BEFORE THE BRITAIN-BORN ACTOR AND TRAINED MARTIAL ARTIST BEGAN DESTROYING HOLLYWOOD VILLAINS WITH HIS BARE HANDS, HE WAS A MODEL AND PROFESSIONAL HIGH DIVER, BUT A CHANCE MEETING WITH DIRECTOR GUY RITCHIE KICKED OFF A 25-YEAR FILM CAREER AND GAVE US ONE OF THIS GENERATION’S MOST CELEBRATED ACTION HEROES. THIS JANUARY, THE DUO IS BACK AT IT AGAIN IN OPERATION FORTUNE: RUSE DE GUERRE BY WILL HARRIS
Not every actor has the opportunity to experience a full-circle moment with the director who initially gave them their big break, but 25 years after their first time working together, Jason Statham once again finds himself teamed up with director Guy Ritchie for the new film Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre.
Mind you, it’s not as if this is a reunion that’s been two and a half decades in the making. Statham first found himself on the other side of the camera from Ritchie in 1998’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, followed it with 2000’s Snatch, rejoined forces again for 2005’s Revolver, and then got back together once more for 2021’s Wrath of Man. Still, there’s always going to be something special and even a little bit sentimental about seeing the twosome teaming up…but maybe don’t tell them we said that. (They don’t really seem like the sentimental type.)
“[Guy Ritchie] is definitely most accountable for what I’m doing right now,” Statham told Men’s Journal during the promotion for 2013’s Parker. “He’s the one to blame! He was a great influence. I learned everything I had to learn at the beginning from him. Basically he taught me how to do what I needed to do in front of a camera. Acting Lessons 101 with Guy. If I’m bad, it’s on him!”
Statham didn’t start out with plans to be an actor. Indeed, his initial path was decidedly more physical in nature, with Statham spending a dozen years as a member of Britain’s National Swimming Squad. (Another side of his physicality: playing soccer, a sport he was introduced to by one of his future cinematic co-stars, Vinnie Jones, who went to school with Statham.) In the mid-1990s, however, Statham’s focus on sports shifted to a career as a male model, working for several high-profile clients like Tommy Hilfiger, Levi’s, and the French Connection. It was the latter ad campaign that led Statham to cross paths with Ritchie, who decided that he was perfect for the role of Bacon in Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels.
“Jason is one of my most favorite people in the entire world,” Ritchie told Yahoo! Movies in 2017. “Although I like a lot of people, Jason’s a man I love. He’s grumpy, and he’s one of the few grumpy people that doesn’t annoy me in any way. I adore him.”
After the follow-up collaboration with Ritchie (playing the role of Turkish in Snatch), Statham’s rising profile led to roles in films like Ghosts of Mars and The One, but it was securing the role of driver Frank Martin in the 2002 action film The Transporter that began the process of transforming Statham into a full-fledged action hero. Similarly, his work in 2003’s The Italian Job revealed that it wasn’t just under Ritchie’s watchful eye that he was able to work as a member of an ensemble cast, a skill which would serve him well in subsequent years, first as part of the second and third Expendables films, then as part of the Fast & Furious franchise.
That said, Statham’s career arc hasn’t always been a straight line from one unabashed action flick to another. In 2013, he delivered two films that stood out as being more overtly dramatic in tone: Redemption, the directorial debut of Steven Knight (Dirty Pretty Things, Eastern Promises), and Home front, featuring a screenplay written by Sylvester Stallone.
“It was definitely a thing I haven’t had the chance to do before,” Statham said of Home front in a 2013 interview with Vanity Fair. “I know Sly off camera, and he was always instrumental in wanting me to play something new. I tried to do justice to the part, and channeling Sly was a little subconscious some days. He’s just a great influence on me, especially with something he’s written. He was there on set…and if the words didn’t fit into our mouths, he’d adjust them right there and make them work. That’s just the nice thing about having an Oscar-nominated writer at your disposal.”
In 2015, Statham even got to try his hand at comedy, teaming up with Melissa McCarthy for Spy, directed by Paul Feig.
“I wrote it with him in mind, but never felt I’d be able to get him,” Feig admitted to Forbes in 2015. “He was kind of an inspiration for it, but then you still go, ‘Well Jason Statham’s never going to do this.’ So I made it so several different people could slide into it. The funny thing was, when everybody would read it, they all assumed I’d written it for Will Ferrell or somebody like that. But I was like, ‘No, no, it’s got to be a serious action star to play this.’ And the minute I brought up Jason Statham, everybody thought it was the funniest idea, so fortunately he came along.”
Since Spy, much of Statham’s work has predominantly been sequels to his past work, but there have been a few exceptions, including the 2018 killer shark movie The Meg, but the most notable film was Wrath of Man, which re-teamed him with Guy Ritchie and in turn led to their next collaboration, this year’s Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre.
“You keep looking at each other and realizing you’re all 50,” Statham told Empire Magazine in 2021. “Mind you, [Ritchie] hasn’t f***in’ aged a day. But it’s funny, you have these weird shifts in time. We’ve been apart for 15 years? It feels like we made Lock, Stock 15 days ago.” Similarly, Ritchie said of Statham, “Our relationship is identical to what it was the first time I worked with him. We’re still playing a lot of chess.”
Although Operation Fortune has been beset with problems in terms of its release some territories are putting it out theatrically, others are delivering it to streaming services it’s still another solid collaboration between the two old mates…or as Statham put it in a 2022 interview with BBC Radio 2, “Most of these jobs we get to do together are plenty of fun.”