Humbly chronicling the stresses displaced Londoners living on the fringes of society have to overcome has been a skilled trait screenwriter Steven Knight has successfully done in his career. Completing his unofficial trilogy on the subject with the new action thriller ‘Redemption,’ the acclaimed scribe also made his directorial debut with the film. Casting famed action star Jason Statham in the lead role as troubled protagonist Joey Jones, the two emotionally and visually captured the struggles the lengths the homeless, particularly veterans, have to go to in order to survive on the brutal streets.
‘Redemption’ follows Joey (Statham), an ex-Special Forces soldier who’s still reeling from a traumatic tour of duty in Afghanistan. When he returns home to London, he finds himself on the streets as a homeless, damaged veteran. In an attempt to rehabilitate himself, Joey moves into a businessman’s apartment while he’s working in New York City for the summer, and seeks the aid of Sister Cristina (Agata Buzek), a young nun who works at an inner-city parish he used to frequent.
While Joey’s expert training as a soldier makes him a valuable asset to many, he soon finds himself caught in the dark web of London’s criminal underworld. Struggling to maintain his integrity, Joey offers his profits to those who need them most, including London’s homeless and his estranged young daughter. But when he learns his friend Isabel (Victoria Bewick), who he lived with on the street, was taken by a ruthless kingpin, he risks his life for revenge, and heads down a deadly path and promises to destroy him completely.
Statham generously took the time recently to sit down for a roundtable interview at a New York City hotel to talk about shooting ‘Redemption.’ Among other things, the actor discussed how he feels Joey isn’t looking for redemption for his wrongs, but instead an opportunity to do good, even if he has to take drastic measures to do so; how he did more preparation for the role of Joey than any of his previous films, including speaking with members of London’s homeless community and veterans; and how he had an easy working relationship with Knight, as the writer-director was very composed on set and knew exactly how he wanted to tell Joey’s story.
Question (Q): The movie is called ‘Redemption,’ but how redeeming is your character?
Jason Statham (JS): Well, it was never meant to be called ‘Redemption.’ In the U.K., it’s called ‘Hummingbird,’ and that was the title of the screenplay. But the U.S. distributors wanted a different name.
It’s not a story about redemption. We know that he feels like he can’t be forgiven for what he’s done. He doesn’t wan to be forgiven. It’s not about that. It’s about that all of a sudden, he finds a moment where he can do good. It’s not about forgiveness; he doesn’t want people to come up to him and say, “It’s okay, it’s not your fault.”
It’s about how he finds an opportunity to do good, for however long that is, where he becomes someone else. It does come full circle. He falls by the waste-side because he’s too dangerous to be a sober man. His efficiency and the skills that he’s learned just don’t fit into society.
He’s better off in a box, drinking, numbing the effects, and not being this bad person. Although he’s doing bad things that had particularly good consequences. But to answer the question about ‘Redemption,’ I prefer the title ‘Hummingbird.’
Q: Where did the title of ‘Hummingbird’ come from?
JS: Hummingbird is a generic term for a military drone that they send out. They’re basically the all-seeing eye. They see what happens in places where it’s very difficult to see.
Basically it’s symbolic for Joey’s conscience about what he did and committed. That’s why he got haunted by the Hummingbirds, because he believes they saw what he did, and he can never let that go or get away from that. Basically, the Hummingbird is in Joey’s head. He’s accountable for everything that he did, and the Hummingbird is the thing that haunts him.
Q: At one point, Joey has a hallucination of Hummingbirds attacking him. How did you build up your character for these traumatic experiences after getting back from the military?
JS: Well, we met with soldiers. We also had a couple weeks of rehearsal, where we met with soldiers who had served and come back. Some had become homeless, and they spoke about the trauma and mental illness of seeing and being a part of those things. How it affects each individual is very different; some don’t recover, and some get through it. So we built on that to make the movie.
We also met with homeless people, some of whom were from the army and some just had different stories. All this experience and these stories they’ve had, we tried to use that in some way for what we needed to get done.
We also saw doctors who could advise us on what the symptoms would be for a broken rib, and how that would affect you. Also, we learned if a fever and infection came on, how to get rid of it, and how that would affect you. So we were keen on knowing what we were doing; we weren’t just winging it. I’ve done more research for this than any of my films.
Q: Besides the research, how else did you prepare for the role?
JS: You also rehearse with the director and do the preparation and the research. You also build a backstory, like with his family and kid, as I play an estranged dad. It’s hard to intuitively try to understand what you’re trying to portray.
Q: Was there anything that surprised you that you learned from your research?
JS: I don’t know if it was surprising; it was just educating, and helps you in what you’re trying to do. The statistic that 10 percent of all homeless people come from a military background was surprising; I didn’t know there were that many, or accounted for such a big portion.
Q: Did you have any insight into how it is to be homeless?
JS: It is an insight into how the homeless live. All the violence that’s out there, and you have to be aware of what’s coming your way. We went to a homeless shelter and sat with numerous homeless people. Some people get so used to living on the street that sometimes they get an opportunity to sleep in a bed, and they find it very difficult. They’re used to the cardboard on the pavement.
It was an eye-opener for us because a lot of the homeless people walk around in the streets. You’ll see people standing outside a pub, and the homeless people will walk up to them and talk to them. People will basically act like no one’s there. When you get to talk to them in person, they’ve all got a story. It’s very interesting to get inside that.
Q: Are you amazed that you see the same things here in America, even though it’s a different country?
JS: Sure. There’s the statistic in the U.K. that 10 percent of the people on the streets come from a military background. They find it difficult to integrate back into society. A lot of it has to do with post traumatic stress that they’re suffering, and it’s quite a big proportion of the people out there.
Q: Do you know of any programs for the homeless in England?
