Jason Statham is intimidating.
I mean, that's sort of obvious. He's built a career on it. But part of what I find so interesting about him onscreen has been his resolute refusal to vanish into roles. Jason Statham is one of those movie stars who is a movie star for being a heightened version of himself, and he knows that's his brand, and he absolutely steers into it with the choices he makes.
This year, audiences are going to see two radically different versions of Statham onscreen. In Paul Feig's clever and rowdy “Spy,” Statham is a perpetually livid CIA agent who cannot believe the agency would send Melissa McCarthy's character into the field when he's available for the job. It's a great fit for him, and his mounting incredulity combined with his near-manic need to tell McCarthy how awesome he is and his surprisingly nimble way with a pratfall make it a stand-out for him, something that feels new.
But what made it for me? What made my personal experience with “Spy” work so well? I'll explain it the way I explained it to him, but it involves discussing the opening images of this weekend's “Furious 7.” If you'd rather not know that, just skip down to the second question and answer and take it from there. Just know that the reason I sat down with him was to talk about this mega-sequel and his role in it, and I think we had a fairly great conversation. He certainly plays a key role in this film, and if I were using the Sergio Leone archetype of The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly in this film, I'd say that Jason Statham is the Ugly.
I just don't know if I'd make that comparison sitting across from him, because, like I said… intimidating.
DREW MCWEENY: The best way to have seen this film was to do the double feature with “Spy” right before it because that made this film's opening insane. That first scene, the long take where we follow you from your brother's side and realize you have killed an entire hospital… that is INFINITELY more entertaining right on the heels of “Spy”. It's like you walk out of the one film into this one, and it's back to business. Which suddenly becomes hilarious, because I'm picturing your guy has the backstory of the “Spy” character. Like you drove off a cliff onto a train on fire, and then went to the hospital to see your brother. I would like to believe you literally walked out of that film into this one. SXSW did that right.
JASON STATHAM: So you saw them back-to-back?
Back-to-back at South By. Your entrance in “Furious 7” was, for us, about a half-hour later than your exit in “Spy.”
Great. So the movie turned out good then yeah? Spy?
Yeah. I thoroughly enjoyed it. And really enjoyed your work with Feig. I like him a lot. He is a really, really funny guy, but talk about an unexpected bonus. I had no idea how weird they were going to make you in the film. It almost feels like you can hear Feig off-camera yelling lines, having you try things out.
It came out well. That's great. He was so good, and some of the stuff was like ludicrous. “I'm immune to 179 different types of poisons. I know because I ingested them all at once when I was deep undercover in a poison ingesting crime ring. It was like dogs fighting, but instead of dogs fighting, people would bet on humans.” [LAUGHS] I can't fucking remember all of them. It was so insane, and you read that and try to keep your composure. Once you hear, “Okay and rolling!”, you have to try and keep your composure.
They've gotten better and better as they've made these movies at figuring out what fans like about them. It feels like in this one, more than ever before, they were like, “We have a list of things we absolutely have to do.” It's a promise when we see you at the end of last movie, and the promise is you're going to have to fight Dwayne and you're going to have to fight Vin. They made the most of both of them. Your first fight with Dwayne is great, but that fight is punishment. It looks like an incredibly painful fight. How is he, in terms of putting one of those scenes together? I would imagine Dwayne is one of those guys where it's great to go head to head and have that experience.
There's no gray area. He's a pro. He's a fucking 260 pound man who moves like a middleweight. As soon as you start, he is right in there, throwing punches, and he'll work on it until it's right. “No, no, no, that's not going to work. Maybe I come in with this; I come back; smash boom,” and it's over. This is his domain. He's done, you know, we call it fake fighting because we're not really hitting each other. He's been doing that his whole career. It's like no one knows better than Dwayne how to sell something.”
Oh, you sell it in that fight.
Yeah, because the reality is he could fucking take your head off if he connected. The fact that we're not connecting means we can film another scene later on in the day. He's the ultimate pro. His skill is extraordinary, and he's fun to fucking work with.
And then the Vin rumble…
[STATHAM LAUGHS. A LOT.]
… is such a totally different kind of fight later in the film. I love that it starts with weapons, then comes down to hand to hand. It's more of a classic duel at the end of the film, whereas the Dwayne fight is more of an attack. You roll in on him and he just responds. I like that there's a duel element at the end, because it feels like that's what these films have to build to.
Yeah. Exactly. “If you pull out that weapon, I'm going to pull this. Now we're going to duel like real men.” It's kind of, you know, the point of all the build up, the showdown. As far as I know, since I haven't seen how they've edited the thing, but it's always good to leave the final round unfinished. No one wants to fucking lose. You want to keep your integrity, but make it entertaining.
It's really well handled in the film, and I like the fact that there is still the sense that there are some questions that could be answered later.
Right. Well, good.
You get to come in and be the bad guy in this movie, and that's not really something we see often from you.
