Jason Statham has been referred to alternately as either the new Jean-Claude Van Damme or the new Steven Seagal, but such comparisons grossly underestimate the talents of the British-born star of Crank and In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale. For unlike those B-list action movie icons of the 1990s, Statham can do more than just beat down bad guys -- he can drive cars, too, as he's ably demonstrated in films like The Italian Job and The Transporter.
Next week, Statham tackles driving and butt-kicking with equal aplomb in Death Race, director Paul W.S. Anderson's 21st-century update of Roger Corman's 1975 cult classic Death Race 2000. A few weeks ago he dropped by Comic-Con to talk about his violent remake and to give us updates on Crank 2 and The Transporter 3 as well.
You looked leaner in Death Race than in your previous movies. Is that the leanest you've been?
Statham: Oh yeah, that's the leanest I've ever been. Paul wanted me to sort of change and get into a prison sort of fit, if you like. He just had an idea of me being really skinny and sort of ripped. Sometimes it's good to sort of give yourself a little challenge, anyway, give yourself some discipline. It works rather well.
We heard that you worked with the 300 trainer.
Statham: Yeah, he worked with a lot of the guys on 300. Logan Hood, his name is. He's an ex-Navy SEAL, like a machine. He's very knowledgeable and a great motivator. I did about 10 weeks with him and a very strict diet, and [the weight] just fell away.
What was it like shooting those racing scenes? Did you get to drive any of the cars?
Statham: They had many stunt cars. Any action movie that involves cars, they have multiple copies of the same car, so when they get mangled and bashed they just slip in the next one. One of the most difficult things was the fact that they don't have a lot of vision. The cars are covered in armor and there's very little vision that you can really draw any confidence from. It's quite nerve-wracking to know where you are and who's coming up and who's not coming up, and the track's just full of dangerous pylons and steel girders. One mistake and it's over. So, it was a massive concern for the stunt coordinators involved, just because of the danger that those kind of things present. We just had to sort of go and do the best we could.
How fast are you going when you're driving those cars?
Statham: It's hard to say. The track's sort of made of bits and pieces. We shot in different locations and made it look like it was one big track, but there were different locations to make up the different areas. We're not really going as fast as you might imagine, but it's pretty fast. It depends on what you call fast, you know?
Your character wears a mask for a good portion of the driving sequences. How well could you see out of the mask?
Statham: Not very well. That presented a big problem. So, I didn't drive in that thing. They made different ones with bigger eye pieces. They had various ones. It was all to do with the aesthetics. They didn't give a s--t whether I could see or not, really.
Had you seen the original Death Race 2000 before signing on for this?
Statham: No, I haven't seen it. Paul actually asked me not to see it until after the movie. He just didn't want anything that would interfere with his idea of the film. He said, "We're not gonna do a remake. It's just like an homage." He said, "If you can, try not to see it."
Having seen the finished cut of Death Race, what's your favorite scene?
Statham: I don't know....I liked a lot of the car stuff. Basically, it's a car movie. That's what it is. It's not The Godfather. Some of the deaths are just like gory and hilarious. And I like the fact that death can be gruesome and funny. I think it's important not to take it too seriously. This is entertainment, and everyone who sees it seems to get their money's worth.
A lot of action directors seem to be backing away from CGI-heavy movies. Death Race looks like it primarily used practical effects.
Statham: Yeah, because CGI is so boring, you know? People just switch off to that. I think they know. If it's just a little bit pushed in a direction where it just doesn't look possible then people are just completely turned off by it. I know Paul wanted to shoot a ton of it, as much as possible, in through the camera lens. And it's always more interesting and that's what I've always wanted to do it with all the action movies that I'm a part of. I like to get stuck in and do the stunts and show that we're actually doing it because people just switch off. I mean, I personally do. I find CGI very boring. Paul's very conscious of that and he wanted to shoot real people in real cars doing real stunts and just use a limited amount of CGI.
How many of those Mustangs did you go through?
Statham: I can't remember now. We had like a truck load of them.
Have you finished shooting The Transporter 3?
Statham: I just finished Transporter 3, yeah.
Is that film taking it up to another level also?
Statham: We hope so. We're always trying to make it go that way, you know?
Was there something specific you wanted to do with the third one?
Statham: I wanted to make it better than the first two. I always felt the first one was the best one, for me. With the second one...I thought we could do better. We're always trying to do better. We just need more time and more money, and that's hard to get. If we're indulged with a little bit more money, a bit more of a budget, more time, more preparation, we can do something really, really good. But sometimes we don't get that. I think the third one's probably the best out of the three.
