At the end of Fast & Furious 6, Jason Statham galvanized audiences with a surprise cameo where he killed off a fan-favorite character, growled a threat to Vin Diesel over the phone, and walked casually away from an exploding car like it was an everyday occurrence. (Which for Jason Statham, it may very well be.) That tease implied a bigger role to come in Furious 7, and indeed, Statham takes center stage as the primary baddie in this sequel, though he'll be seen later in the summer spoofing his action-hero persona in Paul Feig's comedy Spy, where he stars opposite Melissa McCarthy. Recently, the rogueish Statham chatted up Vulture about how that Furious 6 cameo came about, what stunt almost ended his life, and why he bailed on the Transporter franchise that helped make him a star.
You filmed your end-of-movie cameo for Fast & Furious 6 ages ago, so is it safe to say this is something that was long in the works?
Doing the part-six piece was pretty much a test, because I think they use their fans as sort of a sounding board to see what they should and shouldn't do when they're making these movies. Apparently, they got a really good reaction, so they decided to pursue bringing me back and putting me in a proper role.
Please, Jason! You're not going to convince me that Furious 7 wasn't part of the plan from the beginning.
Yeah, you know, I love these films. When someone asks you to do a tiny piece at the end of one movie, you kind of think, "Well, it's not going to be just that." I had suspicions that it could turn into something bigger and better, and that was always our intention.
And was it implied from the beginning that you'd eventually have two epic fight scenes with Dwayne Johnson and Vin Diesel?
Any kind of fight sequence has to go off with a bang — that's part of the m.o. for this franchise. Anything they do, they want to do it bigger and better than what everybody else does. So yeah, you've gotta fight Dwayne — he's a big man! — and you've gotta fight Vin. They want to make it spectacular.
I know that you do as many of your own stunts as you can, but on a production as big as Furious 7, were there certain stunts that they just wouldn't let you do?
You know what? We don't get a say in what stunts we can do and cannot do. They give us a firm hand in saying what we're not allowed to do, and it's based on insurance levels and perception of the danger. I always want to do 20 times more than what they're allowing me to do!
Have you had any recent close calls when it comes to stunts?
Not on this movie, but on Expendables 3, I was driving a truck and the brakes failed, and I ended up at the bottom of the Black Sea. That was a close shave with death.
We did a feature called "The 23 Worst Ways to be Killed by Jason Statham," spotlighting some of your most-over-the-top movie kills. If I put that prompt to you, which ones comes to mind immediately?
I suppose you'd have to consider the ones from Crank, wouldn't you? They're over the top in that movie. You tell me!
Yes, those are over the top, Jason.
Oh, I have another spectacular kill! The one in Expendables 2 when … oh God, what's his name? The one where I punch him into a helicopter, and he gets churned up by the rotor blades. That's a pretty gruesome one, yeah.
You've got Spy coming up soon, where you get to show off your comedic bona fides. Every so often, you'll switch up the action movies with something more unexpected … are you looking to do more comedies, or more dramas?
I had such a good time working with Paul Feig on Spy. If I spend the next ten years working for him, I'll be a very happy man. It was such a revelation for me to do something of that nature, and working with Melissa and Paul … that's high-caliber people to surround yourself with. So yeah, I'd love to more comedies like that.
Was making Spy a very improv-heavy experience?
Yeah, there are a lot of alternate lines that come via Post-It note. [Laughs.] We get all kinds of things thrown at us literally moments before the camera rolls, so you have to be on your toes, and that is heavy pressure — although I think if you're working with the right people, it's no bump to your head if it doesn't work. They want to make it work, and if it doesn't, you'll try something else. But yeah, it was a great experience. I don't really have any improvising skills, except working the street [when I was younger], and improvising what I would say then. But street theater doesn't really lend itself to making high-class movie work.
The Fast & Furious franchise is one of Hollywood's most successful. It's also one of its baldest.
Is there something about shaved heads that just suits an action franchise? Less to worry about in between stunts, maybe?
Yeah, I suppose so. Or it's for when your hair doesn't fucking grow! That's your one option: Shave the rest off. I don't know, it's low-maintenance, it's easy, it feels good. It suits some people, it doesn't suit others. It's soooo easy. You spend no time in front of the mirror, because it's always the same.
You acted with hair in Revolver. Would you again?
It's part-dependent. In Spy, I take on a disguise with hair. It's all about the character, you know? Does the director see me with hair? It's not like I'm a character actor, though — I'm far from that!
They're rebooting the Transporter series without you. How do you feel that?
You know what? It was obviously a great experience doing those films, and I would have loved to keep doing it. But they wanted me to sign on and do three more films without even seeing a script, and they offered me less money to do three than I'd get paid for one! So it was a business decision. I would have loved to have done it, but you can't really sign on without doing a script, and to sign on for three of them? And to get paid a pittance? I just couldn't see the value in that.