Shirebrook-born star Jason Statham
Hollywood tough guy Jason Statham talks about his latest movie working with J-Lo, and his memories of Derbyshire. Stephen Milton reports
Not so long ago, Jason Statham found himself at a crossroads in life – should he continue with a career in diving or take a plunge of a different nature into the world of the movie stuntman?
‘I wanted to be an athlete and I wanted to be a stuntman. They were both real dreams of mine,’ he says. ‘I had a friend who was a stuntman who used to get jobs here and there. It sounded good.
‘To get on the stunt register you had to be expert in six different skill sets. You had to ride a horse, be good in a car, excel at a combat sport, own a brown belt in karate... There were all these different categories; almost like a tick list of extreme pursuits. I think I could boast three of the six.’
To train for the other three, Jason Statham would have had to quit the British diving team. He was torn. ‘And then I met Guy Ritchie, who put me in a film. And the rest, as they say, is history.’
Born in the green fringes of the ex-mining community of Shirebrook, Jason had the sort of career trajectory every actor pines for. And in his heart of hearts, the 45-year-old can now admit that the Olympics were never going to come calling.
‘I made the British squad and even managed to finish twelfth in the World Championships in 1992. But twelfth wasn’t first and I didn’t want to be twelfth at anything. I wanted to be the best and I was just too far behind everyone else because I’d started too late. To be a top diver you need to be leaping off the board when you’re five years old. If the first time you do it you’re 10, as I was, you’re giving away five years of training time to an opponent. So it was never going to happen, and I can admit that now.’
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Just before his big break, Jason was earning a living through the peculiar combination of black market trader versus French Connection model. It was the perfect mixture for fledgling movie director Guy Ritchie, who was trying to fill the role of a streetwise con artist with ‘killer’ cheek bones. And Statham fitted the bill, ‘Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels’.
The movie was a ‘sleeper’ smash hit and all the actors involved with it became in-demand commodities... even Vinnie Jones. Fifteen years later, Jason has carved a rather understated but very well respected career through films such as Ghosts of Mars, The Italian Job, Crank and The Transporter.
As of now, the actor is a subtle movie star with guaranteed appeal who has found himself shoulder to shoulder with some of Hollywood’s ‘hardest’ actors – namely Stallone, Schwarzenegger and Willis in The Expendables franchise.
‘Now that is one seriously tough football team to join,’ he says, throwing his arms behind his shaved head. ‘It was totally surreal when I started shooting on The Expendables, so much so that I framed my first call sheet. It literally reads, “Willis at 2pm, Stallone 4pm, Statham 5pm.” That was a moment, a moment where I thought, “How the hell did I get here?” I grew up watching Rambo and Rocky, now I’m in a movie starring and directed by Rambo and Rocky!’
His latest film, Parker, is a step forward again. Based on a character created by the late American crime fiction writer Donald E. Westlake, the lead man represents something of a departure: yes, he’s lean, well-dressed and well-muscled, but vulnerable, too? This doesn’t sound like Statham...
‘I thought it was a great heist movie, and yes, the character is a bit different,’ he explains. ‘I’m always partial to a heist movie. I like the con artist movies, such as The Sting. There’s never been a bad robbery movie. I always find something attractive about a heist movie, and this one had a different element. It had a lot of strong characters that we could play opposite. Parker wouldn’t have lasted the 24 novels Westlake wrote that he features in if his character wasn’t compelling. He had a good pedigree.’
Betrayed by his fellow criminals, Parker teams up with a Palm Beach estate agent, played by Jennifer Lopez, to take his revenge. Their romance is complex because Parker already has a devoted girlfriend.
‘You can’t go wrong when working with Jennifer. She is just amazing and burns up a movie set. She’s as sweet as they come, she really is. She is just happy in life, happy to be working, happy to be doing whatever she’s doing. We were always giggling; always having a good time.’
Of course, it’s all a long way from Derbyshire, where Jason grew up. Does he ever make it back onto home turf?
‘My childhood was split between Derbyshire and Norfolk, and I do miss those childhood days, despite all I’ve gone on to do.
‘I sometimes miss the feeling of being absolutely grounded. You go for a walk in the Peak District and you realise you’re such a small part of something that is so awesome. You can breathe it in, enjoy it – it’s yours – but it’s also something so much bigger than anything any movie star can create. That’s why Hollywood feels so false when you go back. I speak to some co-stars about the cobbled streets back home and the village butcher and fishing off a brook at 5am, and they look at me as if I’m speaking a foreign language. I’m so glad I had all that. I can’t imagine what it would be like not to have experienced the kind of childhood I had where you really did explore your surroundings... and in Derbyshire the boundaries were endless.
‘Sadly, I don’t have family there anymore. I did a trip up there a year or so ago, however, around the Pennines. We took in Buxton, Glossop, and on to Leek. It was great to lose ourselves totally.’
So with the actor currently ensconced in a sprawling love nest in Beverly Hills with his Victoria’s Secret model girlfriend Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, could Statham ever see himself giving up the bright lights of LA for the more natural climes of Derbyshire?
‘Not right now,’ he laughs. ‘Of late, I’ve become a sun man and I’m not going to get as much in Derbyshire, now am I? But never say never...’