JS: Yes, there are programs. I can’t think of any in particular off the top of my head. But there are a few places that take in the soldiers, but I’m not sure if it’s enough.
Q: There was a scene in the movie where Joey feeds the homeless pizza. Was there a program that you utilized to feed the homeless while you were shooting?
JS: We were working in and around the homeless community. We were in a back alley, and there were some homeless people there. We’d fed them, and they’d come and have a cup of tea with us, and it was great.
Q: Is it true that the thugs come down the alleys and target the homeless?
JS: That happens, they do shake the homeless down, because they’re easy prey. Though they don’t have any money on them, anyway. But it’s bullying, and they get whatever they can out of them. But it does happy, and it was a disturbing bit of news.
Q: Did you find this character different than your the characters who you’ve played?
JS: Yeah, it was a lot different. He’s a bit of a broken man, and a bit more sensitive. I never get to have a relationship in any movie, and I don’t know nuns. (laughs)
Q: What was your approach to the romance with a nun?
JS: I think Agata, who played Sister Cristina, was so great. It’s about connection and having that possible romance. We’re two opposites; she’s a nun, and I’m a war veteran, yet we share a very similar secret.
She’s a very sensitive actress and super smart. She’s so believable at everything she does. So I think that draws you in. You’re only as good as the people opposite you. I found it very easy because she was so great. I don’t know if she has the same story. (laughs)
Q: What was it about this character that you enjoyed so much?
JS: I really liked the script. It was a great script to read, and you respond quickly to good scripts, and equally to bad ones. You know withing 20 pages if something’s good or not.
Steven Knight’s a very accomplished and sought after writer. He’s been nominated for an Academy Award, and he’s a brilliant writer. When you have a script he’s written, it’s inevitable that you’re going to want to do it.
Q: Speaking of Steven, this was the first feature film he directed, and he also wrote the screenplay. What was it like working with him as a first time director?
JS: It was quite something. He had the composure of someone who made 50 movies, or someone who’s been working for 20 years. He was very, very calm and relaxed. I think that makes everyone else relaxed. There are a lot of directors, and I don’t want to mention names, who do get carried away and lose their composure.
But with Steven, it was smooth sailing, and he was very happy with what he was getting. It was really sweet, and he commands a great atmosphere. Even working with the little girl (who played Joey’s daughter), he was complimenting her. He was sensitive to all the aspects to filmmaking.
The interpretation of the script to a director is sometimes lost. But when you’ve written it yourself and put it in front of the camera, you have a real understanding of the story that was shot in your own head when you were writing it. Basically, that’s what a writer does-he directs a film in his own mind. I suppose the interpretation of that is best when you’re the director.
Q: What was the hardest thing during the shooting or preparation?
JS: I don’t know, it doesn’t go on the parameter of difficult or not difficult. It’s just new to me to do a lot of research for anything. (laughs)
Q: Another subject the movie touches on is drugs. Did you find it surprising the amount of drugs on the streets?
JS: Well, we don’t see it, but we know it’s there. Alcoholism, drug abuse, it’s all there. It’s there in every city in the world.
Q: Your breakout role was in 2002′s ‘The Transporter.’ Did you have any idea that your career would take off the way it has?
JS: I don’t think you ever have any idea what’s around the corner. As it takes off, it can go down. You have to be aware that what goes up does come down, and how far does it go up before it comes down. (laughs) It’s great to be working. I know it’s tough for a lot of people who aren’t working who want to be working.
Q: Does that attitude keep you grounded?
JS: Well, I got into it pretty late. I know what it’s like to go into money the hard way, so I never get too carried away.
Q: You were a diver, right?
JS: That was a hobby. It’s an amateur sport, and wouldn’t have paid for anything. So I used to work on the streets, and sold perfume and jewelry for about 20 years or so, before I became an actor.
Q: Can you talk a little about ‘Fast and Furious 7?’
JS: What do you want to know about that? You know I’m going to get killed if I say anything. (laughs) I’m not allowed to say much. Spoilers are really something they try hard to protect.
It was hard enough to protect the fact that I was going to be in it. I wasn’t supposed to tell anyone. We filmed my scene (for ‘Fast and Furious 6‘) six months before it came out. I had to keep my mouth shut for six months. (laughs)
I met with (director) Justin Lin, and I really wanted to work with him. I know it’s a very successful franchise. I love the car action, and it was an opportunity I couldn’t resist.
Q: Are fight sequences fun, or is it stressful, since you have to choreograph everything?
JS: Usually they’re quite comical. When we make mistakes, we’re always laughing. I’ve gotten to know some of the stunt men quite well, just being in the stunt community. They’ve got a really good attitude, and we have a lot of laughs and fun when we’re filming these sequences.
They have to be in tune with you. If they’re talented, it can be a lot of fun, and we can get great work done. But sometimes people don’t move so well. It depends where the stuntmen come from. (laughs) But a lot of the time, it’s a lot of fun, even though it can look serious.
Q: Do you do a lot of your own stunts?
JS: Yep, that’s me. (laughs)
Q: Is there any particular thing that draws you to a script?
JS: It’s just an immediate gut reaction. It’s not one of those things where you say, “I want to play a lawyer.” Good scripts are hard to pass up. I just look for the quality of it.
Q: Besides ‘Fast and Furious 7,’ what’s next for you?
JS: I’m going to do ‘The Expendables 3.’ We start on August 20 in Bulgaria.
I also have a film with Sylvester Stallone as the writer. It’s called ‘Homefront’ with James Franco, Winona Ryder and Kate Bosworth, and it’s a thriller. It comes out the end of this year, but there’s not an exact date yet. I never stop working, do I? (laughs)
Written by: Karen Benardello