The Perfect Parker
With Taylor Hackford at the helm, the filmmakers began casting and found themselves with a wealth of talent that was ready and willing to join the production. "Obviously, Taylor made huge contributions to this movie," says Alexander. "One of the most significant was his ability to attract a world-class cast. He then got performances out of them that are nothing short of amazing. Jason Statham, who plays Parker, shows a completely new side of himself that will shock and please his fans."
Statham's impressive combination of physical prowess and fierce intelligence fitted the character to a T, according to Hackford. "I first saw Jason in LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS," the director says. "The surprising thing about him is that he's got so much humor. When he became a real action star, it would have been easy for him to fall into the stereotype of the strong silent man. He is perfect as Parker because he combines the qualities of an Everyman with authentic physicality. Jason doesn't have 14 stuntmen jumping in for him. He was an Olympic-level diver and he knows how use his body in the most artful way."
Statham was drawn to Parker's unusual, black-and-white moral code. "Westlake gives this thief an unusual sense of sanity and thoughtfulness," says the actor. "It's a great character with a lot of layers and he's got a sense of humor that appeals to me. He's a man who does anything to put things right. Sometimes he steps over the law, but I think he sees all business as corrupt, so what he's doing is just taking his piece of the pie. While he could bulldoze his way through most situations, he prefers to do things in a mild-mannered way. But if you cross the line, he's capable of doing something quite horrific."
The actor and the director found working together a satisfying experience. "Jason approached the role quite seriously," says Hackford. "He collaborated every step of the way and never said no to anything, because he saw the potential in this role. With PARKER, he's taken a real step up as an actor. Of course, he's already a star, but here he is pushing himself to grow, which is deserving of enormous respect. People who love Jason Statham movies are going to see just how much more this guy is capable of."
"Taylor is a true filmmaker," says Statham. "We had hours and hours of conversations about Parker. He was brimming with details and left no stone unturned. He had backstories for all the relationships. I think because of that it has a bit more heart than a typical film noir. And it's quite funny at times.
"It was a big privilege to work with someone who is so detail oriented and cares so much about what he's putting on screen," he adds. "The pressure was on Taylor to get this right for Westlake. He was a real talented chap with a following and his own Academy Award for the screenplay of THE GRIFTERS. We had to respect that pedigree."
The movie's story hopscotches through Memphis, Houston and New Orleans, before settling in for a huge caper in Palm Beach, Florida. "Parker butts up against another fantastic character when he gets to Palm Beach, a woman named Leslie," says Hackford. "She's not a professional like he is. She's a real-estate agent, but her life is in ruins, she's reached the end of her line, and suddenly she finds that a little larceny may be the solution to her problems."
Played by Jennifer Lopez, the Leslie character is divorced, pushing 40 and trapped in a no-win situation. She has had to move back to West Palm Beach with her mother, a retired Cuban hairdresser played by legendary Broadway diva Patti LuPone, and the two are at odds as Leslie tries to rebuild her life.
"She's selling real estate in Palm Beach, one of the wealthiest enclaves in the United States," says Hackford. "So every day she drives across the bridge from West Palm, which is a nice, normal kind of town, to sell real estate that she will never be able to live in. She's not a glamour queen or a diva. Leslie's real and Jennifer is real in the role. She's a fantastic actress, and not since Out of Sight has she played a character this down to earth."
Leslie meets Parker when he comes to town posing as wealthy Texas oilman looking for a house on the island. She pins her hopes on him, first as a client who can help her make a big score, and then as a possible white knight who can save her from the life she's living.
"I thought the relationship between Leslie and Parker was complicated and quite realistic, which made this more interesting than just another action movie," says Lopez. "In our first meeting, I asked Taylor why he wanted me to play this character. She's not exactly like people think of me. And he told me that was exactly why he wanted me. The image that people have of me from my music or 'American Idol' or the romantic comedies I've done is very different."
Hackford wanted to tap into Lopez's considerable determination and spunk. "Leslie is a person who seems like she has reached the end of the road but she still refuses to give up," he says. "I think that is very definitely Jennifer Lopez. Jennifer comes from the Bronx, she has had highs and lows, but she has moxie. She will survive. That's why I chose her for the role."
