made his fortune as a top movie action hero several head-butts ago. His pictures, including three go-rounds in theTransporter series, two in Crank and one in The Expendables (with a sequel to come), have made well over $1 billion. He now tops the marquee above Clive Owen and Robert De Niro in the assassins-free-for-all Killer Elite, opening Sept. 23.
But the British actor keenly remembers when being a well-paid tough guy meant selling jewelry and perfume out of a briefcase on the street. After retiring from the British national diving team in the 1990s, Statham returned to his chosen profession as an unlicensed outdoor vendor of supposed valuables. His clientele apparently wasn't discerning.
"Ehh, we didn't tell 'em what it was," he told The Price of Fame at the Toronto International Film Festival. "It was up to their own assumptions."
Little did Statham know that art would soon imitate life. After a brief stint as a model for French Connection, he was approached by budding director Guy Ritchie about a role for a caper movie called Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Ritchie was thrilled to hear about Statham's day job on the black market and offered to write him a part as a guy who hawks contraband out of a briefcase. "No acting required," Statham said. "Just me stepping into a world of cinema doing what I used to do."
He followed with another Ritchie film, Snatch, starring Brad Pitt, and never sold another plastic bauble on the down-low again. He moved to Los Angeles, where a successful actor's personal finance is the least personal it can be, and the thieves often wear suits. "That's Hollywood for ya," Statham said. "There's so many layers of protection that you need. ... So many people get stiffed."
The 44-year-old Derbyshire native told the sorry tale of an unnamed movie he worked on in which the production kept shutting down and checks ceased. The stop-and-start continued, driving Statham batty. "You need the lawyering and the agency to protect you from those sharks," he said. "When you go to make a film, you have to know you're gonna get paid. You have to know you'll work with people who are responsible, and protect you from that world of misery."
Statham, now $30 million flush according to Celebrityworth.com, wheels and deals in real estate. He reportedly owns a $10.6 million home in exclusive Malibu Colony. He sold a Hollywood Hills home in July for $2.7 million, then turned around and bought Ben Stiller's Hollywood estate for $11.5 million. At last report, he was also holding a $1 million eighth-floor two-bedroom condo nearby. Back home in London, he purchased a $1 million abode in Herne Hill, according to the English press, but sold it after he split with model Kelly Brook. (He now is linked with Victoria's Secret model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley.)
Success has come hand in hand with experience, he explained: He has developed a good sense whether a movie will work. He aims to collaborate with those who have a proven track record. He has surrounded himself with a trustworthy team ("Temptation is out there"). And he's focused on kicking butt on this side of the pond. "There's more bread doing it in America," he said. "Action movies are not so often made in the U.K."
Perhaps the most astounding facet of Statham's rise is that he became a sought-after matinee brute while going bald -- which pleases the follicle-challenged TPOF to no end. Shrugged Statham: "You get what you're given."