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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - British actor Jason Statham has come a long way since selling after-shave and cheap jewelry on London street corners. Today, he earns millions as one of the hottest action stars in Hollywood.
But when his new movie "The Bank Job" debuts in major U.S. cities on Friday, Statham's fans will see something beyond another showcase for his kick-boxing prowess and skill at driving fast cars.
"I get to play a husband and father for a change," he told Reuters. "And while it's a thriller, there's also a lot more emphasis on character and drama and intrigue than in my usual films. There's a lot going on under the surface."
Statham, 37, fell into his career as a movie action hero when British director Guy Ritchie cast him as a London lad in the cult hit caper "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels."
Soon after, he seized his chance in Hollywood and cemented his reputation as a reliable tough guy with box-office hits such as "The Italian Job" and "The Transporter" series.
Based on a true story, "The Bank Job" stars Statham as the leader of a low-tech gang that tunneled into a bank vault in early 1970s London. The real robbery was one of the biggest at the time, netting in excess of $15 million in today's dollars.
He shows some character depth as Terry, a car dealer looking for an easy payoff who finds bank robbery is anything but simple.
"He's talked into it by an ex-girlfriend (Saffron Burrows) only to find out that it involves the Royal Family, blackmail and (British intelligence service) MI5," explains Statham. "It all gets very murky."
While Statham has carved out a successful career playing assorted rogues and villains (credits include "Snatch" opposite Brad Pitt, "The Longest Yard," "The One" and "Crank") his own life story is every bit as colorful. He's been a street-corner "salesman," a model, and a high-board diver.
"I was the (British) national champion, and I placed 12th in the world, but I never went to the Olympics like some reports said. It's a very intense training, and it really taught me discipline and focus," Statham said.
Statham said he feels pigeon-holed doing action movies again and again. Yet, action scripts and rogue characters are most often what come his way.
"Let's face it, it's a lucrative market, and it's playing to my strengths. Who else is there now? There's Jackie Chan and Jet Li, but they're Asian," he said.
Statham is quick to deny that he ever suggested aging action stars such as Sylvester Stallone should retire, as was widely reported a few months ago.
"I've never said that, and I think he's great," Statham said. "He's one of my bloody heroes. I love all his stuff, and the fact that he can still do it in his 60s is amazing."
Statham, who likes to box and play chess in his spare time, is currently shooting "Transporter 3."
"It's back to fast cars and fast women," he sighs. "But I'm having a lot of fun doing it."
Editing by Steve Gorman and Stuart Grudgings