'Safe's' Jason Statham: tough guy, soft touch

NEW YORK -- He's been described as "a bullet-headed looker," and a "sexy scowler who's like Michael Madsen crossed with Daniel Craig." If nothing else, the bald, unshaven and Cockney-accented Jason Statham is not your typical sex symbol -- or act...

Jason Stathan
Jason Stathan shows off more of his butt-kicking chops in "Safe."

NEW YORK -- He's been described as "a bullet-headed looker," and a "sexy scowler who's like Michael Madsen crossed with Daniel Craig." If nothing else, the bald, unshaven and Cockney-accented Jason Statham is not your typical sex symbol -- or action hero.

But that's exactly what the 44-year-old is. And in his latest film, "Safe," the London native shows off more of his butt-kicking chops as he goes up against a triumvirate of Russian mobsters, Chinese bad guys and dirty New York cops, in an effort to save the life of a young Chinese girl who's valued by the villains because of her mathematical skills.

"I liked the script, I liked the relationship with the girl, it had a real soft touch," Statham says of the film. "Men, women, it speaks to a full crowd, this one."

Which means, reading between the lines, that as one of the reigning action stars of this era, Statham's films, with their gunplay and high-kicking, martial arts sequences, are not necessarily female- and child-friendly. In fact, with the nation's screens flooded with movies based on comic books and theme park rides, Statham flicks like "The Transporter," "Crank" and "Safe" feel almost old-fashioned and anachronistic. Which is OK as far as their star is concerned.

"I'm quite happy with (the situation)," says Statham, who in real life is a jokester with a terrific sense of humor. "The more people that do, the less roles for me. There's obviously a fad for the comic book thing, and I'm just not right for those. A film like 'Safe' is influenced by the films of the '70s and '80s. The influences I had -- Bronson, Eastwood, tough guys like that -- they're real guys' guys, and if I can get 25 percent of the career Eastwood has, I'd be happy. Hell, if I can get 5 percent of his career, I'll be happy."



In fact, as far as Jeffrey Wells of the blog is concerned, Statham "has that studly, minimalist Steve McQueen vibe going on -- the steely guy with the code of honor who doesn't say much." But he differs from McQueen -- and Eastwood -- says Wells, in that he has really never "worked with A-level directors in ... A-level films. If Statham makes too many crap movies, he'll eventually lose his luster and magnetism. He'll be bruised fruit."

And Statham seems to recognize this, because he becomes really enthusiastic when discussing several upcoming projects, particularly "Parker," directed by Taylor Hackford ("Ray") and co-starring Jennifer Lopez and Nick Nolte, in which he plays a character made famous by Lee Marvin in the classic 1967 noir "Point Blank."

"It's a real sort of dark revenge story," Statham says of the film, which is due for release next year. "Things are looking up in terms of quality, and who I'm working with. Right now, I'm having an opportunity to do better things and work with people at a different level, like Taylor Hackford is a better level, for sure. I don't often have the opportunity to work with experienced, brilliant filmmakers."

Not that Statham is knocking the films that have made his reputation, or his presence in them. He compares himself to Charles Bronson, in the sense that he tends to play the roles "that don't have a lot of emotion you have to portray. It's like a lot of the cooler sort of characters that Bronson did so well; he wasn't asked to emote a lot."

And besides, he adds, "I don't think I'm cool at all. I think what I do is what I'm required to do."

Hmmm. Maybe Statham is blowing smoke here, and this self-effacing thing is just a pose. But when asked why he seems to have become this unlikely sex symbol, that women really go for him, he responds, "I don't buy into what people are saying. There are as many put-downs as there are compliments."

Then he's reminded that in an interview he gave to Newsday five years ago, he said, "I don't want to be a 60-year-old action guy; there is a point where the audience doesn't want to see you." A comment that seems ironic these days, given his appearance in the hit movie "The Expendables," and its soon-to-be-released sequel, starring a who's who of geezer action heroes -- Chuck Norris, Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren, Jean-Claude Van Damme.


Statham responds to this reminder with a shocked laugh, and says, "Did I actually say that? I probably said jokingly that things don't move like they do move in 20 years' time. I might want to do other stuff. No one does it like Stallone, he's a bull, and he's above 60. I was talking about the physical ability, would I be able to do roundhouse kicks, all the stuff I do in these bloody films."

Not that Statham has any real worries about his future. But there is one question that crops up about his films, and that's how come he never seems to be clean-shaven. What's the secret to the eternal two-day growth?

Statham laughs uproariously. "You've never been to a wedding with me," he says. "I shave for those reasons, and only those reasons."

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