By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Jason Statham has played a number of tough guy movie characters over the years, but he says what distinguishes his role in “Parker” from previous roles is the writing by author Donald Westlake, who penned more than a hundred hard-boiled crime novels between 1962 and his death in 2008. Twenty of them were based on the character of the single named Parker, a professional thief who lives by a moral code. “Parker,” the movie, is based on Westlake’s 19th novel in the series, and adapted for the screen by John J. McLaughlin and directed by “Ray’s” Taylor Hackford.
Jennifer Lopez co-stars alongside Statham as a financially struggling real estate agent who offers to help Parker track down a gang of thieves who double-crossed him after a heist and left him for dead. Bent on revenge, Parker finds the thieves in ritzy Palm Beach, Fla. plotting a jewel heist. Parker’s plan is to hit the thieves after they make the heist, but it proves to be a dangerous and potentially deadly prospect.
The 45-year-old British action star recently spoke about his role in “Parker,” which previously has been depicted onscreen by the likes of Lee Marvin, Robert Duvall and Jim Brown, though never identified as such because of the author’s objection, working with his beautiful co-star and his cinematic influences.
Q: What attracted you to the role?
Statham: I played a thief before. I played a tough guy before. I played a lot of things that might have elements of what Parker has, but what makes this specifically different is that it comes from a great quality of writing. (Parker’s) a crook, a criminal, a thief, (and) he does many bad things but for all right reasons. He has a redeemable quality in him and we’re forced to try to figure out what that is, but I think it’s to do with loyalty. He doesn’t steal from people who can’t afford it. (He laughs.)
Q: So is he a good person?
Statham: I don’t know. He doesn’t hurt people that don’t deserve it. There’s a moral side to him that is quite strong. At the end of the day, I’m more attracted to the story of how it all unfolds.
Q: How did you like working with Jennifer Lopez, who hasn’t done an action movie like this before?
Statham: It was really something she was always capable of. When Taylor came up to her he said, “I know there is that Jennifer but I don’t want that. I want the other Jennifer.” And she said, “What other Jennifer?” And he said (pointing to her), “This one!” She’s a street girl anyway. She’s got a real down to earth sort of way about her, and I think that’s why people love her so much. She’s just real. You don’t feel like she’s putting on anything, and that’s one of the reasons why everybody likes her so much and she came with that. She wanted to do something like this; I think it was the perfect thing and she really got down and stripped away everything and it worked out great.
Q: You get pretty beat up in this. Is that all par for the course for you?
Statham: The physical aspect presents its difficulties and the emotional parts do too. They’re approached very differently. The physical stuff I feel that I’m very accomplished at that. I know what I’m doing I know how to navigate the sequences pretty much pain-free. I tend to try to rely on my experience with those things. For the drama, I put all of that in the director’s hands. We’re given good situations and I’m acting with good people so all of that kind of takes care of itself. You just have to be committed.
Q: How did you like doing the stunts?
Statham: Jumping out of the car wasn’t easy. Hanging over the balcony wasn’t too pleasurable. (He laughs.) All that stuff, that’s the popcorn fun of the cinema. If you can have a great story that people can follow the mystery and get the suspense, and then you have those moments of tension and a splash of visual fun, then you kind of get everything. You get your money’s worth.
Q: At one point, you’re disguised as a priest. How did you like that?
Statham: I looked ridiculous. (He laughs.) I put that (costume) on and said, “Thank God I’m bald!’ It just doesn’t suit me. It was funny to see that stuff, very funny. I had on the glasses and the priest outfit, and we’d be at the state fair and there’s thousands and thousands of people there. I would be walking down there and I have the priest outfit on and the briefcase and they’re all “Hey Jason! How’s it going?” And I’m like “Really?” People just recognized me and it was like one of those weird things. I was supposed to be in disguise. It must be the broken nose or someone must have heard me say something with my accent. It was good fun though, getting behind those costumes.
Q: How did you like working with Nick Nolte?
Statham: You feel such a strength by working opposite him. First you get over the fact that it’s Nick Nolte, and then you get into the character.
Q: You and Michael Chiklis play adversaries. How did you like squaring off against him?
Statham: We are both renowned for having sort of a physical side, and I think that’s why Taylor (Hackford) put us together so the tension would be there. Are they going to clash? When are they gonna clash? Who’s gonna win? It’s going to create the tension for the audience, so it was good to roll around and sling a punch and get one thrown back. Fun and games, huh? (He laughs.)
Q: Do you like action movies? Do you have a favorite?
Statham: I’m a massive fan of action movies! But if I were to mention some of my favorite movies there’s “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” “Cool Hand Luke,” (and) “The Sting.” I love Paul Newman. I love Clint Eastwood. I like a lot of different movies. I do like a lot of the ‘70s movies. I love Charles Bronson in “Hard Times.” All my favorite movies are ones from yesteryear. The ‘70s was a good era. I love all those.
Q: You were just a boy in the ‘70s. Who turned you on to those films?
Statham: My mom and dad used to tell me “You’ve got to see this film,” and they were influential to a high degree of the films I saw as a kid. It’s funny because I’m not doing the same quality of movies as them, I’d be out of line to say that, but I’m doing movies that my dad likes even now. (He says) “Yeah that was a good one son! The other one, that wasn’t so good. Make the next one better!” But it’s nice to do a good one that he likes. My mom likes them all because she’s all “You’re just brilliant!” But she would just say that if it were a piece of crap.
Q: Did you read Donald Westlake’s “Flashfire” before you did this?
Statham: No. It’s hard because once you get tied into the book, and there’s things that you like in the book that don’t make it into the screenplay, you’re all “Oh no, but can’t we have that?” You get into this quagmire of fighting for something that might be a good scene that I’d want to do. So Taylor said ‘Leave the book alone. We’re making a movie and it’s gonna be inspired by the novel and you don’t have to read it. I’m not asking you to read it. We’re going to be doing something different because we have locations that are specific to the storyline. (We have) actors that are going to come in and things are gonna change so that they can feel comfortable with what they’re doing.” So things changed a lot. There’s a huge base of Westlake fans and I’m sure that they’re gonna love or hate what we did. (He laughs.) There’s gonna be the haters and the lovers.