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[Interview] Jason Statham Talks Action, Martial Arts and the Comedic Timing of ‘Safe’

Written by , on April 24, 2012 at 2:00 pm 

Through franchises like Transporter, Crank, and The Expendables - not to mention the pair of Guy Ritchie films that came before – Jason Statham‘s name has obviously become synonymous with an intense, hard-edged action persona. In his latest film, Boaz Yakin‘s Safe, that image is taken full advantage of, but, as you’ll see below, there’s a briefly-explored emotional hook that perhaps adds something new to Statham’s canon. It’s certainly not a transformation of any kind, but moments of quiet sincerity are sprinkled throughout his performance, and when the film affords him the chance, they happen to mesh rather well with the actor’s more prominent I’m-going-to-pummel-everyone-on-this-subway side.

Last week, Statham was doing the rounds here in New York City, and we participated in a fifteen-minute roundtable session that took place over at the Trump SoHo. He was sleekly decked out in full black, but his comments, which were riddled with giddy laughter and playfulness, exuded a more openly welcome kind of aura. Check out the full interview below.

How did you enjoy getting to see a little bit of New York?

Jason Statham: One of the greatest cities in the world, yeah. It’s nice to be making a film [here]. Not easy to do that. That’s because it’s very crowded, and the streets never, never quiet down – there’s always traffic, there’s always people. You know, when you’re shooting in the middle of the day, it’s not an easy task. But that’s more for the headache of the production. Us actors can just enjoy the city and come in and do the scenes.

Can you talk about working with Catherine Chan? How did you collaborate with her?

We had to meet in a very sort of adult way. And I think that’s what makes the relationship sweet. She’s very grown up. She’s a young girl, but she’s way above her years. And I think that’s what makes it – you know, we talk to each other in a very simple way. It makes it very sweet, and it works really well.

Did you have time to meet her before it was actually filmed?

Yeah. They cast the film, and you have a little get-together, and sometimes a little rehearsal. Boaz [Yakin, the writer-director] is a very experienced filmmaker, and he does the things that he needs to give her the confidence. And it works that way.

You mentioned that it was kind of a breath of fresh air working with someone new, who didn’t have the baggage around being in the industry. Did that affect your performance at all?

No. Whoever you’re working with, you tend to feed off each other’s energy, and if it’s a good one – which it was with Catherine – then it works really well. You know, you’re only as good as the person you are opposite, and I’m afraid that’s the truth.

Did you find that you got a chance to do some different things, because the script does go to some places where you get to show an emotional side to the character?

Yeah, that was the important part for the story. The fact that his wife gets brutally murdered by the Russian mafia, and it just so happens that these are the thugs chasing poor-old Catherine down the subway platform. And people want to see these people meet their maker.

There’s an aspect to your character that’s not often seen in the characters you’re playing in your action pictures. And that’s this incredible vulnerability. Because a lot of your characters refuse to be vulnerable, even when they are. You put on the face – the “Jason face.” [Laughs.] But in this movie, there’s a real level of vulnerability that’s real. It’s not a ruse for your character. It’s like he’s in the depths of despair, and that’s an interesting turn for you.

Ah, thank you. You know, Boaz and Lawrence Bender – who is a great producer – they actually said, ‘You haven’t done anything like this. You really must acknowledge the fact that this has all the bells and whistles of what you can do well, but it has so much more underneath.’ And they said, ‘It’s something that we would love you to do.’ And it is definitely a side I never get to play. Vulnerability is not something that’s usually ticked on the front of the script.

Well, because you haven’t really done anything like this – you’re dealing with homelessness and the death of a spouse – did you do any research or talk to anyone who had actually gone through that?

You know, I’m not a whippersnapper – I’ve met people who have gone through loss, and you can understand how painful that is. I’ve seen a few homeless people in my time. Living in London for most of my life, you get to rub shoulders with a few in the early hours. [Laughs.] So, I’m not completely naïve to that world.

But one of the things that was also a twist or a turn to this is that scene where she’s killed. You expect him to rise up and destroy all the Russians immediately. And there are these moments where you as a character – and also maybe you as an actor playing the role – has to show some restraint before you let it all out. Was there a different kind of sense of timing to this film? Or something that you wanted to use? One of the things that’s great about this film is that things happen not always at the time that they happen in a Jason Statham film. And that’s kind of interesting – it caught us off-guard in a way. And it seemed like you enjoyed the fact that we were going to get caught off-guard.

Yeah. You know, my act is well and truly tipped for Boaz, because he is the writer, and he is the director. And at the end of the day, he’s the editor. He’s the man that puts the story together. So construction of where and when these moments happen is very much in his control. And it seems like he did the right thing.

But it seems like some of the humor that you put into your films is strictly you. No one can write that – that’s got to be you. [Laughs.]

Yeah, there are a few funny things. And a lot of the time, he says, “That’s terrible.” [Laughs.] But some things stick. But I will say again [that] Boaz is quite a funny writer. He’s responsible for all of the humor. Delivery, obviously, I have to take care of. But the humor’s in the writing.

Were you thought of as funny before you started doing films? Did people think your delivery was funny back then?

Hey, look, I don’t know. [Laughs.] The Guy Ritchie movies that I did, he has a certain wit with a pen. And a lot of that sort of straightly played humor seems to have a place. And I quite like that kind of stuff.

Would you ever depart from the action genre if the right film came along – an indie drama, or a romantic comedy?

Yeah, I’d like to do an interesting film in any of those genres. It’s just what comes your way. And usually the filmmaker is the drive. And I’m not in pursuit of those, because things are coming my way that are interesting in a different way. You have to make a decision, and you have to see it – I think if people are interested in you playing a particular part, and you like the part, the collaboration is immediate. Whereas if you’re going to pursue something that – if I’m a director and I want to this chap in there, and you’re banging on my door every night, but I really want him. [Laughs.] It’s going to create a kind of difficulty. Now, you might get the part, but I really wanted him. So you can campaign, you can sort of go after parts. I’m doing a really great film at the moment called Hummingbird with Steven Knight, who’s a terrific writer, wrote Eastern Promises and Dirty Pretty Things. He’s a brilliant, brilliant writer. And he’s written a really dark, dramatic film that I’m doing right now. I’d say that’s the biggest departure from the action movies I’ve ever had.

You were trained as a swimmer, a boxer – but was some of this martial arts stuff new to you? Had you done much martial arts before?

Kickboxing. I’ve done a bit of regular boxing. My dad used to box. So I have experience in throwing a punch. [Laughs.]

But in moving forward, did you make a particular effort to learn some of the other global [practices]?

You know, there’s not a lot of time. They keep me very busy. But I work with a group of people in L.A. that have experience with martial arts that you wouldn’t believe. They know it, and have studied it relentlessly for years and years. And so I’m working with them when I’m not filming, I’m working with them when I am filming. So I’m absorbing and taking aboard all the experience I can. And it’s great. It’s a real passion. And that’s another reason when I tend to gravitate towards doing these films – I really have a fascination for martial arts.

And you’re doing the Stallone film?

I am doing The Expendables 2. That’s coming out soon. But it’s very difficult to not make a move become a martial arts move. Because if you do a roundhouse kick, or if you do something too fancy, it won’t really fit for the character. You’re restricted by what the character and his background dictate.

I’ve called you this generation’s Charles Bronson. [Laughs.] Is that something that you embrace?

Hey, look, it’s an extremely gracious compliment, and God knows how much truth is in that. [Laughs.]

You’re a lot friendlier than he was.

Yeah. [Laughs.]

Safe hits wide release on Friday, April 27th.


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