In 1962, author Donald E. Westlake, using the pseudonym Richard Stark, introduced the world to Parker, a ruthless professional thief with a strict, albeit crooked, code of ethics. Twenty-four novels and more than 40 years later, Westlake's brutal creation has been adapted for the screen more than a half-dozen times, with some of Hollywood’s toughest leading men playing the mercenary anti-hero.
Continuing in the footsteps of Lee Marvin, Robert Duvall, Mel Gibson and Jim Brown, action superstar Jason Statham now embodies the character for a new generation in the crime thriller from director Taylor Hackford (Ray, An Officer and a Gentleman), opening Friday.
At a recent press event, the actor went mano-a-mano with Spinoff Online, discussing his love for classic action movies, his stunt work, and all things Parker.
“The good thing about Parker is I’ve played a thief before. I’ve played a tough guy before. I’ve played a lot of things that might have elements of what Parker has, but what is really specifically different is this comes from a great quality of writing,” Statham said. "It was like a sort of a tailor-made suit for me."
Like James Bond, Parker has a long history, both in terms of source material – he’s the protagonist in 24 of the 28 novels Westlake wrote as Richard Stark – and the iconic actors who have put their stamp on the fictional thief. But rather than trepidation about portraying a character with such a pedigree, Statham described a sense of confidence.
"You just know that it comes with a great endorsement that people like the story, like the character, so the pressure there becomes -- it all goes over to Taylor Hackford," the 45-year-old actor laughed, "because he has to interpret one of the books and do justice to that."
Based on Flashfire, the 19th novel in the Parker series, the film finds the thief teamed with a crew he doesn’t know to pull off a heist. After they double-cross him, steal his stash and leave him for dead, Parker tracks them to Palm Beach, where he partners with a savvy insider (played by Jennifer Lopez) to hijack the score and take everyone down.
Although Statham wasn’t overly familiar with Westlake’s novels, the actor did a fair amount of research on the author, who was awarded the title of “Grand Master” by the Mystery Writers of America. “You get to recognize very quickly that there are a lot of great stories,” he said. “He's one of the great crime writers.”
However, Statham was of course familiar with the actors who portayed Parker before him. When pressed about which depiction he liked best, he laughed, “That's a toughie. I like Point Blank [with Lee Marvin]. That's my favorite one."
Statham also had nothing but praise for his co-star Lopez, who plays his unlikely partner-in-crime Leslie. "I love Jennifer. She's such a sweet, committed sort of actress,” he said. “She's full of fun. She's always giggling, always laughing, never takes herself seriously until the cameras are on and then she just pours it out.”
The action superstar soon will step into the role of producer in a remake of the 1986 Burt Reynolds film Heat. “It's a great privilege,” he said, “and I've always wanted to try and get involved a little bit more and we'll give it a go and see how I do.”
With his turns in The Mechanic and The Killer Elite, Statham has cornered the market on reviving cool action properties. "I've always been influenced by the ‘70s movies and the ‘80s movies,” he said. “It's like all my favorite actors are, like, Clint Eastwood, Charles Bronson. I love Paul Newman. I love Steve McQueen. I love all that crew of actors and I just love the movies they made. I don't know why, but I just tend to gravitate toward trying to do more of those, but trying to bring them up with a modern sort of touch and I'd love to do more.”
He acknowledged his penchant for playing tough guys may color how he’s viewed by the public. “I think people probably think I'm a bit more serious than I really am. A lot of the characters I get don't really have a lot of things to smile about," he laughed. "I had a bit more fun recently working with Sylvester Stallone. You know, he tends to give you a bit more room to have a bit more of a gas."
With the mention of Stallone, the conversation turned to the rumored casting of martial-arts legend Jackie Chan in the next installment of the super-charged Expendables. While Statham was excited by the idea, he quickly emphasized that Stallone would have the final say. "He'll be the one that says who comes to the party because it's his baby, but Jackie Chan would be fantastic!” he said. “He's one of the greatest living stunt action guys there is. I mean, he's broken every bone in his body and you only get to do that by full commitment to what you do, and he is one of the greats. It'd be great to get him. I hope it's true."
Ordinarily, Statham is brought in early during the stunt process, but for a particularly brutal fight scene in Parker set in a Miami hotel room, he and Swiss martial-arts star Daniel Bernhardt were forced to make things up on the fly when the location wasn’t available for a “previz,” or pre-visualization.
“Lo and behold, it turned out pretty good, but that was from the seat of our pants and having some kind of confidence in knowing what we was doing that we was able to sort of make it up as we went along,” he said. “Normally, I'd be nervous as hell if we didn't have a previz."
Statham also has a remarkable fight scene with co-star Michael Chiklis (The Shield), or as he jokingly referred to it, “Two baldies beating the crap out of each other."
As the interview wrapped up, Statham shared his thoughts on Hackford, Parker’s Oscar-winning director. "For me, Taylor comes with a great pedigree," he said. "He wanted to emphasize to me that this is going to be different for you. You're not going to be the superhero. You're going to get beaten up. You're going to get taken around the block and I think, just because of his commitment -- and he's just so meticulous -- I just went with that."