Only a few hours before I sat down at a roundtable with Jason Statham to talk about Death Race at Comic Con, I had left the Masters of the Web party, been thrown out of a Hard Rock Hotel room (with a bunch of other people; San Diego’s Hard Rock is the weak sister of that hotel chain) and eventually had a fully insane man threaten to cut my face off before claiming to be a cop. That led to me and Devin jumping in a cab to get out of dodge while Ryan Rotten watched our back.
Hell of a night.
With little chance to rest, I had to meet a bunch of the same people that had been busted at the hotel earlier, in a parking lot under a pop-up tent, to talk about movies. Not the worst job, really. It’s worth mentioning that while he hadn’t been in the last suite (and he didn’t threaten me) Jason Statham had been at the same party with us, and probably drinking much harder. (It was his birthday.)
He sat down with a handful of hungover editors, peering at us from behind massive shades, and, like a pro, gave it a shot.
This film is action-packed, and you looked extremely lean. Were you leaner then than now?
Oh, yeah, a lot. That is the leanest I’ve ever been. Paul wanted me to change and get fit. He had an idea of me being really skinny and ripped. It’s sometimes good to give yourself a little challenge, anyway, and give yourself some discipline. It works rather well.
You trained with the guy who did 300?
Yeah, he worked with a lot of the guys on 300. Logan Hood, his name is. He’s an ex-Navy Seal. He’s like a machine. Very knowledgeable, and a great motivator. I did about 10 weeks with him and was on a very strict diet, and it all just fell away.
Can you talk about shooting those racing scenes? Were you in an actual fast-moving car, or were you being pulled?
They had many stunt cars. Any action movie that involves cars has multiple copies of the same car, so when they get mangled and bashed, they just slip in the next one. One of the most difficult things was the fact that they don’t have a lot of vision. The cars were covered in armor, and there was very little vision that you could really draw any confidence from. It was quite nerve-wracking to know where you are and who’s coming up and who’s not coming up. The track was just full of dangerous pylons and steel girders. One mistake, and it’s over. So, it was a massive concern for the stunt coordinators involved, just because of the danger that those kind of things present. We just had to go and do the best we could.
How fast were you going when you were actually driving?
It’s hard to say. The track was made of bits and pieces. We shot in different locations and made it look like it was one big track, but there were different locations to make up the different areas. We were not really going as fast as you might imagine, but it’s pretty fast. It depends on what you call fast.
How well could you see out of the mask?
Not very well. That presented a big problem. So, I didn’t drive in that thing.
Could you even walk in it?
Yeah. They made different ones with bigger eye pieces. They had various ones. It was all to do with the aesthetics. They didn’t give a shit whether I could see or not, really.
Have you seen the original film?
No, I haven’t seen it. Paul asked me not to see it until after the movie. He just didn’t want anything that would interfere with his idea of the film. It’s not a remake. It’s just an homage. So, he said, “If you can, try not to see it.”
What can you say about Crank 2? How crazy is it going to get?
That’s one of the most enjoyable films I’ve shot in the last decade. It is absolutely madder than you could imagine.
Can you give an example?
No. It is nuts. It’s like the first one times 100. It’s just ridiculous.
Were you kind of surprised that they were going to make another one, considering how your character was left at the end of the first film? You fell out of a helicopter in the first film, so the audience assumed that you were dead.
If you look closely, in the first one, when he lands, you’ll see that there’s a heartbeat and the blink of an eye. That’s always been there. So, people who thought he died probably weren’t looking close enough.
As an action hero, you have your signature franchises now, with The Transporter and Crank. Do you see Death Race as something that could be a franchise also?
I hope so, yeah. I really enjoyed working with Paul, and all the cast was great. It sets itself up for part two being in Mexico somewhere. I’d be very happy to shoot another one.
You’ve finished Transporter 3; was there something specific you wanted to do with the third one?
I wanted to make it better than the first two. I always thought the first one was the best one, for me. I thought we could do better with the second one. We’re always trying to do better. We just need more time and more money, and that’s hard to get. If we were indulged with a little bit more money, a bit more of a budget, more time, more preparation, we could do something really, really good, but sometimes we don’t get that. I think the third one is probably the best out of the three.
What is your favorite scene from Death Race?
I liked a lot of the car stuff. It’s a car movie. It’s not The Godfather. Some of the deaths are just gory and hilarious. I like the fact that death can be gruesome and funny. I think it’s important not to take it too seriously. This is entertainment. Everyone who sees it seems to get their money’s worth.
We’re seeing a lot of stuff this summer where filmmakers are backing
away from CGI-heavy movies. Death Race looks like it was primarily a
big practical movie. As you’re talking to people about doing big action
movies, do you see more practical stuff going on and less CGI-heavy
Yeah, because CGI is so boring. People just switch off to that and I think they know if it’s just a little bit pushed in a direction where it just doesn’t look possible then people are just completely turned off by it. I know Paul wanted to shoot a ton of [Death Race], as much as possible, through the camera lens. It’s always more interesting and that’s what I’ve always wanted to do it with all the action movies that I’m a part of. I like to get stuck in and do the stunts and show that we’re actually doing it because people just switch off. I mean I personally do. I find CGI very boring. Paul’s very conscious of that and he wanted to shoot real people in real cars doing real stunts and just use a limited amount of CGI.
