Ben Foster has played a mentally handicapped student in TV’s Freaks and Geeks, a bi-sexual art school boyfriend of Claire Fischer (Lauren Ambrose) in Six Feet Under, a crystal meth-addicted skinhead in Alpha Dog, a soldier trying to re-assimilate into the civilian world in The Messenger and gained critical acclaim as outlaw Charlie Prince in 3:10 to Yuma.
In his new movie The Mechanic, a remake of the 1972 Charles Bronson film, he plays Steve McKenna, whose father has been murdered. He approaches Arthur Bishop (Jason Statham), an elite assassin, to help him track down and dispose of his father’s killers. The meticulous hit man takes on the impulsive student with unpredictable consequences.
What was it like working with Jason Statham?
Jason is very funny. We had a lot of laughs. I was a fan of his before we met – his performances in The Bank Job, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and the Crank films. He’s an extremely gifted guy and does some fine, subtle work in this film.
What was doing the stunts like for you?
Doing a film like The Mechanic is really a boy’s dream. We’ve all played with sticks as guns in backyards as kids. This film gave me permission to do those kinds of things as a grownup. It’s boys with guns doing bad things to bad people.
Was propelling down the 30 story building, 350 in the air challenging?
Hanging from a single wire and dropping isn’t that difficult. It’s the four minute climb up that makes you question why you didn’t let the stunt man do it. It was almost a relief to fall. After the second take, I didn’t want to stop.
You question your own sanity doing it. I’m not going to bore you with the levels of profound fear of being dragged up that building by a single cable, but it does go through your head, ‘Why didn’t I let the stunt guy do this? What do I have to prove?’ It’s just not worth it. I guess on some level you do want to die!
Jason looks forward to the stunts.
Jason is a tremendous athlete and he gave me a lot of confidence on set. It’s a new world for me. I’ve done action sequences but this just being a full out gun-porn film, there was a lot that I had to learn.
Did Jason give you any advice?
He told me to find a point on the horizon line and focus on it. Unfortunately, the wire started to spin so I couldn’t find the point. Just saying ‘f-ck it’ gives you a lot of freedom. Life’s hard in the movies, so much violence. I beat people up, I get beaten up.
Can you talk about the big fight scene you have in this?
It was a gas. We trained for three months and choreographed the fight. The night before [we shot it] we were just doing the intro to the fight, when he throws him against the wall and he falls.
I asked to do the stunt. They said, ‘You don’t need to,’ I said, ‘Yes, [I want to]’ I fell on my shoulder, my shoulder snapped. I didn’t say anything. I asked if we could end, they said, ‘Well, we need one more take.’ So I did it again, snap. I went to bed thinking I was going to shrug it off and I woke up and I couldn’t move my shoulder. It’s not a call you want to make to the producer saying, ‘You know that little scene that we’ve been working on for three months? I can’t move.’
So they sent me to a doctor and he got out a big syringe and he gave me a shot and it loosed it up, and I could move. So I got to set and I’m like, ‘Let’s do it, I’m ready.’ We worked it all out, the camera got set up and my shoulder tightened back up. I called the doctor and he came and pumped me full of steroids, a pain killer, I didn’t even want to know. I just knew whatever was in that it was going to save the day, but would ruin my life in the future!
When the day is over is it easy for you to turn off the character?
In short, no, for some actors it’s really easy, it’s not for me. Some people can dunk basketballs, I can’t. You spend all day thinking about something, like with the film The Messenger, grief, loss, the inevitable, something we all go through, something we all have experience with, making the phone call, receiving a phone call of a loved one that is no longer with us. You spend all day considering all that, it’s hard to shake. I would be worried about people who can turn that off, but all power to them.