As mentioned, Statham specializes in playing iron-jawed professionals capable of extraordinary pugilistic feats. In this case, several elements came together to make Parker particular attractive to him as an actor and audience member. "Well I like crime thrillers. I like heist movies," he said. "I like action movies that set all those elements into one and a chance to do something that comes from a great stable of writing. Donald Westlake has written countless books about this chap, over twenty. Sixty books in total he wrote in his career so this guy knows how to write. And so, I’m getting to do an action movie with all the greatness of a storyteller like Donald Westlake."
For Chiklis, the initial draw was Oscar-winning director Taylor Hackford (An Officer and a Gentleman, Ray). "He’s one of those guys, talk about checking off a box. He’s a bucket list director," Chiklis explained. "Big franchise, this is a tried and true genre, directed by a guy who’s famous for character work. This could take genre picture and lift it and elevate it. That was my thinking. I know I had a real wonderful experience with [Micah Hauptman]. Tthe four of us got together with Taylor that very first night in New Orleans. We had a wonderful dinner at a great restaurant. That was the other danger that we were in New Orleans [laughs]. I put in like fifteen pounds. Plus, Wendell Pierce is like the mayor of New Orleans. He’s a local. Everybody loves him cause of Treme. He took us to every haunt and every jazz club and greasy food purveyor and we just ate. We love Wendell Pierce. That was as much a part of this experience as anything else was our hangouts. We’d work for two-three days and be off for a week… in New Orleans! We had fun. I sat in and played drums with Mayfield!"
While the plethora of Parker material Westlake wrote over the decades presented an exhaustive amount of material on the character, Statham opted to focus purely on the story presented in Parker, saying, "I just stuck to the script because at the end of the day Taylor has an interpretation to make and he will guide us through the story and these characters that were slightly expanded upon and were different to what was in the book because the book is called Flashfire. We have 90 minutes to tell a story. A book is a dozen hours, however fast or slow you read. We just have to go with the vision of the director. When Jennifer comes in, she’s got things she wants to say and things about the character that she wants to bring or take away. Everyone has their fingers into the pie. And then, you end up with something very different to the book maybe."
It may differ somewhat from the source material, but Parker was definitely a new experience for Statham, who is accustomed to playing almost invincible badasses. Hackford, who has never before directed an action film, opted instead for a more grounded approach. "He’s so driven by everything being authentic and believable," Statham explained. "He gave me a chance to do something that I don’t normally do. I get to play a more realistic chap that isn’t the guy that can take on ten guys. He was instrumental in pushing this guy to barely make it through these action sequences and just survive enough to be able to get to the next part. And then maybe, he just doesn’t have enough, but he does. He pushes himself to this extreme level that I never normally do and I think that’s all character driven. So I have to take my hat off to Taylor for being the driving force behind that. The execution of the physical stuff is something I know very much about, so rest assured, I can say, 'Look, this is going to be easy if we do it this way.' It’s a great collaboration."
Playing a more realistic character doesn't mean that Parker doesn't contain complicated action scenes. One in particular occurs early in the film and has five combatants engaging in a moving automobile before the title character goes tumbling out of a car moving 55 miles per hour. Statham described the challenges of that scene, saying, "It was very claustrophobic. There’s not a lot of places to put a camera. Again, we’re dealing with how can we make this believable. We grab the gun. It’s not like this guy’s going to shoot his friend’s ear off. So, you have to grab the gun and pull it, which makes him pull the trigger. You have to get the details right so it’s all realistic, believable, and everybody’s doing their thing at the right time. While I’m doing that, somebody else is trying to turn a gun, and you have to play this whole thing through and have it really feel realistic and everything has to be believable and the timing has to work. And then obviously, I have to jump out a window. [Laughs] So, that to me is just the 3-2-1 go! That’s how you deal with that."
That's arduous, but for Chiklis, who has endured hours-long makeup jobs as The Thing in Fantastic Four, his crew's disguise as a group of clowns presented no small amount of difficulty. "That was my first time on film in a clown suit or in a wet suit for that matter," said Chiklis. "It was certainly not the most comfortable gig that week we spent in the van [wearing clown suits] in the Bayou in 111-degree heat. It sucked! It was horrible. But, we knew the sequence was going to be good. That drives you forward. You go through all manner of discomfort to get the shot."
Both actors had nothing but praise for their co-star Jennifer Lopez, who has a higher-than-average profile thanks to her successful music career. Recalling his experience with Lopez on Parker, Statham said, "It was just fun from the get go. There were no ‘try hard’ things for us. When I meet somebody, it doesn’t matter who they are. I don’t have any preconceived ideas about who they are and how they’re going to behave and rumors. I don’t listen to all the crap that comes with it. She was as sweet as they could ever be. She’s just a bundle of fun. We had great chemistry. We had a great time doing the job. The relationship between Parker and the character that Jennifer played was good because it was trying to be sexual. It wasn’t. Never could it get there. There was a lot of tension there. It was nice to play with that because she’s so playful anyway. It was most enjoyable."
Chiklis, meanwhile, explained Lopez's contribution to the social atmosphere on set through her interaction with Michael A. Hauptman, whose character commits no small amount of violence against Lopez's Leslie. "Think about it. It’s his first big movie and he has to abuse Jennifer Lopez," Chiklis said. "It’s kind of scary! I was so happy to see her and be so cool. I went up to her and said, 'I’m sorry.' And she said, 'Why?' 'For what I’m about to do to you. I’m going to throw at you.' She was like, 'Oh, that’s okay!' She was very, very cool and I was happy to see the way she handled Micah. She was like, 'Come on!' And that’s a big deal, that gave him permission. He’s a gentleman. Chivalry isn’t dead, it just smells funny. It’s amazing how being actor is all about trust. It’s a big trust exercise when we give each other permission to play. When someone breaks that trust, on either side, it can be absolutely devastating the process and the outcome of the film or whatever you’re doing. I can point to a million examples in my career where people have derailed a situation because they broke that trust. Whether they did that pretentious actor thing where they were so into it that they hit you with a sword!"
Among the differences from many of Statham's past performances is Parker's tendency to employ distinct accents for his various disguises. One of these disguises involves sporting a giant ten-gallon hat, a matching suit, and a Texas accent. Coming from the British actor, that Texas drawl is an oddity, but makes sense in the context of the character. "When he’s doing the Texan accent, he’s playing a guy from Texas," the actor said. "Because he’s posing in disguise in order to get some information. I think it’s just one of the characteristics of Parker which is he’s cunning. He’s very pragmatic and he’ll do what it takes to get what he needs. Taylor was my accent coach. So, if it’s bad, you can tell him. [Laughs] Yes, he was responsible for my good or bad accent."
To read IAR's exclusive interview with director Taylor Hackford, click here.
For Statham's thoughts on the casting of The Expendables 3, click here.
And to read Chiklis' update on a possible movie version of The Shield, click here.
Parker arrives at a theater near you this Friday, January 25, 2013.