Jason Statham plays a smart, brutal professional thief that operates under his own stringent code in the exciting crime thriller “Parker,” adapted from the novel “Flashfire” by best-selling crime fiction writer Donald E. Westlake under the nom de plume Richard Stark. Parker’s high-stake capers take him from the Ohio State Fair to glitzy Palm Beach where he poses as a wealthy Texan to track down the gang that betrayed him. Directed by Academy Award winner Taylor Hackford, the film opens January 25th and also features Jennifer Lopez, Michael Chiklis, Clifton Collins, Jr., Micah Hauptman, Wendell Pierce, Patti Lupone and Nick Nolte.
At a roundtable interview at the film’s recent press day, Statham talked about playing the hardboiled criminal protagonist, having his action scenes directed by Hackford who is new to the action genre, choreographing the film’s intricate and intense stunt sequences, teaming up with Lopez, and having the opportunity to work opposite veteran actors Nick Nolte and Patti Lupone. He also discussed his upcoming projects including “Homefront” and “The Expendables 3.”
Question: We’re starting off the year right. We got to see you a couple times last year. Now we’re starting off this year with you again, so I know it’s going to be a good year.
Jason Statham: (laughs) I don’t want to disappoint.
Q: I really want to know, given your history of jewelry back in your early days, what do you think you could get for all those jewels that were being heisted down in Palm Beach?
Statham: Oh dear, I never sold anything so glamorous. I used to sell a 24-inch rope chain, a matching 18-inch rope chain with a matching bracelet, and then I used to sell a Figaro chain with a pendant, the horn of plenty. I used to do the whole set with a choice of a gents or ladies ring, and that was it. It was the same set I used to do for years and years, so nothing with any diamonds or anything glamorous.
Q: It’s always something to aspire to now.
Q: If you get out of acting.
Statham: (laughs) I was at the Golden Globes the other day and I saw some of the best jewelry you’ve ever seen. It’s a scam. My God! Who pays for all that?
Q: Jennifer had some on.
Statham: If anyone’s going to be able to pull it off, it’s her. She’s the one and she rocks it well.
Q: Everybody was wearing borrowed stuff.
Statham: I know. What is that? Who buys it?
Q: I only wear my own stuff.
Statham: What happens if all these glamorous people get to borrow it every time, who’s the people that go in and buy it?
Q: I know. Why make it if nobody’s going to buy it?
Q: Obviously you’re an expert at doing action and this is Taylor Hackford’s first time in the genre. What was it like for someone with your experience collaborating with a director who’s not done an action film like this before?
Statham: He’s so driven by everything being authentic and believable. He gave me a chance to do something that I don’t normally do. I get to play a more realistic chap that isn’t the guy that can take on ten guys. He was instrumental in pushing this guy to barely make it through these action sequences and just survive enough to be able to get to the next part. And then maybe, he just doesn’t have enough, but he does. He pushes himself to this extreme level that I never normally do and I think that’s all character driven. I have to take my hat off to Taylor for being the driving force behind that. The execution of the physical stuff is something I know very much about, so rest assured, I can say, “Look, this is going to be easy if we do it this way.” It’s a great collaboration.
Q: Was there a lot of that type of collaboration and did you storyboard it?
Statham: Yeah. I’d say, “Let me do it this way.” Obviously, the collaboration comes from just I know shortcuts on how to get things to work, and if it’s not working for the camera, we can show him. It’s not anyone trying to say, “Look, this is how I do it. This is what I know.” It was a great way to team up because it just worked so well. We worked well together.
Q: One of the really fascinating action sequences is that opening sequence in the SUV. Did you ever think you’d be calling on your diving skills again to go diving for a window at 55 miles an hour?
Statham: (laughs) I’m just the man for it.
Q: That was one of the most incredible stunt sequences I’ve seen you do that was so intense and claustrophobic.
Statham: It was very claustrophobic. There’s not a lot of places to put a camera. Again, we’re dealing with how can we make this believable. We grab the gun. It’s not like this guy’s going to shoot his friend’s ear off. So, you have to grab the gun and pull it, which makes him pull the trigger. You have to get the details right so it’s all realistic, believable, and everybody’s doing their thing at the right time. While I’m doing that, somebody else is trying to turn a gun, and you have to play this whole thing through and have it really feel realistic and everything has to be believable and the timing has to work. And then obviously, I have to jump out a window. (laughs) So, that to me is just the 3-2-1 go! That’s how you deal with that.
Q: You had Clifton Collins, Micah Hauptman and Wendell Pierce in there and they’re not really action guys. So, in choreographing that whole sequence, does that add an extra layer of challenge to you?
Statham: Well, it wasn’t too complicated to a point where I’m going to go, “Is everyone going to get their things right?” I mean, they’re really experienced actors. You’re in the hands of people that do this every day. Michael Chiklis has been in “The Shield.” No one knows how to rough someone up better than him. So we know what’s coming. You get to relax more when you’re in the company of experienced people.
Q: You character is from England, but he also uses a Southern accent. Can you talk about your accents?
Statham: When he’s doing the Texan accent, he’s playing a guy from Texas because he’s posing in disguise in order to get some information. I think it’s just one of the characteristics of Parker which is he’s cunning. He’s very pragmatic and he’ll do what it takes to get what he needs.