What can you tell us about Crank 2? How crazy is this movie going to get?
Statham: That's one of the most enjoyable films I've shot in the last decade. It is absolutely madder than you could imagine. It's nuts. It's like the first one times 100. It's just ridiculous.
Were you surprised that they approached you to make another one, since most of the audience assumed that you died at the end of the first Crank?
Statham: Well if you look closely, you'll see that in the first one, when he lands there's a heartbeat and the blink of an eye. That's always been there. People that thought he died probably weren't looking close enough.
How have directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor changed from Crank to Crank 2?
Statham: They just drink a lot more tequila. They're absolutely bonkers, yeah. They're exactly the same. They're just very, very confident; they know what they're doing. It's an unusual setup they have. Normally, you'd think that one would take care of the script and the dialogue, and the other one would take care of the camera and the lighting, but they just flip it. They can just go, "Ok, you go and hold the camera this time." They're so interchangeable with their roles that they play.
Who's the better rollerblader? I know they like shooting on rollerblades?
Statham: I've never seen anyone as good as Mark Neveldine, period. He's completely amazing on a set of skates -- and fearless to the point of suicide. It's very worrying some of the stuff. I don't know how they let him get away with it.
The first Crank sort of came out of nowhere. Was there any new or different pressure while doing Crank 2?
Statham: They're not aware of any pressure. They wrote part two in like a week. I think it was a weekend, actually. They locked themselves in a room and just put three bottles of tequila there and just drank and wrote this script. I remember reading it. I gave a copy of it to Steve or Steve gave a copy to me and we said, "No, this is just too far out. There's no way they're ever going to make it. You can't do this. You so can't do that. That's so offensive." I mean, it really is. It's beyond offensive. And they said, "Do you want to do it?" and I said, "F--k it, why not?" So it was literally like that.
Could Crank be like your 24? You could come out with a new one every year, another day in the life of Chev Chelios?
Statham: You know, that'd be good. Actually, we had so much fun that when we finished part two, we said, "Should we do another one?" Literally. I said, "Yeah, f--k it! Let's do Crank 3 in 3D." So I'm sure the next episode will not be too far away.
Have they really talked to you about a third Crank?
Statham: Oh yeah. Already. We were three quarters of the way through it and we went "Ahhh," because we knew we were making something really far-out and original. So they said, "Why let this be the last one? Let's do another one. What about Crank 3 in 3-D?"
Guy Ritchie is promoting a movie (RocknRolla) at Comic-Con too. Have you run into him?
Statham: Yeah, I've seen him this week. I've been fighting with him all week, in fact.
Have you talked to him about his upcoming Sherlock Holmes flick? Has he approached you about that?
Statham: Yes, I see Robert Downey and speak to him. Yes, it seems like a very exciting project for them both to get stuck into.
Any possibility of you ending up in it?
Statham: I don't know. We'll see what happens. Dr. Watson maybe? Who knows?
With his shirt off.
Statham: Naked Watson!
(Caution: Spoilers Ahead!!!)
You have two successful franchises now with The Transporter and Crank. Do you see Death Race as something that could potentially become a franchise as well?
Statham: I hope so, yeah. I really enjoyed working with Paul, and all the cast were great.
Tyrese seems really confident about it as well.
Statham: Yeah, it kind of sets itself up for part two being in Mexico somewhere. I'd be very happy to shoot another one.
What did you enjoy most about making this movie?
Statham: I just liked working with the people. Kicking around with Ian McShane and Joan Allen ain't too much of a bad thing, is it? I just like the whole atmosphere that Paul brings to the set. It's a very relaxed one. And it's just a pleasure to go in and do some work. We're running around in souped-up, tuned-up cars. I have a big passion for cars and always have.
You end the movie living happily ever after with Tyrese and your child and all that. That sort of puts a different spin on the whole thing.
Statham: That was actually a re-shoot. That was a piece that they stuck on almost six months later.
We heard you shot that two-and-a-half weeks ago.
Statham: Yeah, pretty much. I had a very tearful baby that wouldn't stop crying.
What was the thinking in going back in and adding that little tag to the end?
Statham: I think it makes sense because before we didn't really know what happened to Natalie's character, and I think it needed some kind of resolution, that she wasn't just banged-up in prison, that she did get out. So it made me look a little bit better, at the end.
Death Race opens August 22, 2008.