At this year’s Toronto Film Festival, I was able to land an exclusive interview with Jason Statham for his new action-thriller Killer Elite. Also starring Robert De Niro, Clive Owen and Yvonne Strahovski, the flick centers on a retired special ops agent (Statham) who is tasked with rescuing his mentor (De Niro). I caught the film at TIFF and if you’re a fan of Statham and the rest of the cast, it’s definitely worth seeing. Here’s the trailer.
During the interview, Statham talked about being at TIFF, getting to work with bigger names, the kind of research he does and what his typical pre-production process is like, how he gets ready to do action scenes, and how many takes he prefers. In addition, Statham talked about Taylor Hackford’s Parker with Nick Nolte, Jennifer Lopez and Michael Chiklis, and how he’s getting ready to film The Expendables 2 with Sylvester Stallone. Hit the jump for the interview.
As usual, I’m offering two ways to get the interview: you can either click here for the audio or the full transcript is below. Killer Elite opens this weekend.
Collider: I’m assuming that when you signed onto this project you were thinking, “This is definitely getting into the Toronto International Film Festival.”
Jason Statham: I had no clue. I don’t think I have had any films in any festivals apart from Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels years ago at Sundance. I think that is the only one I have ever been to. [laughs]. That must have been 12 years ago.
What was it like for you when you found out that your film had gotten into the Toronto International Film Festival, which is a very prestigious festival?
Statham: It is amazing. An action film – that is the not the usual requirement to get in. So me and Gary [McKendry] were talking about and going, “We have done an action film and it is in the festival, which is great.” I think there is some integrity involved with the drama and I think that is not just a bare fisted action film. It has attracted some tremendous heavyweights with De Niro, and Clive Owen. So, yeah, here we are at TIFF!
Statham: We fucking got him. I cannot name anyone higher than what we got. [laughs]
What was it like for you when you found out that you had gotten Clive Owen and Robert De Niro to join the cast? These are great actors.
Statham: You actually don’t believe at first that they are going to come and turn up on set. Once you get over that, and you actually see them in person, it’s “Oh, they are here.” [laughs] So then you get on with the job at hand. So, yeah, it is amazing. They just bring all of the credibility to the characters and it just raises the game like you would never imagine.
You’ve done a lot of action movies. How did you feel with the cast on this one and it being a period piece? Did you amp your game up a little more or did you research more? Or did you go through your typical pre-production process that you normally do?
Statham: No. I worked extremely hard on this. It was much more than I have ever done. I did 12 days straight just because I was balancing shooting stuff on the second unit. The action and the whole rooftop stuff were simultaneously shot. Piece of it were to get the dramatic scenes. I remember that I did 12 days straight. Normally people do 5 day weeks or 6 day weeks and they take a day off. So I was pushing myself a lot. Some of the stunts were much more dangerous than usual. It was just…I really gave everything that I could to this. I think everybody did. That is because of who is involved and the quality of the work. We just thought that if you were going to push yourself, you might as well do it for something that you believe in. Everyone just got behind this.
Statham: You bring all of the stuff that you have learned. The experience along the course of the years is priceless because you know what works and how to do it. If you see a camera in a wrong place, you know that is not going to work. So you don’t waste your time doing shots and reviewing them on the monitor and going, “I told you that wouldn’t work.” You just get quite clear. You also avoid that by bringing the people that you have worked with before like Chad Stahelski, who designs all of the great sequences like the chair sequence and the fight in the hospital. You bring these people so you eliminate that time wasting aspect. It is a collaboration when you are making a film. Gary is there and he wants it real and everyone is pushing themselves into a direction that they all want to be in. To answer the question: the skills required for this are nothing new. It is not like I am doing the big turning kicks and martial arts. This is real fighting. It is tough and rough around the edges. I bring all of the experience that I have had and I just apply it to this new situation. I just think that everyone is just geared up to push themselves. Clive Owen just comes with such intensity. I think it is who you are working with – that is the new stuff that we have lacked in the past.
Some actors like the Clint Eastwood method of two takes and some actors like the David Fincher method of ninety takes. What is the typical amount of takes that you like on a non-action scene and what do you like for an action scene?
Statham: That is a good question because a lot of people don’t get warmed up until they have done a few takes. I prefer to do…I have done 1 takes with action. If you can throw a punch and it lands correctly, the energy is good, and so is the timing – move on. Some people like to do a safety, which I can understand. If the director is happy to move on with 1 take then I am happy to move on. I really am. That includes dialogue too. If it is really good and the director goes, “You know what? That was great.” and he wants to move on then I have done 1 take. I don’t say, “Let me do another one anyway.” Sometimes if you are feeling that you can give a little bit more in a different area of that take – you can ask for another one. If something didn’t feel right or if something distracted you in that take that maye the director didn’t see on camera – maybe it worked for that take. You know, a lot of things happen in real life like where you will be talking and something will distract us, but we will still continue the conversation. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. But I generally hate to do a lot of takes. I like to do a minimal amount.
Statham: Yeah. Sly [Stallone] and the motley crew are going to get together and I have been invited to the party, and I want to go there. It is such a great time with Sly. He is a man I am very happy to work with again.
Has he told you when you start filming that?
Statham: Yeah. They start in two weeks time. I’m literally going to go from one movie…I am making a movie with Taylor Hackford in New Orleans called Parker. I’m going straight from there to Bulgaria.
Statham: Yes. Sofia. That is where we at. Expendables 2 in Bulgaria! [laughs]
There are a lot of rumors about the cast. Has Sly told you who is in it? Has it been announced or is it still secret?
Statham: It is not secret, but the confirmation of who is in it I can’t give you. But every name in the book has been bandied around. There is no one out there that hasn’t done great action along the course of their career that hasn’t at one point been mentioned about being in the film. So who the fuck knows? [laughs]
You mentioned how you wanted to work with great casts and I looked at the cast of Parker and it is fantastic.
Statham: It is awesome. Taylor Hackford is getting some amazing stuff. We have Nick Nolte, Patt LuPone, Jennifer Lopez.
You have Wendell Pierce.
Statham: We have Wendell Piece, man! We have Michael Chiklis and we have my friend Clifton Collins Jr. We just have a great, great cast and the script is fucking brilliant. Taylor is getting some really, really great performance. He is just a pleasure. He is just so smart and so detail orientated. I am thrilled. I don’t want to jinx anything, but it is going so well.
Can you talk about what it is about for people that don’t know?
Statham: It is based on a book by Donald E. Westlake. He has done a series of books and the first movie they made from the series was Point Blank with Lee Marvin. Mel Gibson did one with Payback. The book was called Flashfire. It is a really cool story. It is full of good stuff.