Q: Did you have an accent coach for those scenes?
Statham: Taylor was my accent coach. So, if it’s bad, you can tell him. (Laughs) Yes, he was responsible for my good or bad accent.
Q: Your character is injured at one point in one of the climatic action scenes with Daniel Bernhardt. Is that something you’re used to playing – someone who is actually hurt from an action sequence?
Statham: No, I have to pretend I’ve got a bad rib. (mimicking Taylor’s direction) “Yes, yes, you’re really hurt!” It’s difficult because I’m so used to not doing that. I’m used to being efficient and a guy that can do more than the average guy can. So, it was a new place for me to go.
Q: What was it about the character of Parker that you responded to or that you liked playing compared to some other characters you’ve played before?
Statham: Well, I like crime thrillers. I like heist movies. I like action movies that set all those elements into one and a chance to do something that comes from a great stable of writing. Donald Westlake has written countless books about this chap, over 20. Sixty books in total he wrote in his career so this guy knows how to write. And so, I’m getting to do an action movie with all the greatness of a storyteller like Donald Westlake.
Q: Did you go back and look at any of the books? Did those help inform the character or did you just stick to the script?
Statham: I just stuck to the script because at the end of the day Taylor has an interpretation to make and he will guide us through the story and these characters that were slightly expanded upon and were different to what was in the book because the book is called “Flashfire.” We have 90 minutes to tell a story. A book is a dozen hours, however fast or slow you read. We just have to go with the vision of the director. When Jennifer comes in, she’s got things she wants to say and things about the character that she wants to bring or take away. Everyone has their fingers into the pie. And then, you end up with something very different to the book maybe.
Q: Speaking of Jennifer Lopez, it reminds me of when you worked with De Niro, you don’t expect Jason Statham to be paired up with JLo. What was it like working with her? Were you excited to have that kind of challenge?
Statham: Yeah, we’d go and light the house on fire. It was just fun from the get go. There were no ‘try hard’ things for us. When I meet somebody, it doesn’t matter who they are. I don’t have any preconceived ideas about who they are and how they’re going to behave and rumors. I don’t listen to all the crap that comes with it. She was as sweet as they could ever be. She’s just a bundle of fun. We had great chemistry. We had a great time doing the job. The relationship between Parker and the character that Jennifer played was good because it was trying to be sexual. It wasn’t. Never could it get there. There was a lot of tension there. It was nice to play with that because she’s so playful anyway. It was most enjoyable.
Q: You must have liked working with Nick Nolte, too?
Statham: Yeah! C’mon, he’s a legend! Nolte is the man. When you get to work with Nolte on the day, it’s a good day.
Q: You got to work with another legend, too, in brief but very powerful scenes: Patti LuPone?
Statham: Patti LuPone. That’s one of my favorite relationships in the movie is Jennifer and Patti. It’s so funny, right? It kills me every time I watch that. To me, it’s one of the great reliefs of the film. It’s so funny.
Q: I was telling Taylor I would really love to see a sequel, a next chapter of “Parker” with you and Patti. The way her character steps up, it’s like there’s something behind this woman. She’s got a past going on.
Statham: (laughs) Oh my God, she’s so good. I’d love to do a movie with her. She’s brilliant, brilliant in every sense.
Q: What do you have coming up next? I know you have “Homefront.”
Statham: “Homefront” is a film that Sylvester Stallone wrote for himself actually. So, to have a screenplay presented to me by him that he was intending to star in himself was a career point for me. I said, “Wow!” He’s a great writer and it’s a really, really cool story. It’s based on a book written by Chuck Logan called “Homefront.” He adapted it to suit me. It was like a tailor-made suit and Sly did all the sewing. Fantastic!
Q: Has Sly talked to you at all about “Expendables 3” and the casting?
Statham: No. I saw him on stage at the Golden Globes and he gave me the look. He went “Whoo!” He hasn’t said anything but I hear rumors. I should never go with rumors because they’re often not correct, but I hear Jackie Chan might be coming to the party and that would make me very happy because I do like Jackie Chan.
Q: We also heard that Nic Cage is coming in. Dolph Lundgren was saying he’s back but he hasn’t seen a script yet. Arnold Schwarzenegger was saying he’s back.
Statham: (mimicking Arnold’s voice) I’m back! (normal voice) Yeah, I’m back regardless. There’s no question. I mean, we have such a laughter in those films and the action is just…you can get away with anything. It’s so over the top. What we sometimes lack for in story comes back in something else. And people are just lining up to be a part of it. It’s great.
Q: Is there anyone else you’d like to see? Is Jackie the big get?
Statham: I like Jackie because I’ve been a fan of Jackie’s forever. He’s broken every bone in his body for his commitment and dedication to doing his own stunts. So he’s the real deal. He *is* the real deal. He’s my fave. I like Clint Eastwood as well.
Q: Travolta was talked about.
Statham: There’s so many good actors.
Q: Steven Seagal would be great. I would put him in there.
Statham: There’s a ton. But the thing is, the magic wand comes from Sly. He will either “yes” you or “no” you. So yeah, “Expendables 3.” Here we go. Strap yourselves in!
Q: And “Hummingbird”?
Statham: Oh yeah, I’ve got that coming out!