When “The Mechanic” was released in 1972, starring Charles Bronson as a professional hitman named Arthur Bishop and Jan-Michael Vincent as his protégé, Steve McKenna, the world of professional killers hadn’t yet become a staple of American cinema. In the almost four decades since, that is far from the case. A slew of imitators have followed, some good (“The Professional,” “Grosse Pointe Blank“) and some not so good (“Assassins,” “Hitman“).
Now the producers of the original film, Irwin Winkler and Robert Chartoff (along with two of their sons following in their footsteps) have decided to update the original hitman movie for modern times, returning to the original “Mechanic” script by Lewis John Carlino with some extra writing help from Richard Wenk (“16 Blocks“). Stepping into the shoes of Bronson is Jason Statham, while Ben Foster offers a decisively different take on his role from Vincent’s cocksure performance in the original.
The Playlist spoke with Statham and Foster about the new movie recently, which promises plenty of good old-fashioned bloodshed and, of course, blowing stuff up.
“I just got a call saying, ‘Do you want to blow up stuff with Jason Statham?’” says Foster of the being offered the somewhat unlikely part. “It sounded like a really good idea.”
“I particularly liked the relationship between me and Ben,” says Statham. “I thought it was very interesting and full of suspense. There were so many aspects of why he should bring someone on under him and so many aspects of why he shouldn’t.”
Besides Foster, “The Mechanic” also affords Statham the opportunity to play opposite acting legend Donald Sutherland, who plays Bishop’s mentor and Steve’s father, Harry McKenna. “I think you’re only as good as the people opposite you,” says Statham. “If I get an opportunity to work across from someone like Ben Foster or Donald Sutherland, it just raises the game for sure. You just have an immediate confidence and there’s nothing like it. I just did [“The Killer Elite“] with Robert De Niro and Clive Owen. Once you work with these people, you just go, ‘Wow, you can’t screw it up with these guys because they’re just so good.’”
While Statham was challenging his acting chops, Foster was confronting his own challenges as he attempted to rise to the intense physical level Statham has become known for, particularly in relation to performing his own stunts. One such scene was a rooftop leap from a 30-story building. “I’m not partial to heights,” Foster says with a wry smile. “I think I was under the impression that the stuntmen were going to do it and then I was told that Jason was going to do it. I’m always striving to lift my own game or physical bravery or whatever that is. That’s the great thing about working with a real athlete like Jason. My heart’s racing just talking about it. There’s a certain moment where you say, ‘F*** this, get me down, no!’ The second time, you want to go up again and again [and] then it’s the best ride in the world because you’re in an amusement park. You want to keep going. It’s an addiction. You get into it.”
“Here’s a man who’s very fearful of heights so to see someone’s face quivering in the wind,” laughs Statham, “it was very brave in the same breath. Those kinds of situations are full of adrenaline and very exciting to execute. You always question whether they’re safe. There are no guarantees that something can’t go wrong, so there’s always a thrill to it. You can’t prepare anyone for that. It’s running through your mind, at what point do we get down from here?”
After the death of his father, Foster’s character Steve McKenna is in a lonely, hopeless state, unsure of what to do with his life and how to channel his anger. “This guy’s in a spot,” says Foster. “He has no friends, he has no family and he sees this guy that has a sense of himself, a purpose, controlled rage. Rage is just a reaction to being wounded and feeling alone. He’s gonna be proactive, with gun porn.” (Laughs)
Playing a loner is pretty much old hat at this point for Statham, who seems to specialize in the brooding type. “[My characters] say a lot less words and I get paid by the word now,” jokes Statham. “It’s soothing on my vocal chords. I tend to get asked to play these parts. Maybe they see something in me. I’m not as lonely as the characters that I play, thank God. I’ve got quite a lot of friends.”
Both actors opted to avoid watching the original prior to filming, concerned it might color their work on the new re-imagining. “I was aware of it but hadn’t seen it,” says Foster. “I didn’t want to watch it beforehand so that I don’t consciously or unconsciously steal from the original. There’s a lot of discussion about how do you live up to an original that’s so beloved. We had that with “3:10 to Yuma” and I didn’t watch that.”
“Obviously trying to do anything that’s been done well before has a certain amount of expectation,” says Statham. “You’re always going to get people that are going to compare it. But, you know, this is many, many years later and we’re not trying to do exactly the same thing.” He adds, “It will never live up to the expectations of the fans of the original, but it may be something different and be successful in its own way.”
“The Mechanic” opens in theaters nationwide on January 28th, 2011. — Jeff Otto