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WATCH: How Jason Statham overcame his fear of sharks before filming The Meg

William Mullally

Published: Updated:

Few leading men are able to become a brand unto themselves. Steve McQueen did it in the 60s, Arnold Schwarzenegger did it in the 80s, and the last 20 years, the most reliable leading man has been Jason Statham. Like McQueen, his anti-hero persona, masculinity and taste for delirious popcorn action fun have created their own genre and no actor has defined what an action star is in the 21st century like Statham.

In The Meg, Statham returns this time to fight a shark. But, being a Jason Statham film, it can’t be just any shark—it’s the prehistoric giant shark known as the megalodon. The film, directed by Jon Turteltaub (National Treasure, Cool Runnings) has Statham starring as seafaring adventurer Jonas Taylor, supported by The Office and Star Trek Discovery star Rainn Wilson, Orange is the New Black’s Ruby Rose, and Transformers star Li Bingbing.

When I ask Turteltaub why he cast Statham, the director stresses that the actor not just a macho caricature.

“Jason is 100 per cent man, right? He has such integrity and dignity in every role he plays—but he’s funny. That sense of humor is always the most important thing to me. It’s easier to pretend to be strong and manly. You can’t fake charm and humor. Jason just has all that. The movie—we needed a lot of humor in it. Jason can play those jokes and you never doubt his strength,” says Tuteltaub.

Wilson goes even further.

“He’s one of the screens all time great leading men,” says Wilson. “He’s so believable. He really carried this movie on his shoulders. He takes it really seriously. He’s just great to work with. I guess what surprised me is how approachable he is. He’s a humble guy—you can just get to know him.”

Though he was up against a CGI shark that took nearly two years in post production to create, the film still required many complex stunts that Statham carried out on his own.

“We built a mesh structure of the head that I was able to hang on to, grab a knife, and they’d pull it this way and that way, and it’s underwater so there’s so much resistance. If you’ve ever been pulled at a great speed underwater, everything wants to go one way but the body wants to resist against the mass of the water. It’s really tough to do—to create being thrashed around under water is an impossible thing. We got to learn that very quickly,” says Statham.

Ruby Rose was astounded by Statham’s work ethic, and how wiling he was to help out the rest of the cast even after spending the day doing the lion’s share of the stunt work.

“He’s such a hard worker. I love that, no matter what, he showed up. As the leading man, and the director, they set the tone of the day. And when he’s doing every scene, every day, long hours, lots of stuff in the water, and all of his stunts. He was always lifting everybody else up as well. There were times when he could have gone home, but he stayed back just to be my eye line for a couple of words that I had to say. It wasn’t even a speaking part—it could have been a tennis ball it could have been a stand in. He would stay there, and it really affected me in a way that showed me that no matter how long his career has gone and no matter how many films he’s done, he still has that humble nature,” says Rose.

Bingbing found him equally as accommodating.

“He’s such a nice guy. I’m really happy to work with him. He really moved me—he’s so considerate. During the whole shooting, he was very supportive, and treated me very well,” she tells me.

While the cast and crew can’t stop gushing about him, Statham continually defers to his co-stars, and director Jon Turteltaub’s relaxed style and penchant for adlibbed humor for making the set so warm and welcoming.

“Jon brought the humor that I didn’t know was coming. A lot of the ad-libbed jokes never made the cut, but it was a laugh putting them on film—put it that way. They might never make it, but we did some silly takes. He loves a good time. When he goes to work, he’s a man who doesn’t take himself too seriously, and I hope that somehow falls into the movie,” says Statham.

Turteltaub very consciously added as much humor and character as he could, beyond what the script had given them.

“I was panicked from the beginning that this would be a corny movie that could play on USA cable and be thrown away as a TV movie. It needed to be cinematic. Just making it big and expensive takes you only so far. You need that extra element that can’t play on television. And part of that is the depth of the comedy and the characters. When you get the audience to join in with you to know, ok, I get what’s happening here—this is a monster movie that knows it’s a monster movie, that’s aware of other monster movies. It’s still a good monster movie, but it’s not taking itself so seriously that it doesn’t see how silly this whole experience is,” says Turteltaub.

Making a shark film, however, still requires making the shark itself as fearsome as possible. Being scared of sharks was never difficult for Statham—his years of surfing and scuba diving had done that work for him.

“I’ve encountered many in my head, and become a very fast swimmer to get back on the surf board. The worst shark that you’ll ever face is the one in your mind.

Statham went to Fiji shortly before filming to interact more with sharks and overcome his fear.

“I took a shark dive and it was a specialist day that you can put together with all these local guys who put on some chain mail glove and feed—by hand—these bull sharks. They lure them in with a bit of chum. There are 25 to 30 of these things, and we go down to 20 meters, we set up on a rock we just sit there, and they swoop in and eat these tuna heads out from the hand. Mind-blowing—absolutely mind-blowing. All the fear goes away. The fear is in the surface, and it’s all in the mind. When you’re down there with them, there’s no fear,” says Statham.