As one of the leading action movie actors working in Hollywood today, Jason Statham has gotten the role of awesome, violent, morally ambiguous badass down to a science. This British actor’s adrenaline-filled characters have delivered huge box-office successes and granted him a loyal following. His latest film, Parker, from Academy Award-nominated director Taylor Hackford, is the story of a criminal with a strong set of principles for his craft who seeks revenge after a violent “disagreement” with his partners in crime. The film is based on the novel Flashfire by Donald Westlake, which is part of a series of books dedicated to recount the adventures of the methodical thief; it also stars Michael Chiklis as the backstabbing villain, Wendell Pierce, and newcomer Micah Hauptman.

Statham talked about the influence of the source material in the film, as well as his experience working with stars like Jennifer Lopez, or veteran actor Nick Nolte. The actor, who is charmingly funny despite the tough guys he plays on screen, also discussed some of his greatest cinematic inspirations, and the challenges of portraying such characters both physically and emotionally.

How is Parker different from other characters you have played before? What makes this character special?

Everything about this chap. Each story is a different story. The good thing about Parker is that I’ve played a thief before, I’ve played a tough guy before, I’ve played a lot of things that might have elements of what Parker has, but what is really specifically different is that this comes from a quality of writing. Donald Westlake wrote twenty books about this guy, over twenty books. And you know, he is a crook, he is a criminal, he is a thief, but he does many things, many bad things, but for the right reasons. He has a redeemable quality in him, and we are forced to try to figure what that is. I think it has to do with loyalty…he is someone that doesn’t steal from people who can’t afford it. Does it make him a good person? I don’t know, and he doesn’t hurt people that don’t deserve it; so there is a moral side to him that is quite strong, and at the end of the day, I’m more attracted to the story of how it all unfolds.

What did you find interesting about Parker?

There are so many reasons. You got Taylor Hackford, Academy Award-nominated director, we just talked about Donald Westlake, and it’s one of the strongest casts that I’ve been lucky enough to be around. You got Wendell Pierce, Michael Chiklis, and come on, Nick Nolte. I think he’s been nominated three times. So you got all these great people around me, a great director, great source material, and here we are, we got some spice from Jennifer Lopez. We have a lot of reasons to be happy. The thing about the movie business is you never know if people are gonna like it. It’s just one of those incalculable things. You don’t know until it comes out, so let’s se what happens.

What was the hardest thing about the part, the physical challenge or the emotional state of the character?

The physical aspect presents its difficulties and the emotional parts do too. They are approached very differently. The physical stuff, I feel that I’m very sort of accomplished, I know what I’m doing, and I know how to navigate those sequences with as much pain-free ways of doing that. I tend to try and sort of rely on my experience with those things. For the drama, I put all that in the director’s hand. We are given good situations. I’m acting with good people, so all that kind of takes care of itself. You just have to be committed.

In terms of the stunts, what was the most difficult for you in this film?

I don’t know. Jumping out of a car wasn’t easy, and hanging off of a balcony that wasn’t too pleasurable. All that stuff, that’s the popcorn fun of the cinema. If you can have a great story that people can follow and get the suspense, then you have those moments of tension and a splash of visual fun — then you kind of get everything. You get your money’s worth. So hopefully we got all of those together.

On that priest outfit…

That was ridiculous! I put that on and I said “Thank God I’m bald.” Hair just doesn’t suit me. It’s funny to see that stuff, it’s very funny. For me, that day, I don’t know how, because I had a wig, glasses, and a priest outfit and we’d be at the state fair, and there are thousands and thousands of people, and I’d be walking out with the priest outfit and the briefcase, and they’d go “Hello Jason how is it going? “ I was like “Really?” It was one of those weird things, it was like “I’m supposed to be in disguise!” Must be the broken nose, or someone must have heard me say something, must be the accent.

What was it like to work with Nick Nolte?

He plays the mentor, the father figure. Thank God it was someone with that presence. You feel such strength working opposite him. First you get over the fact that it’s Nick Nolte, and then you get into the character.

What was it like for you and Michael Chiklis working together?

We are both so renowned for having a physical side, and I think that’s why Taylor put us together — the tension would be there. Are they gonna clash? When are they gonna clash? Who is gonna win? Is it gonna create the tension for the audience? It was good to roll around and sling a punch and get one thrown back. Fun and games!

On Action films…

I’m a massive fan of action films. Some of my favorite movies are Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Cool Hand Luke, The Sting. I love Paul Newman, I love Clint Eastwood. I like a lot of different movies. I do like a lot of the 70’s movies. I love Charles Bronson in Hard Times. All my favorite movies are the ones from yesteryear; it was a good era. My mom and dad used to be like, “You gotta see this film.” They were influential to a high degree on what films I saw as a kid. It’s funny because now I’m doing…well not the same quality of films as them, I’ll be blunt to say that, but I’m doing movies that my dad likes: “Yeah, that was a good one son,” or “Yeah that wasn’t so good, make the next one better.” It’s nice to do a good one that he likes. Mom likes them all, she is like, “You are just brilliant”, even if it was a piece of crap, she’d say that.

How much of Westlake’s novel did you use for inspiration?

It’s hard because once you get tied into the book, and there is things that you like in the book that don’t make it to the screenplay, you are like, “Oh no, can’t we have that?” You get into this quagmire of fighting for something that might not be a good scene. So Taylor said, “Leave the book alone, we are making a movie and it’s gonna be inspired by Flashfire the novel. You don’t have to read it, I’m not asking you to read it. We are gonna be doing something different because we have locations that are specific to the storyline and actors that are gonna come in. Things are gonna change.” So things changed a lot. There is a huge fanbase of Westlake fans, and I’m sure they are gonna hate or love what we did. There’s gonna be the haters and the lovers.

What do you think of Jennifer Lopez taking on a more challenging role as this?

It was really something that she was always capable of. When Taylor came up to her he said, “I know there is the ‘Jennifer’ but I don’t what that, I want the ‘Other Jennifer,'” and she said, “What Jennifer!” He said, “This one!” Anyway, she is a street girl, she’s got a real down-to-earth way about her, and I think that’s why people love her so much. She is just real, you don’t feel that she is putting on anything, and that’s one of the reasons that everybody likes her so much. She wanted to do something like this. I think it was the perfect thing; she really got down and stripped away everything. It worked out great.