Yeah. I had to look at it with the perspective that I wasn't the bad guy. Because it's like, “You're a bunch of thieves. You're standing for him. You do exactly what I'm doing right now. I'm sticking up for my brother. You're all about family? Well, guess what? I'm about fucking family, too.” It's personal. I'm not stealing the world's money. I'm not blowing up fucking people that don't need to be blown up. I'm not doing any of that silly stuff. I've got one thing to do. “Who did this to my brother?” That's what I want to get, down to the fucking bones.
I like that there are two radically different stories going on. Your story is very laser focused; it's just revenge.
Yeah. It's more avenge. Because it's not for me, it's for my brother. It's not for me. I'm not going to fucking get revenge. You've done nothing to me, but you fucked up my brother, so I'm going to take care of his problems because blood's thicker than water. That's my perspective. So people say, “Oh, you're the fucking bad guy,” but really.. am I the bad guy?
You are the obstacle. I'll put it that way. You become the obstacle in the film.
Exactly. “Obstacle” is a good one.
I like that they promised that at the end of the previous film, which they managed to keep secret until the press screening. I don't think I heard even a hint that you popped up at the end of the film. There was a real response in the theater that first time, like, “Oh my God.” As soon as that happened, did you start hearing from fans? Has it been something that, in the time between when that film came out and now, you hear from people when they see you on the street, that they're excited?
I heard a lot from Vin and Universal saying they fucking went crazy. Obviously, they want to see us bang heads. The great thing about these movies are it's fan driven, which is so much better, because you know that they're going to get their money's worth. If they're saying it's a good thing to have me at the end, you know, if they're cheering and clapping, then we've got it fucking… you got it right in the end. That was their job then to come up with something and bring me in with a splash. Hats off to our great director James Wan. That opening sequence… one camera, one take, five minutes, whatever it was. I was like, “How are we going to do that? What if this goes wrong?” No, no, no. He's so ambitious.
That's one of the things that I've enjoyed about this series is they've taken chances on filmmakers. Justin when he came in was not necessarily the home run choice. James… I really enjoy James's work but it's definitely a totally different thing then we've see in his movies before. He was talking about approaching these fights as a fan who wants to see these things happen. How was he in terms of the action stuff, because that is the new skill set for him?
Yeah. I just remember his enthusiasm. He's so animated. He just sort of juices you up to try. You go, “We've got to do something good for him. He's not going to be happy unless it's great.” He's got such great enthusiasm and that really comes through. He's working with people that are designing fights, you know, Jeff Imada was the choreographer. So they're coming up with all this stuff and then trying to find the locations and try to get it in the amount of days that they've got. There are a thousand different complications and everything just got turned on its head after Paul. So as a director it must have taken 20 years off of his life.
What's remarkable is how seamless it is. When you see the finished film, it feels like this is where it was always happening. It feels like that's the ending that was originally supposed to be in place and that's the pay off. It's really hard to believe that that's not the film that they sent out to make. I think it speaks well of James and Chris Morgan and everybody that they could respond the way they did.
He's a talented guy. I tell you, James Wan, he's a really fucking smart guy. He knows what he's doing. He's got great fucking ideas.
Can we talk about Jeff Imada as the fight coordinator on this one? There are a handful of guys right now whose work I'm really blown away by, who I think every time out, they're doing interesting stuff. Brad Allen is one of those guys whose work is just crazy. I see the fights he puts together and I see real wit in them. Do you look at who the choreographer is before you sign on to a movie? Are there guys that you really enjoy working with because their approach matches your approach?
A lot of what these guys do comes from a Chinese approach. They do a lot of pre-vis. They shoot on video with stuntmen and you can get a real sense of how long the fight is, the duration, what the style is, how the tempo goes, what the back and forth is, any special moves get exposed so that you need to go and learn them if you can't do them already. Pre-vis is so important. Not a lot of people do them well. The ones that do do them well are fucking light years above everybody else. I mean I work with people like 87Eleven. Chad Stahelski and David Leitch and those guys are fucking superb. They're so talented. Any opportunity for me to work with them guys, I will. My experience working with Cory Yuen on “Transporter” 1,2 and 3, and just the way that he works, that seems to be the formula. They've got to pre-vis. If you can't pre-vis it, you can't be sure how it will work, and plus it gives you a great idea of where the camera should be. It's a template for people that don't really understand the physical action. I think it's so helpful. If you understand it already, then great, but this angle is going to make that punch look ten times better than over there. “Let us help you.” And, yeah, I think Brad Allen is great. There's not a lot of them out there. There's only a few.
That”s why I think we see certain names over and over right now. These are guys who have proven that they can make this stuff work.
Yeah. It's tough to make it, and it helps if you have a bit of flair.
After the interview, I spoke a little more with Jason and his manager, and it was obvious we could have had a long conversation. With “Spy” also coming out this summer, I'm going to make sure I sit down with Statham again. He seemed to have a good time chatting, and we were just warming up when our time ran out. That seems to be a recurring problem with the way these press days work, and almost the direct opposite of a normal conversation, which is the illusion we're chasing when we participate in these assembly line events. It's tough, and it's frustrating when you see someone start to relax and open up just time to wrap.
Brace yourself. “Furious 7” is in theaters tomorrow.