Former Olympic Diver Jason Statham trades in his speedos for driving gloves in this weekend’s 100 miles per hour action film Death Race
Jason Statham was an Olympic diver on the British National Diving Team and finished 12th in the World Championships in 1992. He was also a fashion model and black market wheeler-dealer before graduating to a prospering acting career. He secured the audition for his debut role, in Guy Ricthie’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998), through French Connection, for whom he was modelling. He teamed up with Ritchie again for Snatch (2000) and then Revolver (2005). His other notable roles include a pair of Transporter films (2002 and 2005), the blockbuster remake of The Italian Job (2003), Crank (2006), War (2007) and The Bank Job (2008)…
Q. What made you want to do this movie?
Are you kidding me? I mean, you only have to take one look at the concept cars. I was shown a drawing from Paul Anderson (Director) and I was just, ‘Oh, my God! That’s the coolest thing I’ve ever seen!’ Paul presented me with a script, presented me with the drawings of the cars they were going to be using and I went home and immediately read the script and it was brilliant. There’s a great heroic story. The thing about trying to play a hero is that you’ve got to have the motivation to do what you are doing, and this is an action movie that has all the drama and possesses enough motivation for me to try and revenge the wrong-doings and save the day.
Q. Have you seen the original Death Race 2000?
Yes, a long time ago. But this is not like that film. It’s more of an homage, I would say.
Q. What was it like to film in the real prison at Corcoran?
It’s a priceless experience, the whole thing. You can only imagine the type of atmosphere. What you see on documentaries, on the Discovery Channel, they’re all very well and good but to actually walk through a Category 4 prison yard and see the animosity in the people’s eyes, and the frustration, and the sheer weight of what that prison yard says, you can’t really capture that on TV. It’s quite hairy. You sit in a cell and you feel what it’s like. You see the guards. They ain’t messing around. There’s no warning shots at the prison. There’s a big sign in the mess hall: ‘Warning! No Warning Shots!’ They are dealing with people who are in there for 25 years plus in the Category 4 area that we were in. It’s a hard place for hard people and the experience was priceless. To try to recreate in any other way, you couldn’t. It’s too much to put into words.
Q. Apparently, you were recognized by a prisoner on death row?
Yeah! It was quite worrying that. He was a mass murderer. He’d done X amount of decapitations on the outside, and he’d done several on the inside. He was in a bit of a bad way, because he was in a medical ward and I think they were just giving him a bit of relief time because he was on his last legs. But he was one mean mother and the warder was sort of tapping on the window to get his attention and he came up to the glass. He looked – and he’d got these really cold, dark murderer’s eyes – and he said, ‘I know who you are. Do you know who you look like? Jason Statham.’ I’m probably on his list! It was quite funny, quite bizarre.
Q. Is this the most training you’ve done for a film?
Yeah, I’m in better shape than I’ve ever been. I really took this one very, very seriously. I gave up a lot of creature comforts. No drinking for six months. It’s kind of like being in prison, really, in my own little way! I really wanted to do the best job I could. It’s a great opportunity for me. The script’s great and I have a great relationship with Paul I love his directing and I didn’t want to leave anything to chance. I really gave it both barrels.
Q. Have you driven any of the cars yourself?
Someone will be getting a very large boot up their bottom if they don’t let me drive at some point! My favourite is the one that I’m sat in, the Mustang. I love the old American muscle cars. They’re great. That one has plenty of juice under the bonnet. It’s actually been tweaked. It’s got a super charger on it so it’s about 630bhp. We have a bit of artistic licence to say it has a bit more in the movie, but if you have ever driven a car that has 630 horses under the bonnet you’ll know how powerful that is! I haven’t had a go yet. We have four or five weeks left and we are ready to explode because all we’ve done is scenes in and around the cars. I was talking to Tyrese today and he was like, ‘Damn man! When are we going to drive the cars?’ So yes we can’t wait to just screech up and down this race way.
Q. You can’t really race around the set then?
No, not around the set. There’s not a lot of vision behind those bars and limited slip windows. I mean the cars mesmerized me. It’s so cool. I hadn’t seen a movie like it and every day’s been a great one. Usually you trudge in, you have good or bad days, you think scenes haven’t been as good as they could have been, but this has been beyond the anticipation I had. Some of the sets are incredible and I’ve got great company, like Ian McShane. He’s been a sheer delight. He’s been the comedic man in our pit crew.
Q. Are you into cars in real life?
Yeah, I’ve always had a fascination with cars and racing, not that I’ve ever competed. I’ve been go-karting a few times with friends so that’s the extent of it, but I watch Formula One racing and I go to the 24-hour Le Mans race. I think most men are interested in things like that to some degree, more so than flower arranging, anyway!
Q. Do you try and do most of your own stunts?
They always try to stop me! It’s something I’ve done for many smaller movies where they don’t much care whether you get injured or not! It’s the bigger ones that they get a little bit more concerned. They want you to turn up for the next day’s filming! It’s a fine balance. I don’t want to do anything that involves big explosions or anything that can go wrong in the way of pyrotechnics. I like to be able to do something behind a wheel or a physical stunt, something that I am responsible for. I feel better if I made the mistake rather than anything mechanical being responsible. I make my own decisions as to how safe something is and whether I want to do it, but I like to test myself. I have done so far.
Death Race is now showing at Irish cinemas nationwide.