Things could have turned out very differently for Jason Statham. Coming from a rather unusual background, there was a distinct possibility that he would spend his life as a street hawker and chancer. In his early days, he sold fake watches and jewelry on street corners, dreaming of becoming an Olympic diving champion and professional soccer player. Luck was on his side, however, and it wasn’t long before this striking-looking everyman from a small town in rural England was catapulted to stardom, first as a male model and then as one of the biggest action stars of the modern era.
Jason Statham was born in the former Derbyshire mining town of Shirebrook, UK. Jason’s mother, Eileen, was a dancer and his father, Barry, was a street seller and lounge singer.
When Jason was very young, Barry moved his son and his wife to the seaside town of Great Yarmouth in Norfolk. He had high hopes that the young Statham would follow in his footsteps selling knock-off watches from a suitcase while the police were looking the other way, but the young lad was more interested in sport and martial arts than he was in becoming Barry Statham Mark II.
Statham’s friend growing up was the professional soccer player turned actor, Vinnie Jones. Jones was always soccer mad as a boy, and he got Statham into playing the game with him. Statham showed an aptitude for the sport, playing for his local grammar school’s team. He attended the school from 1978-1983. His greatest loves at school were martial arts, which he was fascinated by, and rather unusually competitive diving.
Statham practiced diving every day in his youth, and was soon winning amateur diving trophies in local competitions. He carried on with his training after leaving school in 1983, as well as continuing to learn the martial arts of kickboxing and Brazilian jiu-jitsu. He was eventually selected to become a member of the UK’s National Diving Squad. He stayed with the squad for thirteen years, eventually representing Britain in the diving at the 1990 Commonwealth Games, which was held in Auckland, New Zealand.
Statham supported himself during his early years by doing what his father did. Despite being quite reluctant, he realized he had to make some money to support himself and so he began selling merchandise such as fake perfume and cheap jewelry from a suitcase in local markets and on street corners. However, he knew such a precarious life was not for him as a long-term job solution, and so he was always on the lookout for a better opportunity to come his way.
As the young Jason Statham hawked fake watches on street corners, he had no idea that his life and career was about to take a very unexpected turn. It was a turn that would transform him into one of the most well-known and highest paid action stars on the planet.
One day, while training at the Crystal Palace national Sports Center in London, England, Statham was spotted by a talent scout from the sports modelling company Sports Promotions. The athletic young man with a great physique was signed up on the spot, and the modeling contracts started trickling in.
It wasn’t long before Statham was spotted by a scout from the clothing company French Connection. They were on the lookout for a model for their new campaign, and needed someone who had an ‘everyman’ look about him. “We chose Jason because we wanted our model to look like a normal guy,” said a spokesperson from the company. “His look is just right for now: very masculine and not too male-modelly.”
Despite the modelling providing a much-needed boost to his finances, Statham still supplemented his income by selling fake perfume and jewelry from a suitcase on market stalls. However, that was all about to change.
While modelling for French Connection, Statham was introduced to the British movie director, Guy Ritchie. Ritchie was casting around for people to star in his new project, the 1998 movie Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. He wanted someone to play the character of the street-smart conman, Bacon, who was one of the four male lead roles in the movie. When Ritchie found out that Statham sold jewelry, perfume and fake watches from street corners, he was so enamored of the idea that he cast him in the role.
Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels went on to be a huge commercial and critical success. It had a budget of just $1.35m and earned $28.1m at the box office. It was also credited as kick-starting the British gangster film revival of the 1990s.
An impressed Ritchie cast Statham in his next movie, Snatch. Off the back of the success of Lock, Stock, Ritchie was able to attract much bigger stars to the role, notably Brad Pitt and Benicio Del Toro. Again, Richie was able to transform a meager (by Hollywood standards) budget of $10m into a box office of $83.6m. Statham’s performance as small-time boxing promotor Turkish was highly praised and Hollywood took notice.
Offers began coming in. In 2001, Statham appeared in the John Carpenter-directed sci-fi horror movies Ghosts Of Mars and he was able to put his skills to good use in the martial arts movie, The One. His performances in both were praised, though the movies themselves were not well received by the critics.
In 2002, Statham began to build on his reputation as a modern-day action movie star with the release of The Transporter. Made for $24 million, the movie made nearly $44 million worldwide and spawned two sequels and a TV series. Fans loved Statham’s portrayal of highly-skilled driver, Frank Martin, and the movie particularly flourished on DVD.
Now with his foot firmly in Hollywood’s door, Statham began to appear in a string of supporting roles in several blockbuster action movies. In 2002, he appeared alongside childhood friend Vinnie Jones in the soccer action comedy, The Mean Machine. Roles in the 2003 remake of The Italian Job starring Edward Norton and Mark Wahlberg, and in 2004’s Cellular starring Kim Basinger followed.
