And that time stamp on an action hero approaching middle age?
"Fahk that," he says. "I'm two, three duds from being back on the street. Of course I'm looking for the perfect vehicle, a more intellectual action film, perhaps." He likens it to the surfers he loves watching in Malibu, where he has a second home. "They're all waiting for that wave, but it may never come, so they take what's offered, paddle back out." Statham has two keys for both picking waves and riding them: intuition and commitment. Acting for him has never been anything but intuition: "Just show up and try to find a way to make it come alive." And commitment, he's learned the hard way, comes from doing what he wants. "That's a bit like doing your own stunts," he reasons. "Unless you want it, you'll never commit, so you'll only be giving a random percentage. I've done that—where I wasn't true, or, as often, they weren't true."
Statham uses that word often: true. Its significance, however, isn't clear until we come to discuss his days as a street hawker in London and he tells me about the BMW 325 he used to drive: "Black and black interior. What a car." When I express surprise that a street hawker had a Beemer—pow—I get the Full Statham Monty: "Man, we was doing 1,000 pounds, 2,000 pounds! In pound notes, mind you. Selling shit you'd buy for maybe 60 pence? See, that's bunce, pure profit. Funt, bobble, carpet, rove, jack, sexis, nevis, teenage bottle wine, cockle." These terms are all slang for sums of money, in Statham's all-but-untranslatable street-hawker vernacular.
"I used to work four chains, a two-foot rope, 18-inch rope, a bracelet, a Figaro chain, a horn of plenty, and a lady's or gent's ring. Take them out of the set, wrap 'em each in tissue. If they'd say, 'Cahn't we have a box?' You'd say, 'We all get a box one day, want one or not. And there'll be flowers in the room, but you won't be able to smell 'em neither.'"
Statham has the old days on his mind, perhaps because his parents are in town. They moved to the Canary Islands years ago—and now perform as a lounge act there—but they came to L.A. for Christmas, Statham's first spent away from London. Statham says that he learned the street trade from his father.
"We'd set up shop, mock auctions, the run-out, ram shop. These are all words and names describing"—he drops a pregnant pause, or perhaps just a second to let any bad karma fly over--"the way people get ripped off."
It's in that "any bad karma" where you really find Statham. Though he'll use words like ripped off and con man, he quickly backs off any more implications. Both Statham and his characters exist in a world between good and evil. They're just who they are, doing what they do, leaving it to others to judge. They act. They do. But that relativism requires a code to live by.
"It's people's own greed that allows them to get ripped off. If your intuition served you at all, you'd never be in that shop or that corner. And we never said, 'That's gold, that's Cartier.' We just never let them ask. And if they insisted, 'Well, what is it then?' you'd say, 'Hold on, I'll get to price in a minute, Mum. Just wait. My mother waited nine months for me. You can wait another minute, can't you?'"
Statham's fully in character now: "Right, forget 500 pounds, and 450 would be cheap. If I said 300, you'd be stealing the bugger, and at 250 I'll have you shouting 'Bull, beef, and carrots, the man's gone barmy?' Forget 100 pounds, forget 50, forget 40, forget 30. Should I keep going, Miss? Yes? That's what she said last night. Never mind a tenner, never no fiver . . . See, it's that necessity for a bargain, that relentless thirst for a discount, that lets me create the illusion. That's what we played on, and, you know, that's all I ever really knew."
"You could be talking about Hollywood."
"Thank you." Statham offers me his knuckles for a fist bump. "So much of this industry is buried in bullshit. You're pretending to be something onscreen, fine. But it's also the way it plays out here, every day. Yeah, we love you, can't wait to put you in a movie. It's fahking bullshit. Not to be entirely negative, mind you, because there's so much talent here, so many people that are righteous. But believe me, there's so much that ain't, and you see that coming in so thick. I did it for a living. I see it before it enters the room. And usually I know just to point my compass elsewhere."
"So you're a con man who wanted to become a stuntman who became an action hero?"
Statham tries that on for size in his mind for a second. "That'll do in a pinch," he says.
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