In the 1980s, there was no shortage of Hollywood he-men, guys who regularly toppled small armies and rescued whoever seemed worthy of rescuing. Stallone. Schwarzenegger. Seagal. Those names are synonymous with action, not necessarily acting.
Times have changed. The muscle-bound enforcers of yesteryear have given way to caped crusaders and masked mutants, and the actors who play them are plausible Oscar hopefuls — Robert Downey Jr., Edward Norton and the like. Yet here, as if to prove there is still room for an old-fashioned big-screen brawler, stands Jason Statham.
Statham, 43, whose remake of the 1972 thriller “The Mechanic” opens Friday, is built like a battering ram and often plays the part.
Does he ever yearn to expand his résumé? The bulky Brit seems to bristle, ever so slightly, at the notion that what he does is not enough.
“We can only do what’s in front of us, and most offers that come my way are driven by action,” Statham says. “If I get a movie that rings all the bells, that’s something I’d want to do. But I don’t think I have to prove anything by doing a comedy or a romance, just to say I can.
“Action movies have given me a good life. It’s definitely better than what I was doing before.”
Statham is referring to his days as a street hustler, selling jewelry on London street corners. That experience earned him a meaty role in Guy Ritchie’s 1998 underground crime thriller “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.” Ritchie was looking for someone who “lived the lifestyle.”
Statham was happy to oblige, just as it pleases him to do his own stunts.
In “The Mechanic,” Statham plays a veteran hit man opposite Ben Foster, star of last year’s “The Messenger.” Foster is intense and wiry, but he is fearful of heights thanks to a nagging case of vertigo.
A former Olympic diver, Statham suffers no such phobia. He prefers to work closely with action choreographers rather than fake it with a green screen, reasoning that “there’s nothing that can allow you to experience the full adrenaline of dropping down the side of a building unless you actually do it. It’s good to excite the heart.”
Foster might have felt differently, but he threw himself into the role — literally.
“He’s got an ego that will push him beyond the limits he’s used to,” Statham says. “We did an accelerated fall from 300-plus feet. For someone who doesn’t like to throw himself in the saddle and go for it, putting himself in that kind of situation is very brave indeed.”
IF YOU GO
Starring Jason Statham, Ben Foster, Tony Goldwyn, Donald Sutherland
Written by Richard Wenk, Lewis John Carlino
Directed by Simon West
Running time 1 hour 32 minutes