JASON Statham may be the guy men want to be, and women dream of being with, but if he knows this, he’s certainly not showing it.
“All this information is new. I don’t get a letter under the door saying, ‘Men want to be you, and women want to be with you’,” he says, laughing.
“I always think women want to be with Ryan Gosling. But if they want someone who can protect them? That I can do, darlin’,” he adds with a cheeky wink.
The 45-year-old actor has a reputation for being a tricky interviewee, famously clamming up when it comes to talking about his private life. Statham admits he’s a bit wary of the press.
“I’ve had good interviews and I’ve had bad ones,” he says, apologising for his language as the Hollywood hardman litters our chat with swear words.
“People are either really stupid, or really nice. Some people are really pleased to be working in an industry where you can review films, and others just want to dig up a load of stuff about you, and that’s not going to work with me.”
With his shaved head, icy stare, straight-talking Cockney accent and ability to do his own stunts, the former diver has become one of the UK’s hottest exports since being picked by Guy Ritchie to star in Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels in 1998. He has since carved out a career playing tough guys in action movies such as The Expendables, The Transporter and Snatch.
“I really do enjoy kicking butt, because it’s expressive,” he says.
In Statham’s latest film role in Steven Knight’s action drama Hummingbird he plays Joey Jones - a former Special Forces soldier who is forced to resort to drastic measures in order to survive on the streets. He strikes up an unlikely friendship with a nun, played by Polish actress Agata Buzek.
“I make a lot of films that don’t have much depth to them - they’re more like popcorn movies. I’ve been hungry for something like this for some time, where I can show more emotion. When this came my way, I jumped up and down,” he says.
“This is not a stunt extravaganza, believe me. It’s a really sweet story about a man who shares a dark secret with someone completely different.
“He’s not looking for forgiveness, he’s not looking for a shoulder to cry on, but he meets someone from a place where you’d never think these two people would have a connection. There’s something really unusual about that - this isn’t a typical friendship.”
The actor reveals there’s some of him in Joey, but is reluctant to expand.
“I never said I’m a tough guy. You askin’, do I cry every night?” he says.
“I don’t have a traditional background in acting so I have to go from an instinctual point. I don’t learn a technique, so there has to be a bit of me inside these characters.”
Statham did a lot of research to prepare for the part.
“We went to the homeless charity Connection and spent time with ex-soldiers. We spoke to an orthopaedic surgeon who talked about injuries and a psychologist who spoke about mental health issues, as well as chaps from the British Legion and the armed forces.
“We did a whole week of running around and speaking to people who could open the door to the character,” he says.
Although playing Joey struck a chord, he admits it wasn’t hard to leave him behind once shooting was over.
“He’s really interesting to play, but I’m not Daniel Day-Lewis,” he adds, laughing.
“It’s something I really worked hard at. I could see myself as this guy for some twisted reason. And with any story, all you’re looking for is authenticity.”
While Hummingbird isn’t heavy on stunts, Statham admits he enjoys throwing some punches throughout the film.
“I do enjoy the physicality because it’s part of this guy. If you’re playing a Special Forces chap, you gotta know how to fight,” he says.
“It’s no good coming out of RADA and doing a few push-ups. That’s not gonna work. It’s a lot easier pretending how to act than it is to pretend how to fight.”
Doing his own stunts have proved perilous over time, but he brushes the injuries off as a consequence of doing what he loves.
“I’ve gotten hurt, yeah. I’ve pulled joints out of place and usually the ligaments and tendons take a long time to heal,” he recalls. “It’s tough, but when you’re making action films, you gotta put yourself out for the stakes, knocks and bruises and silly things like that. But I enjoy it - it’s what I do.
“We’re playing heroes, and it’s great to actually play a guy that used to be a hero. These are the real heroes of our culture and society. It’s a privilege to play one so you can’t lose sight of the good they do and the commitment they have.”
Hummingbird opens in cinemas next Friday