He's balding, he's not exactly blessed with heartthrob looks, and he has a thick Cockney accent. Yet over the past several years, 35-year-old Jason Statham has become an international action film star. The former world-class diver, street salesman and fashion model first broke into the public consciousness as one of the criminal lowlifes in director Guy Ritchie's Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, reteamed with Ritchie for Snatch, then blew away the bang-bang crowd as the star of The Transporter films.
In the new Revolver (in limited release), he teams up with Ritchie again, playing an ex-con who becomes involved with some very mysterious, and dangerous, characters.
You've now made three films with director Guy Ritchie. What is it about working with him that you like so much?
I like his stuff. He gave me a break. I like his material. He runs the best band I've ever seen; it's the best atmosphere you could ever want. There's no pressure. I trust him implicitly. If he asked me to walk around with a pair of knickers on my head, I'd do it.
You haven't had any drama training at all. Has that been a problem?
After Lock, Stock, I told Guy I was so grateful for the experience, and I want to do another film. Should I go to drama school, and try and learn a few more tricks of the trade? He said, "There's a fine line between intuition and technique, and at the moment, your intuition will be more interesting than your technique. So, if you're asking me, don't go."
Are you looking for parts other than action roles?
I know where my bread is buttered, and I have a great time doing the action stuff. But there are things I want to do to test me a little bit more. But I don't get the offers. I get piles of offers to do things that are close to what I've been doing.
What do you think has made you a film star?
It has a lot to do with The Transporter. The credibility from doing Guy's movies; a lot of people from the street really respect those films. But there's a massive void with the action guys -- Sly, Bruce, Arnold haven't been around for a little while, so there isn't anyone who fills their boots.
I've always thought some of your natural ability to project came from your days selling jewelry on the street. What was your rap like?
(He goes into a fast-talking spiel.) If anyone can make use of what I've got here today, don't ask me where I'm getting them from. Forget about the money. Did they fall off the back of a lorry? Mind your own business! Handmade in Italy, hand stolen in Stepney. Madame, show me your money.
You're basically getting people to say "Is he mad? What's he selling?"
You're a working-class London kid. Yet you became a member of the British National Diving Team and even competed in the world championships. How did you get into diving?
As a kid, I went to Miami Beach with my mum and dad. And this guy did a high dive at noon every day. I thought, "I'd love to be able to do that." I was just one of those kids who used to climb trees, do whatever. So I joined up with the Highgate Diving Club, and within a year I was on the British team. My events were the 3-meter springboard and the 10-meter platform. I was 12th in the world on the springboard.
Where do you see your career in 10 years? Still in the action thing?
The body starts to run out. I just did this remake of Death Race 2000, and I trained for that. I got in the best shape I've ever been in. I've never felt so good in my life. I was at my physical peak. So, I feel if I'm that good now, with the way I feel, there's no reason why you shouldn't be, say when you're 50. ... Jackie Chan's still doing tons of stuff. As long as you don't wreck yourself beyond repair. But I don't want to be a 60-year-old action guy. There is a point where the audience just doesn't want to see you.
Lewis Beale wrote this article for Newsday.