Jason Statham for “Death Race”

Jason Statham took time out from celebrating his birthday at Comic-Con to speak to press about his latest action flick, Death Race.

A remake of the 1975 cult classic Death Race 2000, the new re-imagining ups the ante with a much bigger budget under the hands of director Paul W.S. Anderson (Resident Evil, AVP). Jason Statham stars as the hero character Frankenstein (aka Jensen Ames) originally portrayed by David Carradine.

Statham arrived for the junket in typical blue jeans and tight black shirt with large aviator sunglasses. Removing the sunglasses, he squinted in partial shock at the sunlight beaming down whilst admitting to press that he had been out partying late the night before.

“[My birthday] came at the wrong moment the night before a press junket, but we’re not suffering too badly,” Statham admitted with a grin.

The interview was conducted in a parking lot with the various vehicles from Death Race parked all around the interview spots. Sitting near Statham’s heavily armored Mustang from the film, we asked him about piloting the masculine vehicle. “One of the most difficult things is that they don’t have a lot of vision,” says Statham. “The cars are covered in armor and there’s very little vision that you can really draw any confidence from. It’s quite nerve-racking to know where you are and who’s coming up and who’s not. The track is also very dangerous, full of pile-ons and steel girders. One mistake and it’s over, so it was a massive concern for the stunt coordinators and Paul [W.S.] Anderson because of the danger that those kinds of things present.”

Thankfully, filmmakers had a few spare Frankenstein vehicles ready in the waiting. “They had multiple copies of the same car, so that when it gets mangled and bashed, they just slip into the next one.”

Anderson’s Death Race is less of a remake of Death Race 2000 and more of an homage to the cult classic. In fact, Statham never saw the original before filming. “He didn’t want [me to see] anything that would interfere with his sort of film. He said ‘It’s not a remake, it’s like an homage. If you can, try not to see it.'”

Practical effects were employed as much as possible on Death Race. For car lovers like Statham, Tyrese and Anderson, it was a chance to play with toys on a much more epic, destructive and expensive level. “CGI’s so boring,” says Statham, “People just switch off to that. If it’s pushed into a direction where it doesn’t look possible, people are completely turned off by it. Paul wanted to shoot as much as possible in through the camera lens. It’s always more interesting and that’s something I’ve wanted to do with all the action movies I’m a part of. I like to do the stunts and show that we’re actually doing it.”

At the end of the day, Statham sees Death Race a piece of lighthearted popcorn entertainment. “It’s not The Godfather. Come on. (Laughs) Some of the deaths are just gory and hilarious. I like the fact that a death can be gruesome and funny. I think it’s important not to take it too seriously. This is entertainment and everyone who sees it seems to get their money’s worth.”

When asked about his idles, Statham rattles off a list that includes Clint Eastwood, Paul Newman, Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson. Especially in the case of the latter two, Statham’s career draws unmistakable parallels.

Given the chance to step into an idol’s shoes for a remake, Statham’s pick is Bronson’s Hard Times. “It’s hard to remake something that’s done so well so it’s probably best just to leave it alone, but that was one of my favorite Bronson movies.”

Next for Statham are the sequels Crank 2 and Transporter 3.

When we last saw Statham’s Crank hero Chev Chelios at the end of the first film, he appeared to be dead from a skydive minus the parachute. But Statham says you just weren’t paying close enough attention: “Well if you look closely in the first one, you will see that when he lands, there’s a heartbeat and the blink of an eye, so that’s always been there. People who thought he died probably [weren’t] looking close enough.”

Statham won’t reveal any major details of the sequel, but warns that the fever pitch action of the first film has been upped considerably for the second. “That’s one of the most enjoyable films I’ve shot in the last decade. It is absolutely madder than you can imagine. It’s like the first one times a hundred.”

After the misstep of Transporter 2, Statham feels the franchise is back on track with part three. “I think the third one’s probably the best out of the three.”

“We wanted to make it better than the first two. I always thought the first one was the best one for me. The second one, I don’t know, I thought we could do better. We just needed more time and more money and that’s hard to get.”