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Former Olympian Jason Statham Carries the Torch for Yesterday's Action Heroes

Lock, Stock and One Smoking Barrel: Jason Statham stars as The Mechanic.

In the ’80s, there was no shortage of Hollywood he-men, guys who regularly toppled small armies and rescued whoever seemed worthy of rescuing. Stallone. Schwarzenegger. Seagal. Their names were synonymous with action, but not necessarily acting.
 
Times have changed. The musclebound enforcers of yesteryear have given way to caped crusaders and masked mutants, and the actors who play the new breed of superheroes are not reformed bodybuilders but plausible Oscar hopefuls: Robert Downey Jr, Edward Norton and the like. Yet here, as if to prove there’s still room for an old-fashioned big-screen brawler, stands Jason Statham.
 
Statham, 43, whose remake of the 1972 Charles Bronson thriller The Mechanic opens Friday, is built like a battering ram, and often plays the part. Does he secretly yearn to expand his résumé to include, say, romantic comedy? The bulky Brit seems to bristle, ever so slightly, at the notion that what he does isn’t enough.
 
“We can only do what’s in front of us, and most of the offers that come my way are driven by action,” he says. “If I get a movie that really rings all the bells, that’s something I’d want to do. But I don’t think I have to prove anything to anybody 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 black-market street hustler, selling jewelry on London street corners. It was his experience there that earned him a meaty role in Guy Ritchie’s 1998 underground-crime thriller Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Ritchie, it seems, 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, who is more in the mold of Norton than Stallone (with whom Statham will soon shoot a sequel to The Expendables.) Foster is intense and wiry, but thanks to a nagging case of vertigo, fearful of heights.
 
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 may have felt differently, but rather than let his fearless co-star do all the heavy lifting, Foster threw himself into the role. Literally.
 
Did a friendly competition arise?
 
“He’s got a certain-sized ego that will push him beyond the limits he’s normally used to,” Statham says of Foster, who plays his apprentice assassin. “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.

“We sat down for a couple beers and discussed what was necessary, and there was an easy chemistry. I think one day, if he ever wanted to do more than acting, he’d be a brilliant writer and director. Whether I’d want to direct, I don’t know. I make a point to be hands on with everything, involved in every step of the process. I start recognizing stuntmen and production assistants at [the airport]. You learn a lot that way.”