Say the name Jason Statham and a scruffy, ripped bulldog of a man comes to mind, leaping through one’s mind in a flurry of wu shu moves and gravity-defying stunts just as he’s done so many times in films like The Transporter, Crank, and War. But while the thirty five-year-old is quickly becoming England’s biggest action export, he’s also working to diversify his portfolio with more serious roles — like that in his upcoming film, The Bank Job.
Statham still gets a compulsory fight sequence in The Bank Job, a dramatic thriller based on the real-life 1971 robbery of a safety deposit vault in a London bank. But that one scene — in which Statham’s character, a petty criminal named Terry, suddenly unleashes a can of whoop ass on a pair of gangsters — comes surprisingly late in the film, almost as if an afterthought for the Statham fans hungry for at least one solid roundhouse kick.
Indeed, The Bank Job is a different sort of Jason Statham movie. Helmed by Australian director Roger Donaldson (Cocktail, Species, The World’s Fastest Indian), the flick follows an unlikely group of amateur thieves, led by Statham’s garage owner Terry, who are lured into the perfect heist by old neighborhood gal Martine (Saffron Burrows). The only problem? Martine’s been put up to the task by a shady official in MI5, who want the contents of a particular safety deposit box that belongs to a militant thug named Michael X.
Though fictionalized by scribes Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, the film’s story has been pieced together from news reports that ran for three days following the heist. On the fourth day, the film and popular opinion allege, the British government issued a D-Notice silencing the press — perhaps because within Michael X’s safety deposit box, and those of other patrons, were thought to be highly scandalous photographs of a certain royal princess in flagrante.
In a roundtable discussion with journalists, Statham shared his thoughts on what was really in those safe deposit boxes. Given the circumstances, it seems there was clearly some government cover-up (and, the film argues, government set-up) involved in the robbery.
“They were trying to cover something up,” Statham said. “We can assume that there were certain people running around doing bits and pieces in different countries and having fun in the sand and the sun, and we know who that particular person is. We also know that this Michael X was using pictures that he had, compromising pictures of someone from a royalty sense, and he was using those as leverage to get all his extortion and his goings on. So there’s a lot to take into account, and you don’t need the brains of Einstein to work out what might be the possibility there.”
During production on the film, Statham even spent time with the man upon whom his character was based.
“It’s really difficult,” he explained, “because when you meet somebody that was, you know, involved, to such a degree, that you just try and give him so much respect in terms of not saying, ‘So, how many years did you get? So, tell us about the jewels, is there anything else we should know? Did he get nicked?'”
While his real-life counterpart kept a low profile on-set for privacy’s sake, Statham understands our collective interest in picking the brains of those who’ve broken the law.
“There’s something quite fascinating with crooks, and criminals, and all things against the law,” he said. “It’s been evident in filmmaking for years. People love stories about the mafia, The Godfather, American Gangster. People are intrigued, and always have been — Al Capone, the Great Train Robbers, people who escape from prison — it’s a fascination that will never, ever die.”
Click on for RT’s exclusive chat with Jason Statham about his dream action movie, which onscreen James Bond he could beat in a fight, his thoughts on Steven Seagal and Jean-Claude Van Damme, and why Bruce Lee is his all-time favorite action star!
Have you pretty much decided to turn your attention towards action movies — with sequels to The Transporter and Crank, and films like Death Race on the way?
Jason Statham: No, because I don’t think this — The Bank Job — is [action]. I mean, this is something I wanted to do; this is the kind of stuff I want to integrate into my calendar. So I can do movies like this, and I can do movies that are fun – you know, like Crank, and Transporter, stuff like that. It allows me to do both. There’s no point in saying that’s it — I only do this kind of film. Because you’ve got to play to your strengths, and some people like to see me do that kind of film [action]. So I’m going to do both.
I’d like to do more of these, but it seems like the parts I get offered are the other ones. It’s hard, because people instantly recognize the movies that make money. So they go, what did they like? OK, Transporter made money; so let’s give him something like The Transporter. They come up with a f***ing driver, in a s***ty script, and he drives a car. And so I’m like, ‘What are you, stupid?’ So they make really bad assumptions. I do get some interesting scripts. But usually it’s a first time director that hasn’t really done enough to warrant me taking that chance. But I’ve worked with some amazing first-time directors.
