Jason Statham has joked that the reason he gets hired is because he's cheap and he does all of his own stunts. But this is devaluing his many strengths as an actor – he's an amazing physical performer and has a fair amount of screen presence with a kind of old school macho charm that isn't seen at the movies all that often anymore. Statham's new movie, "Safe," is one of his better entries (his best since "The Bank Job" at least) – a lightning fast post-9/11 action movie about a desperate man who befriends a young Chinese girl who is wanted by all sorts of mobsters and crooked politicians (exemplified by Chris Sarandon's sleazy New York City mayor). We got to talk to Statham about what it's like being a next-generation bad-ass and why he was so desperate to work with Brian De Palma.
So far Statham has remade a Charles Bronson movie (last year's "The Mechanic"), been compared to Bronson (by his "Safe" director Boaz Yakin), and has a Burt Reynolds remake lined up (the William Goldman-scripted "Heat," which De Palma is set to direct — more on that in a minute). We wondered how he felt being compared to these heavy hitters. "They're big shoes to fill, let's start there," Statham began. "I think there are just so many great films that came from that era. Clint Eastwood is one of my favorite actors, as is Charles Bronson and McQueen, Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas. They're guy's guys." Statham boiled the appeal of their movies down to their essence: "They made movies that made an imprint on people. They're very simple, really, but they're so watchable."
When asked if he's trying to carry that mantle forward, Statham seemed cagier. "I'm just going to work!" he laughed. "People come with scripts and material and I'm just looking to make great films and work with people who know what they're doing. And if we get to hark back to those movies or being inspired by them, then great. But we can never really create what they did. You can't do a Clint Eastwood movie out-Clint Clint!"
We wondered what it was, specifically, that drew Statham to "Safe," and his answer, like his acting style, was agreeably straightforward: "It sounded like something that maybe people would want to go see." He described his whole career as a series of questions: "The whole purpose of doing these films is, 'Would you want to go see these films? Do you think anyone else would?' And 'Would it be a good experience?' " Statham was quick to answer his own question, in regards to his experience on "Safe:" "Working in New York, doing an action film, with a good writer/director and a good producer, all makes sense. Why didn't I do that?"
Before we got shooed out of the room, we had to ask Statham about his De Palma connection. A couple of years ago De Palma was set to direct Statham in "The Hunter," an adaptation of Richard Stark's Parker novels. That project moved from De Palma to "Ray" director Taylor Hackford (its name has since changed to "Parker"), but that didn't deter Statham – he's slated to team up with De Palma on the aforementioned "Heat" remake. So we had to ask – why De Palma?
"I met De Palma in New York and, you know, he's one of the living legends," Statham explained. " 'Scarface' is one of my top five movies of all time, so the chance to work with that kind of quality is something I never saw happening." It's a fulfillment of a dream, it seems, and Statham sounds optimistic. "It just happens to be an old movie from the past and we're going to do the best we can with it." Somehow, with a clearly committed Statham and De Palma behind the camera, we think it's going to be ridiculously entertaining.
And speaking of ridiculously entertaining, "Safe" opens this Friday.