You have a certain quality that hearkens back to an older style of acting. Who are some actors that have inspired you in your acting?
My favorite actors are people like Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, Clint Eastwood. They’re the ones that I’ve always loved. They’re the real movie stars there. I can watch all their movies time and time again. Yeah, they’re the ones that I really admire.
Do you see yourself maybe doing a couple of Bronson re-dos?
Yeah. I really liked that movie called Hard Times. That’s a great movie and I’d love to…it’s hard to remake something that’s done so well so it’s probably best just to leave it alone. Yeah, that was one of my favorite Bronson movies.
You said it’s difficult to remake really well done movies. Was it easier to remake Death Race and give it a more modern sensibility because the original Death Race was a cheesy B-movie?
[note: not one of my questions. -Russ]
Death Race 2000, like you said, has almost a bad quality to it.
That’s what people like about it.
[laughs] With Hard Times, it’s quite the contrary. It’s a classic, a great movie. It would be hard to remake because it was done so well, so I think that’s the problem.
What did you enjoy most about making this movie?
I just like working with people, you know, kicking around with Ian McShane and Joan Allen. That’s not too much of a bad thing, is it? I just liked the whole atmosphere that Paul brings to the set. It’s a very relaxed one. And it’s just a pleasure to go in and do some work. You know we’re running around in souped up, tuned up cars. I have a big passion for cars and always have so…
What kind of cars are your favorites? What do you like to drive?
I like the old Aston Martins, the BB5’s. I’m a big fan of those and the early Jags, the XK120’s, E Types, just to mention a few British cars. I also like a lot of the muscle cars. The Shelby Cobra. My friend’s got a really beautiful version and he won’t let me drive it. I don’t know why.
What do you think of the new re-do’s of the old muscle cars like the new Camaro coming out?
The SRT and all those? Yeah, they’re pretty good. They’re nice and lively, but there’s nothing like a German built car though. They’re so solid, you know, they just last forever. If I’m spending my money, that’s what I’m going to buy to have a bit of fun. I know there’s a Z-06. That’s a fast car. The American muscle cars are very, very powerful, you know, like the Vipers and all that. They’re ridiculous. They’re so hard to control unless you know what you’re doing. You’ll end up wrapped around a tree.
When did this passion for cars start with you?
I’ve always liked cars since I was a kid. It’s not like I have posters on the wall or miniatures strung around the house, you know. I just like cars. It’s not like I’m a fanatic. Like a stamp collector only with cars.
If you ever go to a track, if you ever go-cart racing, it’s really exciting. There’s a great go-cart track no so far from where I live back in the U.K. We’ve been there many times. In fact, when we made Snatch, we took Brad and Benicio and the whole cast of Snatch go-carting. Yeah, we had a great time. It was a great day. Obviously I won.
Have Mark and Brian [Neveldine and Taylor, Crank directors] changed due to the success of Crank? Are they still as wild?
They just drink a lot more tequila. They’re absolutely bonkers. Yeah. They’re just exactly the same. They’re just very, very confident and know what they’re doing. It’s an unusual set up they have. Normally you’d think one would take care of the script, the dialogue, and the other one would take care of the camera and the lighting, but they just flip it. They can just like “You go hold the camera this time.” They’re so interchangeable with their roles that they play.
Who’s the better roller blader, since they like shooting on roller blades?
I’ve never seen anyone as good as Mark Neveldine period. He’s completely amazing on a set of skates and fearless to the point of suicide. He’s really quite…you know, it’s very worrying some of the stuff. Yeah. I don’t know how they let him get away with it.
Was there any new or different pressure while doing Crank 2 after the surprising success of the first one?
They’re not aware of any pressure. They’re just … they wrote part 2 in like a week. I think it was a weekend actually. They locked themselves in a room and just put 3 bottles of tequila there and just drank and wrote this script. I remember reading it and I gave a copy of it to Steve or Steve gave a copy to me and we said “No, this is just too far out. There’s no way they’re ever going to make it. No, you can’t do this. No, you so can’t do that. That’s so offensive.” I mean it really is. It’s beyond offensive. And they said, “Do you want to do it?” and I said, “Fuck it! Why not?” So it was literally like that.
Do you see these characters from Transporter and Crank going down in movie history like Rocky and Rambo and John McClane?
Oh they’re not quite as big as Rocky and the Rambo. They’re literary films with old Sly Stallone. You know, we’ve got a much smaller audience, but I just hope people…
Could Crank be like your 24? You could come out with a new one every year, for another day in the life of Chev?
You know, that’d be good actually. We had so much fun. When we finished Crank 2, we said “Shall we do another one?” Literally. I said “Yeah. Fuck it! Let’s do Crank 3 in 3-D.” So, yeah, I’m sure the next episode will not be too far away.