Some actors might have been intimidated by the prospect of stepping into a role made famous by the legendary Charles Bronson, but The Mechanic star Jason Statham viewed the challenge differently.
"Obviously trying to do anything that has been done well before has a certain amount of expectation and you're always going to get people that are going to compare it," he said at a recent press junket in Beverly Hills. "But you know, this is many, many years later."
Thirty-nine, to be exact.
Like the 1972 original, director Simon West's remake examines the relationship between a methodical assassin and his emotionally unstable protege. Statham stars as Arthur Bishop, an elite hit man who sets aside his strict professional code to discover who killed his mentor Harry McKenna (Donald Sutherland). But his mission is complicated by Harry’s son Steve (Ben Foster), who seeks to learn the trade so he can avenge his father.
The project languished in development for nearly 15 years as the script passed through the hands of several screenwriters. Ultimately, producers were able to bring Statham on board by sending him the original 1972 production draft written by Lewis John Carlino.
"I said yes to the exact word-for-word original screenplay," Statham said. "There was no rewrites or anything. Then I went away, did a film, came back and it was completely different."
During that time, West and screenwriter Richard Wenk updated Carlino's to appeal to a modern audience.
Known for playing isolated, introspective characters in movies like The Transporter, Crank and now The Mechanic, Statham joked, "I get paid by the word now. There's a lot less to say, so it's soothing on my vocal chords."
For The Mechanic's explosive action scenes, Statham worked closely with a large but tight-knit crew of stunt professionals: "I'm involved every step of the way with all the stunts and, you know, my opinion counts for a lot because I'm the one that's going to be doing them. So, if they don't sound too good, then we'll change it up."
One of the jaw-dropping sequences had Statham and Foster, who suffers from vertigo and a fear of heights, propelling 350 feet down a high-rise building.
"Those kinds of situations are full of adrenaline and they're very exciting to execute," Statham said. "You always question whether they're safe. There's no guarantees that, you know, something can't go wrong so there's always a thrill to it."
He was quick to praise his Foster's bravery in confronting his fear, but joked that he helped his co-star to prepare by saying, "3,2,1 -- Go!"
Staham also spoke highly of Sutherland, who plays Harry, the father to Foster's character and a mentor to Bishop. "I think you're only as good as the people opposite you," he said. "If I get an opportunity to work across from someone like Ben Foster or Donald Sutherland it just raises the game for sure."
He's also pleased to be starring alongside Robert De Niro and Clive Owen in the upcoming remake of another '70s thriller The Killer Elite.
"Once you work with these people you just go, 'Wow'," he said. "You can't screw it up with these guys because they're just so good."
Statham smiled when the discussion turned to the inevitable sequel to The Expendables, the Sylvester Stallone-directed ensemble action film. "We're trying to do another one. Yes, we certainly are," he said. "I think the reason to do a sequel is because people, you know, have enjoyed the first one to a point where it has made a lot of money and I think the inspiration comes from that."
He also explained why he isn't actively looking to do a breezy romantic comedy. "Usually the good stuff that comes from that genre is always going to the right people: Ben Stiller and all the people that are so good at it," he said, admitting, "The stuff that comes my way from those areas, it's not so good, so we tend to stay away from it."
Before becoming an actor, Statham was a member of Britain's National Diving Squad, and placed 12th in the world in 1992. He also sold perfume and jewelry on the street, which is how he met writer-director Guy Ritchie and won the lead in 1998's Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.
"He was casting people from areas that were not, you know, the traditional place, such as drama school or RADA [Royal Academy of Dramatic Art], and, you know, I fit the bill for one of the characters that he had written about," Statham said. "The opening scene was about a guy selling wares out of a suitcase, so I gave a certain amount of authenticity to that, and that's how I got the part."
As the roundtable discussion broke up, one reporter voiced concern that like so many of the character he plays, Statham might be a loner, too.
"No, I've got quite a lot of friends," he replied. "I'm not as lonely as the characters I play. Thank God!"
The Mechanic opens on Friday.