“Homefront” was supposed to star its writer, Sylvester Stallone. “Sly had written it in ’08, so it had been beautifully gathering dust,” explains Jason Statham, who ended up headlining it instead. The two were working on “The Expendables 2” when Stallone — who has been rather busy lately, with his fourth film this year, “The Grudge Match,” with Robert De Niro, due around Christmas — revealed he was too busy to make it. Statham nicked it from him, and now he’s the one who plays an ex-DEA agent who’s moved to a small town, only to piss off the wrong locals.
“If you look at all the great things he’s written — ‘Cliffhanger,’ all the ‘Rocky’s, all the ‘Rambo’s — he’s a writer by trade,” Statham says. “You just think, ‘How do you have the time, to be the big movie star, the writer and the director? And be a dad. And go to the gym every day. It’s inhumanly possible. It’s a pretty big list of things to be good at.”
Statham is no slacker himself, routinely popping up in action fare; this is his fourth film this year, if you count his walk-on at the end of “Fast & Furious 6,” setting him up as the villain of the seventh, which is still shooting. But even ignoring his age (46), it’s important for him to branch out. His last film, “Redemption” (known elsewhere as “Hummingbird”) is even mostly a drama, with him as an ex-soldier plagued with PTSD.
“It’s hard for me to be satiated with the dramatic aspect of action movies sometimes,” he confesses. “Stallone told me, ‘We never see you play a vulnerable chap. We never see you smile and be nice towards a little girl. You’re always seen as this cold-blooded killer.’” (Stallone probably didn’t use the word “chap,” as Statham does often.)
In person, Statham is closer to his characters in Guy Ritchie’s “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” — his film debut — and “The Italian Job”: a boisterous joker with a great laugh that he deploys frequently. He loves comedies, and is even pursuing one, which he of course can’t talk about (lest he ruin the deal).
“I’m not a traditional actor. I’m not a guy who came from drama school. I’m not going to play the complicated lawyer,” he says. “I’m a worker. I like to work. I enjoy what I do. And sometimes what’s in front of you isn’t exactly the greatest thing in the world, but I always have something inside me going, ‘This would be fantastic.’ Otherwise I wouldn’t’ do it.”
Still, working on a monster production like the seventh “Fast & Furious” is a change of pace. “My favorite movies to make are the ‘Lock, Stock’ and ‘Snatch’ types. You do five weeks of work, the crew’s really small and everybody knows everybody. These big ones — there’s so many people. It’s like a factory. How can you remember everyone’s names? How can you log 250, 300 names a day?”
Of course, there are perks to doing bigger movies. “If all I did was these small, intimate movies, I’d be like ‘F— me.’ If you’re given steak every day, you want to eat fish. You want an omelette. Human nature says we need variety.”
“Homefront” also pairs him with another prolific freak: James Franco, who plays a low-rent meth dealer who decides to make Statham’s character’s life hell — and ensures that come the end there will not be a fair fight. “He’s an interesting chap,” Statham says. “We had to release him every Friday so he could teach at some college. It was Monday through Thursday, then he has to get on a plane so he can teach a class, then come back and buy some more paint to do his art work. He’s quite the busy bee.” (Wait, Franco’s also a teacher? And a painter?)