"Yes it's another baddie," Jason Statham says. "People say I should be worried about being type-cast but quite honestly being the bad guy has kept me in work since 1998, so who's complaining? Bring on the baddies, I say!"
He's talking about his latest role — a baddie in Fast and Furious 7, the latest in Universal's biggest franchise of all time, which has grossed a total of over $3 billion. Number seven, which marks Jason's debut in the series, and centres on illegal street car-racing, opens in April in the US.
Jason plays Ian Shaw, a special force assassin who plans a revenge killing to avenge the death of his brother at the hands of rival gang-leaders played by Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson. As usual there's plenty of car-chases, explosions and every other sort of mayhem. "Just my sort of movie," Jason grins.
Fast and Furious 7 also marks the final appearance of a regular star of the series, Paul Walker, who was killed in a car crash before the movie was finished. His two brothers were brought in to complete Paul's car-racing stunts.
Once a hustler selling cheap jewellery on the London Streets, 47-year-old Jason is now one of the world's top action stars, lives in style in New York with his partner of five years, 27-year-old top model Rosie Huntington— Whiteley and counts legends like Madonna, Jackie Chan and Sylvester Stallone among his friends.
As usual, Jason does his own stunts in Fast and Furious — and one particularly appealed to the man who was once an international diving champion — diving out of a car window at 35 miles per hour. "It's just 3-2-1-go and you jump," Jason says. "You don't have time to think about it!
"OK, Fast and Furious is not going to win an Oscar but it's great entertainment," Jason says. "I know what I'm good at and I stick with it. I'm best in movies that don't pretend to be anything but action films — and this is definitely one of them.
"The great thing is I do all my own stunts. Years ago I wanted to be a stuntman and now I get to do a bit of acting and all the stunts I can do — so I've fulfilled the dream I had so long ago."
Jason's parents were in show business — they performed Tom Jones and Frank Sinatra classics in tourist bars in Spain — but Jason had never given acting a second thought until he accidentally met film director Guy Richie who was looking for unknown new talent for his 1998 movie Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.
Jason remembers: "Guy literally picked me off the street and had faith that I had talent. If it wasn't for him I might still be dodging around Oxford Street trying to sell jewellery to American tourists!"
Jason and ex-footballer Vinnie Jones, two non-actors, were the stars of the block-busting movie. "Vinnie and I had absolutely no experience of learning lines or being in front of a camera," says Jason. "But we seemed to have an instinct for it."
Stroke of luck
Hollywood thought so too — since then Jason's been in constant demand for movies including The Expendables, The Transporter, Death Racer, Crank and The Bank Job and Parker.
Despite his spectacular rise to fame and fortune, Jason has kept his feet firmly on the ground. "I get invited to fantastic parties and get flown around in private jets but many big stars are in fact really nice normal people out of the limelight.
"But most of the people I spend time with I've known since I was a kid and they won't let me put on airs and graces. To them I'm still a market trader who seems to have had a bit of luck!
"A guy I used to work the markets with said the other day that when the movie-star stuff is over and I'm out of work, he'll try to get me a pitch on Hoxton market. Stuff like that makes you keep a sense of proportion." His down-to earth attitude extends to his romantic life, too. "There are rumours that Rosie would really like to get engaged and is dropping heavy hints about a proposal," says a friend of the couple.
Only recently the supermodel has been seen with a ring on her engagement finger and has hinted that she would love to settle down and raise a family. She told a pal: "The longer you are together the more you look out for each other. We really are a team — and best mates, too."
There have been frequent rumours that Jason has popped the question but friends think it hasn't happened yet. One told us: "Jason says he won't do that until he feels financially secure. You'd think that with at least $20 million in the bank he wouldn't have any problem with that!"
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