“I don’t think that I’ve really done what I truly can do in an action movie. I’ve been jabbing and jabbing and waiting to throw the right!”
Barring a court order, Death Race will come storming into theaters this weekend. It’s about a potential near future where society takes that heartless leap from its morbid private rubbernecking desires to making automotive disasters a public pay-per-view spectacle where convicts try to earn their freedom in a crazy armored car race complete with machine guns and video-game power-ups. And dreadnoughts. We can’t forget dreadnoughts. The film stars Jason Statham as the wrongly-convicted ex-NASCAR driver Jensen Ames, alongside Tyrese Gibson, Ian McShane and Joan Allen. Statham recently sat down to talk about his career, his athletic past and washboard-abs present.
Q: People love these big action movies you do, but have you thought about moving in any different directions?
Jason Statham: I’m very happy doing what I’m doing and there’s nothing to say I wouldn’t be even happier – to do a romantic comedy or whatever. I’m not really stuck and fixated into anything that’s gonna keep me locked down, doing the same thing for the ten years. But the fact is people seem to enjoy me doing that kind of stuff than other stuff. I did the movie called The Bank Job, which was a step in a different direction and I was very pleased with that. We’re trying to break it up, not keep doing the same thing time and time again.
Q: But you’ve got two sequels coming out in a row now. [Transporter 3 and Crank 2]
JS: Yes I have.
Q: And Tyrese Gibson said that Death Race looks like it’s ready for a sequel.
JS: It looks like it could go there…yeah. The only reason people make a sequels is because there’s enough of an nterest in people going to see the sequel. So, if those people still have an interest why shouldn’t we keep making them?
Q: But you’ve always got to take it a step further and get more fantastic, as in Death Race where all the stunts are real and there’s no CG. Do you ever think it’s too risky or dangerous, pushing the envelope each time?
JS: You always have to try to exceed what you did before. We’re always striving for perfection and trying to do something, like you said, fantastic and amazing. That’s what keeps you going. That’s what keeps you motivated to try and do something bigger and better than what you’ve done before, and I don’t think that I’ve really done what I truly can do in an action movie. I’ve been jabbing and jabbing and waiting to throw the right!
Q: You’ve got a pretty memorable shirtless scene here, while you’re usually a bit more modest in these roles than the bare-chested action stars of the 80s.
JS: We had to make people believe he had a bit of a misspent youth and you know…he’s got all these prison tattoos. He’s trying to make a better life for himself now. He’s got a family. So, we had to try to make people understand that he has done time and when he goes back in, he’s familiar with the surroundings so he doesn’t get stepped on and crushed. He can handle himself in the prison. The idea is that he’s put there and wrongly accused of murdering his wife. The only way you can keep your sanity in those prisons is to keep a clear head and train. We went to Corcoran Prison. We had a whole day up there and it was one of the most frightening places I’ve ever been. People there are like soldiers preparing for war. He wanted me to get all lean and sort of prison ready. It good, it’s great, he’s a great discipline and I enjoy that kind of discipline.
Q: How do you stay in that great shape, though?
JS: It’s just not eating food. It’s like starving for two months. I’d get up at five o’clock and get on the running machine and do some crazy mid session with a navy seal and then go to work, yeah.
Q: Critics tend to ignore how much acting actually goes into action movies like this, where you’ve got all this fight choreography or driving scenes to do while staying in character. What are the challenges?
JS: Oh, incredible challenges. It’s really difficult because you’re trying to concentrate on the safety issue — you have to show confidence — and at the same time to live in the drama and be in control in the car. It’s like splitting your brain up. It’s like learning to play the drums, you know?
Q: You’re somewhat like Steve McQueen, in how you can say very little and express so much, especially in the scenes with Joan Allen.
JS: Yeah, I mean, Paul always wanted this guy to have a quiet soul. Everything gets stripped away from him, he loses his wife and his kid goes to foster parents, so he hasn’t got a lot to say. He’s quite stoic and I think that’s what Paul wanted. And standing there listening to Joan Allen is not too much of a bad day at the office. She’s so intense, you know? She doesn’t have to say much.
Q: Death Race and Crank 2 have science-fiction elements to them. Does that appeal to you?
JS: I’m not exactly a massive sci-fi fan. I love some of the old movies like Blade Runner. The Matrix was terrific. Every now and again there’s a sci-fi movie that make me go…wow. I’m just doing what comes to me. I don’t have any massive game plan – a calendar of what I need to achieve by what day. What just makes sense at the time is what we end up doing.
Q: Crank 2 looks crazy.
JS: It certainly does. I mean, high-voltage is an understatement. I mean, it’s ridiculous. They just locked themselves in a room for three days – five bottles of tequila – and wrote the most offensive, outrageous script I’ve ever read. And they have all the capabilities of making it the crazy action movie that they wanted. It’s like Crank 1 but times a thousand. We have a very indulgent sex scene on a racetrack… I don’t want to give too much away.
Q: You started out as an Olympic diver – how has that helped your transition into being an action star?
JS: I think it’s all to do with my good friend and manager, Steve Chasman. He scooped me off the streets when I came to Hollywood and he’s been instrumental in finding me things that play to my strengths. You know, I had a very physical early few years – learning martial arts and gymnastics – which all lend themselves to me being confident in doing my own stunts. So there’s no actual transition from sportsman to being a good actor. There’s no connection there, I just sort of fell into it.
Q: Would you like to see mixed martial arts make it into the Olympics?
JS: I don’t think mixed martial arts would ever make it into the Olympics, but it’s the only sport that holds my interest now. They are the real gladiators and the most in-tune athletes that you can ever imagine. I know on the face of it some people might think it looks very thuggish and brutish, but these are the most equipped athletes you can ever imagine. Their training, flexibility, explosive power and skill level is beyond any other sport I can ever imagine. So yeah, I think it’s great that those big UFC fights have been sold out every time we go in there.
Q: So do you think Death Race is making a comment about our world today in just taking that one extra step from where we are now, with violence as entertainment, to an inevitable future of death as entertainment?
JS: I don’t know. You have to ask Paul about that. We’re just here to make an entertaining movie and not take it too seriously you know? We’re not trying to send any big messages here. We just want people to have 90 minutes of fun when they sit down in the seat. And I think that’s all. That’s what we’re trying to do with this movie particularly.
Q: You’re a bit of a car geek. What kind of car do you have?
JS: I have a 208 GT2 Porsche, white with black interior. I just got it recently. It’s a track car, basically.
Q: Any big old muscle cars?
JS: I love the U.S. muscle cars. I love the XE Cobra, you know…the Mustangs. Shelby Mustangs are terrific.
Q: Did you get one of the Death Race cars as a present when the movie ended?
JS: No, Paul didn’t give me one. I was very upset about that, but they’re not really roadworthy! You know, it’s hard to sort of get past the police cars with two mini-guns on the bonnet.