, or come your way, they’re a little flat in terms of what you can and cannot do [laughs] and you get judged for that, you know?
I think that people forget that some of the best action heroes have a sense of vulnerability. When people think of Rambo they think of a macho Stallone, they forget he has a complete emotional breakdown and cries in First Blood, they just remember…
The tough part.
Yeah, the tough part and that vulnerability was definitely a key strength to your character in Safe.
Good, yeah. The writer’s said that this is something that gives me an extra layer of stuff that I don’t normally get to do and he was probably right.
I remember Boaz Yakin’s name (writer/director of Safe) from growing up on Dolph Lundgren’s Punisher…
But it was a real change of pace for Yakin to direct an action movie.
He’s never done an action film, yeah. I mean he’s written them, but he’s never executed them as a director, and he did a tremendous job. He was certainly keen to make one and this was an ambitious one to boot!
It’s big scale action.
There’s a lot of gun work, there’s a lot of hand to hand and car chases. I mean it’s a full blown action movie without an enormous budget I suppose. He had to work very keenly and had to have his ducks lined up, because it wasn’t an easy job, but he did good, he did really good.
I particularly like the recurring visual motif of the rear view mirrors getting shot off!
[Laughs] Yeah he had some good ideas!
I know in films like The Transporter you’ve had fight scenes in confined spaces, but Safe seemed to have even more. How much of a challenge is it to work in a restricted environment?
We got a good team of people there, Chad Stahelski is someone I’ve done a few films with, so the fact we had him gave us a reason to relax. It’s all pre-shot, they do what they call a pre-viz, you know they shoot it on the video cameras and they know what they’re going to present to the director, so it’s all well, well thought out.
You’ve worked with a lot of great people, so how was it working with a 12-year-old girl?
Great, she just kept telling me what to do all the time! [laughs]
She had a confidence that made me presume she’d done a load of films before…
Nah, that was her first gig as well, so hats off to little Catherine [Chan]. I mean they had a lot of choices and it’s difficult when you’re trying to pick someone that hasn’t done any acting, but Boaz went with his gut and that’s always the best thing I think.
And in terms of your supporting cast there’s a lot of great actors…
Reggie Lee! [chuckles] He’s great! There’s some talented people.
And the likes of James Hong and Chris Sarandon…
If the script’s good and the director’s got his head screwed on, you can interest a lot of decent actors – people wanna work, you know? And that’s the benefit of having good material, people want to come to the show.
There’s a healthy amount of humour in Safe too, despite the situation – I think the fork line’s going to be around for a while!
[Laughs] Yeah, it’s funny! The producer was the fella behind the bar, Lawrence Bender, who’s produced a lot of great films [especially] with Tarantino – he’s the man behind the bar that I ask for the fork [chuckles].
I don’t know if it’s intentional or not, but you seem to have set up so many good franchises. You’ve got your Transporters and Cranks and now The Expendables, but even with the likes of Safe and The Mechanic last year, it always seems like you could make more of those films too. Has that just happened by accident?
I don’t know, I think everyone likes a franchise don’t they? The business part of people you work with are always looking to find something that catches and that has a reason to make another one, because financially it’s great. There’s nothing better than having a relative success, because it keeps everybody doing what they love doing, so I’m sure there’s a real conscious mind to keep things in a way that you can make a franchise, so never die in your film! [laughs] I should have that in my contract!
I wonder if you’re the first to have done that and then come back again with Crank…
And speaking of franchises, you’ve got Expendables 2 later in the year, which I’m sure you can’t say much about, but will there be improvement to Lee Christmas’ love life?
I’m not gonna tell you about that! [grins] It’s bigger, louder [laughs] and they got everybody for this one. They literally have got everybody – if you like action movies they pulled every rabbit out of the hat, they’ve got the full line up. It’s a good one.
And you have to find some way of outdoing popping out of the front of a plane…
We did it! [laughs] I think so anyway.
Are you still doing most of your own stunts?
We’re not retiring from the hard work, not yet anyway.
Because I know Stallone seriously damaged himself on the first one…
But he’s a soldier, he does everything, he’s just… he’s as gritty as they get.
I wrote a piece about all your films almost a couple of years ago, but my editor’s already asked me to update it, because your productivity is second to none…
My productivity is overwhelming! [He cracks up] “Have a fucking day off!”
[At this point I laugh far too loudly] But what is it that drives you?
I think you’re just trying to make a better film, you know? I think there’s always room for improvement and I think that’s what we’re looking for, we’re looking to do something that is just great and a lot of the time when we make films there’s always something that didn’t quite work, or something that we could’ve done better, more time, a little bit more money, better actors, better director, better something!
So I think the drive is to work, to try to have at some point in your career a chance where you’re working with the best set up you could possibly get, enough money, the best director and the best bunch of actors around you with a great story, and then see what turns out, see how that comes out, because if the film’s bad then, I think that you’ve got yourself to blame. But I think with all that protection then you can sort of compare what we’re doing, with the rest of the people that have that luxury.
One very last quick one! [I’d already had my last question] Any update on whether Transporter 4 or Crank 3 will happen?
Just talk, you know, just talk. But we’ll see what happens! [laughs]
Jason Statham, thank you very much!
And with that our time was up, but as he got up to say goodbye he was kind enough to thank me “for writing that bit!” and as I left it occurred to me that perhaps he’s not a fan of interviews simply because of the formality and that, despite massive success, he’d still much rather just chat, leaving his heroic status not just intact, but elevated.
Safe is released on the 27th April in the USA and May 4th in the UK.
You can follow Duncan’s Statham babblings on Twitter.