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Meet the biggest jaw in town

Jason Statham's tough-guy look and demeanor got him his break. The next death-defying leap is his.

August 19, 2007|Geoff Boucher | Times Staff Writer

JASON STATHAM'S acting career began on the sidewalks of Argyle Street in London. Sitting on a milk crate with a suitcase of bogus jewelry, the young street hustler said whatever it took to persuade tourists to buy gold chains that would turn green by the time they flew home. "That was street theater. It was called fly pitching. You work with a team -- some people in the crowd, some guys who stand lookout for the police. Those were the most lucrative days of my youth."

Later, Statham would be introduced to a young filmmaker named Guy Ritchie who was looking to pepper the cast of his upcoming crime film with non-actors whose faces evoked London's seedier pubs. Statham laughed at the memory. "There were two reasons: He wanted to save money, and he wanted street credibility. Guy shoveled me up off the street. Without him, there wouldn't be all this." "All this" is Statham's career as a Hollywood action hero, which is ramping up right now like one of the turbo-charged cars he usually wrecks in his films.

Statham stars opposite Jet Li in "War," a bloody tale of Asian organized crime that opens Friday in theaters, and next week he leaves for Canada to begin filming "Death Race," the Universal Pictures remake of the nihilistic 1975 sci-fi film "Death Race 2000." The rugged Statham has been in 19 movies since 2000 and won the affection of discerning action fans with the deliriously dangerous stunts he did as the title character in "The Transporter" in 2002 and its sequel in 2005, but "Death Race" marks the first time that the 34-year-old will have a major studio and a blockbuster budget at his back when he jumps off a building.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Monday, August 20, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 23 words Type of Material: Correction
Jason Statham: An article in Sunday's Calendar section about actor Jason Statham misspelled the last name of his trainer, Logan Hood, as Wood.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, August 26, 2007 Home Edition Sunday Calendar Part Page Calendar Desk 0 inches; 21 words Type of Material: Correction
Jason Statham: An article last Sunday about actor Jason Statham misspelled the last name of his trainer, Logan Hood, as Wood.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, August 26, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part Page News Desk 1 inches; 25 words Type of Material: Correction
Jason Statham: An article in the Aug. 19 Calendar section about actor Jason Statham misspelled the last name of his trainer, Logan Hood, as Wood.

"This is the big leap," Statham said. "This is my first step into the big world of fully equipped action movies, if you will. I'm very, very excited. And the movie: The script is greeaaat. They got missiles, anti-aircraft guns, napalm, oil slicks -- it's serious stuff. Oh, yes. It's riiight up my street."

In conversation, Statham is like a one-man pub crowd on fight night -- lots of volume, some cheering here and there, plenty of jabs at the air and a dazzling array of casual obscenities. In fact, throughout this article, any time you see a noun in one of his quotes, assume there was a certain adjective in front of it.

His defining early appearances on screen were in Ritchie's breakthrough films: the fascinating, funny and lurid "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" in 1998 and its companion piece, "Snatch," in 2000. With his short hair, bullet-shaped head, athletic build and intense scowl, Statham quickly became typecast as the British hardman, to borrow the soccer term for enforcers who prowl the pitch.

The athleticism was real: Statham the street kid had also traveled the world as a member of the British national diving team. "I started really late," Statham said. "To compete with the rest of the world you have to start when you're 4 or 5 years old. I started at 15. I picked it up really, really quickly."

That's not to say that all that pool water cleansed him of his shadier aspects.

"Within a year I was on the British team traveling around the world with a British tracksuit on and jumping in bed with Russian girls. It was a little hobby that ended up taking out 10 years of my life. I was never as dedicated as I should have been. I had spurts of dedication. Feast or famine. That's all I am. The middle is boring. If you're going to do something, do it with style! Get amongst it! Whatever you do, do it to the extreme."

The real question about Statham is whether he is an actor playing stuntman or a stuntman playing actor.

Lethal weapon

Aviation Boulevard in Inglewood is straddled by warehouses, small factories, parking lots and junk heaps, many of them guarded by razor wire. It's also where Statham, who has a home in the Hollywood Hills, has been coming for 10 weeks to pound his body into lean sinew for "Death Race."

The private fitness studio is in the rear of an industrial complex and, when you walk in, the first thing you see are swords hanging on the walls. The trainer who runs the place, Logan Wood, worked with cast members of "300," which explains the axes, spears and staffs clustered in a rear corner. The other day, Statham, his cheekbones and neck still scarlet from an intense workout, plopped down on a couch and discussed his career while he idly picked at the calluses on his palms.

"I've never had a trainer in my life, this is a whole new experience," he said. He clutched his fists and the insides of his forearms popped with a spider-web of veins. "And I'm in better shape now than I have been ever." His "ever" sounds like "ev-vuh," still echoing with London asphalt.

The accent and the stoic tough-guy aura may be why Statham is more popular with female audiences than many of his hard-knock peerage; he also had a brief career as a fashion model, but even then his poses had an air of menace. He chuckled at that notion: "I've just got a really bad smile. I go for the scowl instead."

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