You’ve said you’re trying to work towards this ideal project, with a great action director, a great crew, enough time and budget…
JS: It would be great; it would be a fabulous luxury. Hopefully it’s just around the corner. Usually if you’ve got a great script, everything falls into place. Because a great script or a great story immediately attracts a great director, which immediately attracts great actors, which immediately attracts a great DP…so they all come like f***ing bees around honey! But it all starts with the pages, because if you haven’t got the story or the pages, no one’s interested in nothing. You need the script. It all starts there. And if someone’s got a great one of those, that’s where…[actors like] Leonardo di Caprio, they all work with the same people again because they’re protecting themselves with such a great quality and standard. Their safety net is impenetrable. Scorsese will only work with brilliant material. And everyone wants to work with him. So eventually, that will be it; that will be the ice cap on the mountain. That will be great.
Does this ideal film project apply to action movies, specifically?
JS: I love The Bourne Identity. I think that’s a terrific film, I think Matt Damon’s great. But there’s not enough of those films around. That’s the one. Apart from the [films of the] James Bond franchise, which I equally think are brilliant.
How do you feel about Daniel Craig as James Bond?
JS: I think he’s good.
Yes, but I think you could kick his ass in a fight.
JS: Without question! [Laughs] But I think he’s great; I think he’s a great Bond, and I love the Bond film. Yeah, he’s a very good Bond. But I want to do something within that tone, you know? I’ve been a Bond fan for years…if you look at all the action movies of the past five years, what has been made in an adult way, those are the only ones – The Bourne Identity and Casino Royale.
The daily martial arts training you’re currently doing — how much of it is for your personal interest?
JS: I’m doing it because Corey Yuen is coming in from Hong Kong [for Transporter 3, in pre-production]. He’s got a massive schedule for me, when I get to Paris. He’s previously done the first two Transporters. Basically, he’s one of the best action choreographers out there. I’m just trying to get myself in tune, so when I get in his company I can accommodate his request. If you’re out of shape and breathing like an old horse, then you’re screwed.
Once I finish that, and I’ve finished Crank 2, I’ll just taper down and do some physical training, and maybe go wrestle. Do some jujitsu with a friend or two. Do some submission fighting, which is what I like. That’s what I do [for fun].
What is it about martial arts that interested you to begin with?
JS: I was always a massive fan of Bruce Lee. I was like, Jesus, he’s so fast! Just his whole philosophy, how confident he was. Smart. His physical ability was just … un-human — just [pow!]. So fast, and no one could ever emulate what he’s done. You’d see people trying to do it — Steven Seagal, Jean-Claude Van Damme — they couldn’t even lace his boots! He was that far ahead of his time! He was doing mixed martial arts back then, he was putting someone in an arm bar, twenty or thirty years ago.
So, he was taking all best aspects of perfected fighting; the best aspects of judo, like a throw, or something from Thai boxing, like a way to use a knee or an elbow. He’d just cherry-pick all the great aspects of all the martial arts into this freestyle fighting. And now, all these years later, they’re putting that into a cage and that’s what’s prevailing. He was just a pioneer of his time.
I’d love to be in a fight movie. You have a little fantasy; you just get inspired. That’s what it is; it’s inspiration, from someone so significant in our time. If you talk to any of the martial arts guys — I go to Vegas and watch all the UFCs. I’ve met a lot of the people, Randy Couture, Bas Rutten, Quinton Jackson…I worked with Jet Li, wu shu champion of China at 15 in the men’s, I have so much respect for these people. The fact that I get to do a movie with someone like Jet…you rewind ten years ago, if I said I was going to do a movie with Jet Li, people would say, “You’ve got to stop drinking, mate! You must be on drugs!” It’s just incomprehensible that I could ever be in that position. And all these years later, I’m sort of doing films with Jet. It’s fun. Though I still don’t think we’ve done a good movie together! We’ve done two films; neither of them has been any good!
There’s time for another…
JS: [Laughs] There’s time for one that will hopefully be decent.
The Bank Job is released in the UK on February 28 and stateside on March 7.