British director Guy_Ritchie frequently attributes the success of his unorthodox crime films -- 1998's Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, 2000's Snatch -- to the fact that his offbeat miscreants are more than believable, they are real. Preferring to cast for authenticity rather than resumé, Ritchie handpicks many of his actors from the true-life cult figures and rascals of London's underbelly. Actor Jason Statham is among the best of them.
A one-time Olympic diver, fashion model, and black-market salesman, Statham came to acting by way of commercials and "street theater" -- a euphemism for hustling tourists on London's Oxford Street. Raised in Syndenham, London, he was the second son of a lounge singer and a dressmaker turned dancer. Although Statham had the familial background to go immediately into entertainment, he excelled first on the high dive. He was a member of the 1988 British Olympic Team in Seoul, Korea, and remained on the National Diving Squad for ten years. In the late '90s, a talent agent specializing in athletes landed Statham a gig in an ad campaign for the European clothing retailer French Connection. This led to an appearance in a Levi's Jeans commercial and a fledgling modeling career. Meanwhile, Statham had also earned local fame as a street corner con man, selling stolen jewelry and counterfeit perfume out of a briefcase. Thus, when French Connection's owner became one of the biggest investors in Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, he naturally introduced the diver/model/hustler to knave-hunting Ritchie.
Intrigued by Statham's past and impressed by his modeling work, Ritchie invited him to audition for a part in the film. The director challenged Statham to impersonate an illegal street vendor and convince him to purchase a piece of imitation gold jewelry. Statham was evidently so persuasive that Ritchie bought four sets. When the director attempted to return his worthless acquisition -- pretending that the gold had turned to stainless steel -- Statham was so graciously inflexible that Ritchie hired him.
This unorthodox audition resulted in Statham's big screen debut as Bacon, one of Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels' four primary characters engaged in a risky get-rich-quick scheme to repay a massive gambling debt. Bacon supplies a streetwise discipline and restraint that the other characters lack and a sense of humility crucial to Ritchie's film. In the director's follow-up crime comedy, Snatch, Ritchie rehired Statham to play Turkish, a smalltime hood vainly trying to break into the world of underground boxing. As this amateur but respectable hoodlum, Statham is attractive, urbane, immaculate, and smart enough to be bewildered by even his own laughable criminal ineptitude. The role began as a small supporting part in Snatch's star-filled ensemble cast but expanded throughout shooting. By the time of the film's theatrical release, Statham received top billing as its narrator and chief anti-hero.
The Guy_Ritchie oeuvre that supplied his breakthrough performances is not Statham's only acting arena. In 2000, he made his American film debut as a British drug dealer in Robert_Adetuyi's Turn_It_Up starring Pras_Michel. By 2001, he had finished shooting John_Carpenter's sci-fi thriller Ghosts of Mars and joined Delroy_Lindo in the cast of the Jet_Li vehicle The One. A chance to reteam with former Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrel co-star Vinnie Jones proved too fun an opportuity to resist, and Stratham would round out a particularly busy 2001 with his role in the prison-bound sports remake Mean Machine.
Statham dated English model and actress Kelly Brook for seven years but the couple split when she met actor Billy Zane on the set of "Survival Island". In 2005, Statham dated former Bardot singer Sophie Monk but they are no longer together. Statham has also played soccer with Hollywood United F.C., a star-studded amateur team.