Steven Seagal continues to find work in straight-to-video productions wherein bad guys standing near him fling themselves through plate-glass windows, while fellow throat-puncher Jean-Claude Van Damme looks to reinvent himself in the recently released JCVD. It’s Jason Statham, though, who has inherited the go-to status as the gruffly charismatic star of various gritty, hand-to-hand-combat action flicks, cracking skulls in movies like Crank, Chaos, War and Death Race. His latest film is Transporter 3, in which he reprises his role as Frank Martin, a high-end, black-market courier who gets mixed up in various no-good situations. Sharply dressed in just the sort of fancy-man duds that inspire thoughts of an action scene breaking out at any time, Statham spoke with Vulture recently about his unlikely path to acting, the enigmatic possible sequel to The Italian Job, and being attacked with an ax.
Was the success of the first Transporter, particularly on DVD, a surprise to you?
You know what, I’m so naïve to what people want that I was just jumping up and down at the opportunity to do something like this. Now here’s me trying to throw myself out of a plane and fight ten guys — I love all that. I didn’t care if the movie sucked or was good. I knew it would be good because anything that Luc [Besson] puts his magic wand to usually has a certain standard. Then again, having said that, you don’t know if there’s an audience for me. They could say, “Yeah, we liked the movie okay, but the bald-headed guy sucked.”
I know Corey Yuen’s back to handle the action scenes again, but you weren’t attacked with an ax in this film, as in the first two. I kept waiting for the other ax to drop.
I thought that some of the fight sequences in the first one were much better, you know? We had a little bit more prep time, and on the second film, we were up against it when we got to Miami. We had hurricanes and got a bit shortchanged on the time. But no ax sequence this time — who said we were repetitive! [Laughs]
What sort of action should we expect this time, then?
I’m fighting ten guys in a garage, and then there’s the scene where I’m doing some sort of twisted striptease while trying to beat up a dozen thugs. It’s quite comical, almost.
That was one for the ladies. You’re also a former British National Team diver, so how was filming the movie’s underwater sequence?
That was a bit of a bastard, that sequence, because we lost a location for some reason, and so next thing you know, you have one night to shoot this sequence, and it’s like, Really? We had a couple cameras that didn’t arrive, so we were left with this big, monstrous thing that they film underwater documentaries with. It was 200 pounds, and they couldn’t really move it fast enough to get some of the camera moves that we wanted. So that was a difficult day — maybe the most difficult part of the entire thing. But the water, to me, is a piece of cake, it’s almost like I’ve got gills anyway.
Was mixed martial arts something you were into before becoming an actor?
Listen, I’ve always liked boxing, I’ve always liked kickboxing, K1, Pride Fighting, UFC, men’s Pancrase [hybrid wrestling] from Japan. They’re all fantastic events to see, and I’ve always had a great interest in them. It’s completely different than what we do in the movies. We’re doing ridiculous stuff, and they’re doing practical stuff in a fighting environment. So it’s a little bit more stylized, what we do, and a little bit less dangerous.
You’ve had a pretty unusual path to acting, haven’t you?
Hey, it’s nice to have a dream and a goal in life, but, yeah, I just didn’t see it, I really didn’t. I was working on the street selling perfume and jewelry, and to fantasize about working in action movies in Hollywood didn’t make sense to me. I’m more of a realist. But I was lucky enough to get that leg up. Then I knuckled down and took it seriously.
On IMDb, an announcement of Italian Job sequel, The Brazilian Job, has lingered for five years now. Can you tell us if it is being made or not?
The sad part about it is that we’d all like to do it. I’m sure Seth [Green] would, I would, Mos Def. Guys like to work, don’t they? Actually, I’m sure Charlize [Theron] would too — we had a good time making that film. It’s sad, whatever is creating the stickiness to getting that off the ground. But no one’s gotten an offer yet, though I know there’s a script that’s been floating around for quite some time.
A film that is happening, though, is The Expendables, with Sylvester Stallone and Jet Li.
I’m doing that next year sometime. I’m happy to be alongside someone like Stallone — he’s a great guy. He’s written it, he’s directing it, and he’s going to star in it. There are talks of shooting in Costa Rica, or somewhere like that.