Taylor Hackford may have seemed like an interesting choice to helm the new Jason Statham action film, with all its attitude fully present in the Parker poster. But, when we caught up with the legendary director (Ray, The Devil's Advocate) for an exclusive interview, he told us his passion for the project stemmed from the 24 books that author Donald Westlake wrote that centered on this criminal character with a firm set of standards. Now, it all makes sense.
"Westlake defines Parker very well. He doesn’t say anything. He keeps to his own counsel. But, he’s constantly aware. He’s constantly analyzing. He waits until the moment that is right and he springs. And when he springs, sometimes you don’t know why. It may take you two scenes to realize why he did that," Hackford said.
"That’s a huge challenge to a filmmaker, but it’s also a great lot of fun. You’re not going to do it in dialogue. He’s not going to tell you what he’s thinking. If you can do that as a director, then you have something."
That's why the helmer believes there could have been no better choice to play the titular character than Statham. "When he acts, it’s always with purpose. It’s never mindless. You might not see it when it’s happening, but later you realize why he made those choices," he said. "Over the course of time, that’s interesting filmmaking."
For someone who has truly never made an action movie before, having someone possessing Statham's professionalism was priceless.
"Jason was an Olympic diver (which the actor told us about in our Jason Statham interview). He is a perfectionist because all divers are. He is in for the count. You don’t have to beat actors like him with a stick and say, 'Don’t use a stuntman.' He’s always up for it," Hackford said. "I knew that going in. I’ve met him before, he’s a real bloke. When you work with him in those instances, he’s a maniac. He wants to get everything right. That’s a gift to a director."
Hackford also wants Movie Fanatic to know that although he has never truly tackled an action film, he cherishes them. "This is me. I’m a fan of genre films. When you see it and it works, it’s such a great satisfaction," he admitted.
We then asked Hackford what it was about the character of Parker that has resonated with fans over 24 books... unheard of in popular culture.
"He has got a certain integrity. He’s no Robin Hood, he really isn’t. People say he’s got a code of ethics. Nah. What he is, is a professional. He’s a criminal. He wants to steal as much money as humanly possible. And he has not one iota of remorse about it. You accept the character. The difference is that he has a set of rules. They’re pragmatic rules. I don’t want to go to jail,” he said and laughed.
“As he goes about it, he has this way that he works. Is he violent? He can be incredibly violent. But is he a psychopathic person who likes to hurt people? No. He goes in and tells people what he expects. He says, 'Do this, and you’ll be fine. Don’t do this, and there’ll be repercussions.' He’s straight about it. When you see that as an audience you think, 'At least this is a guy who lays it out there.'"
The story, so effectively teased in the Parker trailer, shows what happens when the man who is normally a lone wolf, works with a crew. He lets them know about his rules and when things fall apart, the action in the film truly gets going.
"When they don’t follow the rules, he will go to the ends of the earth to put things right," Hackford said.
Even when he's been beaten to within inches of his life, the character will get back up and dive into the belly of the beast to make things right. "Probably the smartest thing for him to do would be to walk away and live to fight another day. Does he do that? No. In its own way, he has an integrity. In today’s world where there isn’t a lot of integrity, everyone’s ready to compromise, Parker won’t go there. You may abhor what he does, but you admire him."
For the role of Leslie, the director called an old friend whom some may think is a unique choice, Jennifer Lopez. "People expect Jennifer in a romantic comedy. I know her. We almost did another project together that didn’t work, so I called her to do this film. I wasn’t offering the big Hollywood dream part. I’m offering her Parker starring Jason Statham,” Hackford said and laughed.
"She knows she’s not going to be the star. Plus, this is a messy character. This is a woman pushing 40 who is a failure. All of her dreams have been dashed. Her prince charming turned out to be a toad. He went bankrupt and left her with the debts. She has to move in with her mother!"
Hackford let his friend know that this character mirrored the strength that the superstar has exhibited in real life. "Jennifer listened to me and I told her this is a character just like you. I don’t care how much you’ve gotten down, you never gave up. Leslie never gives up," he said.
"Jennifer's had some emotional wear on those tires. She’s not that young girl that’s just starting out. When you can take that and translate that to your acting, it’s impressive. Plus, she’s great with Jason. He just lights up when he’s with her."