In 2005, Ritchie once again turned to the dependable Statham for his next movie, Revolver. Sadly, the movie was not a commercial or critical success, and the two have not worked together since. 2006 was a better year for Statham, with the release of the madcap action thriller Crank. Crank was a success, taking $42.9m at the box office and finding favor in particular among young men and action fans. Like The Transporter, Crank would go on to spawn a successful sequel in 2009.
After two more successful action roles in 2008’s The Bank Job and the Death Race 2000 remake, Death Race, Statham had firmly established himself as a major movie action star. It came as no surprise, then, when Sylvester Stallone cast the actor in his old school, 1980s-style action ensemble movie, The Expendables in 2010.
The Expendables was a smash hit that earned $274m globally. It would go on to spawn two more sequels. Now a major action star, Statham was the go-to guy in a string of action movies.
He reprised his role as ex-SAS soldier Lee Christmas in 2012’s Expendables 2, and in 2013 he joined the Fast & Furious franchise as the brother of the movie’s main villain. He has so-far starred in two Fast & Furious movies, and is due to appear in Fast & Furious 8. With another Expendables movie under his belt in 2015 and a string of other action hits to his name, there looks to be no stopping the man who once plied his trade selling cheap watches out of a suitcase in a small English coastal town.
As hard as it is to imagine now, there was a time when the overblown action movie genre was considered dead in the water. The big guns of the 1980s – Stallone, Willis and Schwarzenegger – had all began to age and were not the box office draws they once were.
Pure action movies were seen as an old hat dinosaur product of their day. Sophisticated audiences of the late ‘90s and early 2000s had turned their back on the rootin’ tootin’ musclemen of the Reagan era and sought out more modern, so-called ‘metrosexual’ movie stars. It was an era in which the likes of Hugh Grant, Ewan McGregor, Ethan Hawke, pre-Bourne Matt Damon and Jude Law were the bankable stars. Monosyllabic slabs of meat firing machine guns at Russian bad guys and Islamic terrorists were seen as relics of a bygone.
And then along came Jason Statham. Following his breakout roles in Lock, Stock and Snatch, Statham began to build a very loyal audience of action fans who were growing tired of the lovey-dovey, morality-laden action flicks of the 1990s and 2000s, and were looking for something a little more ‘old school’. With movies like Crank and The Transporter, Statham was able to tap in to this growing hunger for a return to the way things were done in the ‘80s.
Statham really secured his public image as the modern day hard man and action star when he acquired his own nickname. The Stath was now firmly established as THE bankable old school-style action man, with a reputation built on a series of hard-hitting action movies that performed well at the box office. And, most importantly for fans of this genre, Statham did his own stunts.
As fans began to turn back to old school-style action movies, Statham was uniquely placed to cash in on this revival. He was Stallone’s first choice when the grizzled old actor was looking around for cast members for his ’80-style action movie The Expendables, and he was the obvious choice for a lead role when the Fast & Furious franchise turned away from of its street-drifting roots and emerged as the dominant box office action behemoth we know it as today. With the untimely death of its main star, Paul Walker, the franchise naturally retained the services of Statham.
Now, as the decade draws towards its close, Statham is one of the most bankable action stars on the circuit. His public image is that of a no-nonsense, straight-talking man, a lover of beautiful women and a man who isn’t afraid to do his own stunts. Indeed, when he was nearly killed on the set of The Expandables 2, it only reaffirmed his legendary status in the eyes of his fans.
The Stath has come a long way from his street hawking, pro-diving and modelling days. Now he is one of the biggest action stars in the world, and rightly takes his place at the top table alongside giants such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, Jackie Chan, Steven Segal and Jean Claude Van Damme. And long may his reign continue.
Statham has led a pretty quiet private life, avoiding the cycle of pitfalls, scandals, public breakdowns and bitter divorces some stars fall into. In his early modelling and diving days, he had no serious relationships, but, as would later put it, plenty of opportunities. “I was on the British team travelling around the world and jumping in bed with Russian girls!” he said later.
After achieving fame in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, Statham began dating British model, actress and TV presenter Kelly Brook in 1998. The pair stayed together for seven years until their break-up in 2005.
Statham then briefly dated the Australian singer-songwriter and model, Sophie Monk. That relationship lasted for a year before the two agreed to go their separate ways. After that, he dated the model and actress Alex Zosman for a couple of years before meeting the Victoria’s Secret model Rosie Huntington-Whitely at the Coachella festival in 2010.
Statham and Huntington-Whitely have been together ever since. In 2016, they formally announced their engagement, and their first child is expected to be born in 2017. It seems that the infamous Hollywood hard man has finally met his match.
- Jason Statham:Taking Stock by Len Brown
Written by: Ben Perry