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INTERVIEW: LAST ACTION HERO; MOVIE RENT-A-THUG JASON STATHAM IS A REAL SOFTY AT HEART.

Byline: By JAMES MOTTRAM

Wearing a black polo shirt and grey suit, Jason Statham pads around the room barefoot as if he's just about to execute some of his top-class martial arts moves.

"Nah, you're fine with me," he growls, in that sandpaper rasp of his. "I'll just give you a big cuddle."

This is the shaven-headed Statham - whose new thriller War is out today - all over. Like a British Bruce Willis, the Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels star is just a big softy inside that hard shell of his.

"I'm a complete pussy," he admits. "I even cry in movies sometimes..."

Not that it's likely anyone will be calling on Statham, 35, to weep buckets for his next part. After playing in all-action movies such as The Transporter and the remake of The Italian Job, the former diving champion is setting himself up as the go-to man for toughguy roles. The way he sees it, it's about time there was someone like him around.

"There was the era of Stallone, Arnie, Bruce Willis, Mel Gibson, Clint Eastwood - and now there just seems to be a bigger void in that area in the last few years," he says. "I don't know what's responsible for that, but I'm trying to get in there while I can."

In War, Statham again teams up with Asian martial arts superstar Jet Li, with whom he starred in 2001's action sci-fi movie, The One.

"Most of my inspiration comes from Asian actors like Jet Li, Jackie Chan and Tony Jaa," Jason reveals. "Those are the people who are doing it in terms of action films."

Their new project sees Statham playing FBI agent Jack Crawford who pursues a deadly assassin, Rogue (played by Li), in the belief that it was he who killed his partner.

"He's got these demons that just won't go away," Jason explains. "He points a finger at Rogue and he'll not stop at anything until he catches his man."

War also reunited Statham with legendary Hong Kong fight choreographer Corey Yuen, who tutored him on The Transporter. But Statham acknowledges that many of the moves he uses on-set wouldn't be much use in a real scrap.

"Movie fighting wouldn't do you any favours because it's too big and too telegraphed," he says. "But you have to do that so people can see it - and the bigger the better, so long as it still looks real."

Still, he's careful to pay respect to the talents of Jet Li.

"He's not some idiot they found on the street," smiles Statham. "He was the male martial arts champion of China when he was just 13 or 14. And you know how big the population is over there!"

And while appearances in action movies such as Crank may have coloured the public's perception of him, it's clear Statham is wary of being typecast as a rent-a-thug actor.

"I'm really trying to do different things," he says. "I get sent a lot of scripts that require me to do similar stuff to what I've done already. But that's the way of the world. If something makes money - they want to do it again."

Born and raised in London, Statham's streetwise demeanour evidently stems from his time selling knock-down perfume and jewellery outside Harrods. There, he used a gift of the gab he apparently inherited from his father, who used to run auctions before winding up in the Canary Islands as a singer. At the time, Statham's real passion was high diving. He was good enough to represent Britain, finishing 12th in the World Championships in 1992.

"I don't give a s**t for that anymore," he says, bluntly. "I learnt a lot of skills that I still use, but I've had my fill of all that."

After a time as a fashion model, Statham's agency sent him to audition for Guy Ritchie's gangster classic Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels. They hit it off so well that Ritchie cast the actor in his follow-ups, Snatch and the much-maligned Revolver - a film Statham still stands by.

"As soon as a couple of people started writing a few bad things about something they didn't understand, everyone got on the bandwagon," he shrugs. "Guy's a good-looking, talented man with a great family. He's very successful and people are jealous - maybe more so than they'd like to admit, and that puts a bad taste in people's mouths."

Statham has, of course, had his own time making others envious - particularly after dating men's magazine favourite Kelly Brook for more than five years. But after she left him for Titanic star Billy Zane, Jason was left heartbroken. And, yes, going to the cinema isn't the only time he's shed a tear.

"Oh, yeah. You tear your heart out. You can cry a river," he admits.

Subsequently involved with Australian singer/actress Sophie Monk, Statham spends most of his time in Hollywood, although he keeps in close touch with London.

"England's home and Hollywood's my home from home," he explains.

Jason's next project is a futuristic remake of the classic 1975 thriller, Death Race 2000, which starred Sylvester Stallone and David Carradine. Entitled simply Death Race, Statham plays a prisoner who, weeks away from release, is forced to take part in a deadly race alongside other inmates.

"It's my first big studio picture," he beams. You suspect it won't be his last.

War is released today.

I'm a complete pussy - I even cry in movies sometimes

CAPTION(S):

GUN LAW: Statham as FBI agent Jack Crawford; REMAKE: The Italian Job; PARTNER: Jason and Sophie Monk
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Sep 28, 2007
Words:933
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Next Article:BRAWN TO BE WILD; JASON STATHAM MAY BE A NEW SCREEN TOUGH GUY, BUT HE'S GOT A LONG WAY TO GO TO MATCH THESE FOUR HEROES.

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