Jason Statham: 'Props are just part of the fun ... a straight-up fist fight gets a little tedious'
Jason Statham and Dwayne Johnson turn the action up to the max in the first Fast & Furious spin-off, Hobbs & Shaw, which also stars Dame Helen Mirren and Idris Elba. Laura Harding meets the cast
The Fast & Furious franchise has cornered the market in fast cars and wild stunts since the first film roared into cinemas 18 years ago.
Eight blockbuster movies later and the first spin-off is here, centring on Dwayne Johnson's hulking lawman, Luke Hobbs, and Jason Statham's lawless mercenary, Deckard Shaw.
Nemeses since they first faced off in 2015's Fast & Furious 7, the duo are now forced to put aside their smack talk and team up to take on a violent threat to the world.
This comes in the shape of Idris Elba's genetically and technologically enhanced soldier, Brixton, in the new action blockbuster Hobbs & Shaw, which gives Statham and Johnson the chance to fill out the fan-favourite characters.
"I did a very small tag in part six, I came in the shadows for part seven and didn't have a lot to say. I just came in and wanted to kill everybody," says Statham.
"Then we get to learn a little more about him in part eight, so Deckard Shaw was certainly someone that we could pull back the curtain on and have a look at and focus down on what he stands for.
"There has been this misconception that he's just a ruthless bad guy and we get to know that he's not exactly that. It's also the same with the Hobbs character.
"The pair of us really had a lot of on-screen fireworks, so it made sense to go and expand out on that story."
As you might expect, both the action stars feature in some formidable fight scenes, but Statham (52) has a particularly fun one that sees him brandishing a champagne bottle in a way it certainly was not intended.
"I always get a little bit apprehensive with props," he admits with a laugh.
"They just stack them all up and go, 'You are going to bash someone with a toaster, there is the saucepan for the bullet catch, there is the champagne bottle'... it's like The Generation Game - pick your prizes.
"Props have been a thing of my action movie physical fights for many years. I've wrapped people up with hoses. I've hit them with everything you could put your hands on.
"It's just part of the fun, you know? A straight-up fist fight gets a little tedious."
He pauses. "It's a rubber toaster, mind."
The film also gives audiences more of a chance to get to know Shaw's family, including his sister Hattie, played by The Crown star Vanessa Kirby, and his formidable mother, Magdalene Shaw, played by Dame Helen Mirren, after her fleeting debut appearance in Fast & Furious 8.
Dame Helen's casting in the franchise came as a surprise to many when it was first announced, but it gives the 74-year-old Oscar-winner opportunities not afforded her in her other projects.
"I just love driving cars in movies," she says enthusiastically. "I love it - you get empty roads, you can do stuff that you can't do in a normal car.
"It just looked like a really fun thing to be a part of.
"It was wonderful to play the Queen, it was wonderful to play all the roles that I've played - Elizabeth I, Catherine the Great - but I just really wanted to do something where I could really have good fun."
That being said, she now has two of these films under her belt and is yet to get behind the wheel of a car.
"Can you believe it?" she jokes, exasperatedly. "What's the matter with them?
"I was hoping, but it will come - we have to pay our dues before we get the prize."
Instead, she got to dive into Magdalene's East End roots, tapping into her own family history as she went.
"My mum was born in the East End, she was born in West Ham, and left school at 14.
"So on my mum's side, I come from a London working-class family.
"I've never investigated how far back they go, but I wouldn't be surprised if they go quite a way back in the East End of London, so it's a little bit in my DNA, that world.
"Now, obviously, I have a posh actor's accent, but when I grew up in Southend, I talked a lot more like that and I had to take elocution lessons."
One person who does see more than his fair share of action is Elba (46), who joins the franchise as the self-professed bad guy Brixton.
He had to hold his own in fight scenes with Johnson and Statham.
"Those guys are very fit. They are notoriously known for that and I'm not," he says ruefully.
"But I turned up. I definitely trained for this film to try and be as fit as I possibly could be. Dwayne and Jason are the biggest action movie stars in the world, so I looked forward to going to work every day, but I went home with a bit of a headache.
"There was a lot of shouting and screaming and a lot of machismo."
Elba even did a lot of his own stunts - "the fighting was really me because I like to fight" - and came up with one of the film's most memorable lines.
"It was part of this really maniacal speech about why I'm so amazing, why enhancements are great and it just came out of my mouth - 'Look at me, I'm black Superman' - and everyone started laughing.
"Now everyone wants to take credit for it, but the case rests here. I don't want to hear another word about you saying you wrote 'black Superman' - you didn't!"
- Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw is in cinemas now