ONE OF THE MOST BANKABLE ACTION MOVIE STARS OF HIS GENERATION AND A TRAINED ATHLETE, STUNT COORDINATOR, AND MARTIAL ARTIST THIS 52 YEAR OLD CONTINUES TO BOUNCE OFF MOVIE SET WALLS, THIS TIME IN THE EIGHTH FILM IN THE FAST & FURIOUS FRANCHISE, SET FOR AUGUST RELEASE
BY MATT SCANLON
Though there have been modest peaks and valleys in gross domestic movie ticket sales over the last 20 years (a notable high in 2002 of 1.57 billion, a low of 1.3 billion in 2017), average numbers tend to be stable. A fascinating and recent upending of norms, however, has been in the action movie sector. Over the course of 2017 and 2018, it experienced an unprecedented leap in market share, from 23% of tickets sold to just over 40 percent. Action revenues have mirrored this number: a record $4.08 billion in inflation adjusted gross over the course of last year (figures courtesy of the numbers.com). The moral of the story is, if one is weighing where to put investor dough in the industry most dependably these days, it’s in the rock ’em sock ’em sector, and few stars in that category have racked up box office numbers like UK born Jason Statham, who has appeared in no fewer than 27 action flicks since his debut in 1998’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. There have been the occasional ventures into more comedic territory (that first film, along with 2015’s Spy, alongside Melissa McCarthy), but overall, the 52 year old has maintained a remarkable fidelity to what he does best not bothered, it seems, with a need to venture into high drama or pathos. From Ghosts of Mars to The Transporter and its sequels, from The Italian Job to The Expendables and its follow ups, and from the prolific Fast & Furious franchise to last year’s The Meg (that last film racking up a stupendous $530 million worldwide gross against a roughly estimated $150 million budget) Statham has offered rock ribbed and gun toting dependability, not least because of a wry style, a chiseled countenance, and inherent athleticism.
Born in Sydenham, a district in the southeast of London, Statham became a member of the British national diving team, eventually placing 12th in the world. Though he never won a medal over the course of a 12 year diving career, he competed in the 1990 Commonwealth games and came close to representing Great Britain in the 1988, 1992, and 1996 Olympics (each time placing third in the selection ranks; only the first two were sent to the games). While training at the Crystal Palace National Sports Center in London, he caught the attention of film crews and photographers, and was eventually introduced to director Guy Ritchie, who cast him as Bacon in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (which grossed nearly twenty times its budget of $1.35 million) as well as Ritchie’s follow up film, Snatch.
Also a martial artist, with a background in karate, kickboxing, and Wing Chun (the last a variation of kung fu), Statham frequently does his own stunts, including a number of scenes in The Meg. During a Warner Bros. studio interview for the film, and referencing a sequence in which he was towed by a boat at high speed while being chased by a giant CGI shark, he explained that, “a portion was filmed in the ocean because they needed me being towed with the boat in the background, and you can’t really fake that. It was important that we were able to shoot in an authentic way… There’s a sense of achievement in it for me.”
The Meg director, Jon Turteltaub, added that, “There’s nothing false about Jason; he doesn’t fake stunts, doesn’t fake his physical appearance. It’s all legit. He’s strong, honest, funny, and clever, and you just want to watch him. He’s a true movie star.”
In his third film in the Fast & Furious series (the first two Fast & Furious 6 in 2013 and Furious 7 two years later), Statham once again plays former British military officer turned mercenary Deckard Shaw in the August 2 Universal Pictures release, Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw.
Costarring Dwayne Johnson, Idris Elba, Vanessa Kirby, and Helen Mirren, and directed by David Leitch (Deadpool 2) from a script by longtime Fast & Furious “narrative architect” Chris Morgan, the film rejoins a longstanding and barb rich feud between Hobbs ( Johnson), a loyal agent of America’s Diplomatic Security Service, and the outcast Shaw. The two first faced off in Furious 7 swapping smack talk and body blows as they tried to take each other down. This time, when a cyber and genetically enhanced anarchist Brixton (Elba) gains control of a bio threat that could alter humanity forever and kidnaps an MI6 agent (Kirby) who just happens to be Shaw’s sister these two enemies are forced into an uneasy partnership. Action courses across the globe, from Los Angeles to London and from the toxic wasteland of Chernobyl (now more topically relevant than ever) to the lush beauty of Samoa.
Statham, in a Universal studio interview, revealed that this time he saw an opportunity to dive deeper into his character’s history, and so agreed to not only star in the film, but also come aboard as a producer. Shaw, he explained, is still the same man, but the script shifts the audience’s perspective.
“We finally get to learn a lot more about him,” Statham said. “I’ve always regarded him as a guy who has very strong principles. His morals are firm and respectable, and he takes care of the family no matter what. Shaw is the guy who goes to any lengths to do the right thing for his sister and tries to heal the family rift. His ‘bad guy’ label is misplaced.”
Look for the actor next in the Paul Feig written and directed Spy 2, in which he reprises the role of gloating yet deeply incompetent agent Rick Ford a performance in the original that earned him a Critics’ Choice Award nomination for Best Actor in a Comedy. No release date for Spy 2 had been announced at press time, and no word yet as to whether Melissa McCarthy will rejoin the cast.
Statham lives with his wife, model Rosie Huntington Whiteley, and their two year old son in Beverly Hills.