When Parker's secretive demeanor raises Leslie's suspicions, she senses an opportunity and wants in on whatever he has going. But she quickly realizes she's out of her depth. "Leslie is not a criminal," says Hackford. "She's just desperate. She's looking for a way out, but she's not aware of how serious this is. This isn't a love story -- they become partners. A hardened professional and a novice, both with strong personalities, come together and it's a fascinating character study. Jennifer and Jason create true interest and electricity together."
Statham gives his co-star high marks for her work. "Jennifer is so normal and accessible, but she is also stunning," says Statham. "People across the board can relate to her and she can stop traffic. It's rare find those things together. Taylor was looking for someone that had all that and is a great actress to boot."
Working with Statham was equally satisfying for Lopez. "It was a lot of fun," she says. "He's both a super-badass, action guy and a really good actor. We had a great time pushing each other acting-wise. I don't think even he and I realized how much of a journey these two characters were going to go on together until we went through it. They learn to really trust each other and to care about each other."
Hackford sought out legendary actor Nick Nolte for the role of Hurley, Parker's best friend and mentor. "I've always liked Nick," he says. "I had wanted to work with him for years. His presence now is very different than when he was a young hunk. He's become an old bear. His voice is amazing; it's a distinctive kind of croak. You feel the experience when you hear him speak. You can feel the miles on him.
"He's a wonderful actor," the director adds. "When he came on the set, there was a feeling of 'what is this guy going to be like?' And everybody loved him, the crew and the cast. He added immeasurably to this."
Hurley understands Parker in ways that no one else in the world can. "He humanizes Parker," says the director. "He's the only person Parker completely lets his guard down with. And Hurley embraces Parker like a son."
The two share an ex-military background and discipline that they have adapted perfectly for a life of crime. "Hurley is pretty much retired, but he helps guide Parker to jobs," explains Nolte. "They have specialized knowledge and experience that they use in their work. Hurley sets Parker up for the State Fair job, and when it goes wrong, he feels like he has to straighten things out."
The actor found that he and Hackford were very much on the same page about the character and the story. "Taylor guided me right down the same track I was heading," he says. "I have been involved in pieces like this in the past and I thought this was done really well. And I like what Jason has done with Parker. It reminds me of some of Steve McQueen's best work in the way it combines action, comedy and character."
The Melander gang, the crew that Hurley sets Parker up with for the daring Ohio State Fair heist in the film's opening sequence, is a crew of career criminals with ties to the Chicago Mob. Each member of this quartet of miscreants has specific and well-defined place in the job. "It's a caper movie, an action movie and a film noir," says Hackford. "You have to have some bad guys. To me, those characters are always some of the most interesting. They don't have to be nice, but I like them to be intelligent. Parker cannot live up to his potential unless he comes up against someone forceful and strong, so it was my job to make sure that the four characters in the Melander gang were worthy opponents. I was lucky enough to have some terrific actors to work with."
Melander, the team's leader, is played by Michael Chiklis, an actor who won critical acclaim for his work as the pragmatic Detective Vic McKay in the television series, "The Shield." "I have great respect for Michael Chiklis," says the director. "He is an extremely intelligent and dynamic actor. You know you're up against somebody substantial and dangerous and smart when you see Michael."
Wendell Pierce, who has worked with Hackford on three previous films, including RAY, plays Carlson, the group's most vigilant and forward-thinking member. "Wendell is a fabulous actor who also appeared in 'The Wire' and 'Treme' on HBO," says the director. "He carries a certain presence, so you know he is not just an everyday criminal. He's somebody who has thought everything out in detail."
As Ross, Clifton Collins, Jr. gives the team's muscle quiet intensity and a hair trigger. "I love Clifton's work," Hackford says. "He blew me away as Perry Smith in CAPOTE. Without saying a word, he brings danger into the room with him. He has a way of carrying himself, he's an expert with weapons and woe be to the person that tries to stand up against him."
The fourth member of the gang is Hardwicke, played by Micah Hauptman. "He's not really part of this gang," according to Hackford. "He's the guy who is going to make the deal happen. He is the nephew of a big mafia don and can use his family connections to fence the loot, but he's not a made man. Even though he's very intelligent and very ambitious, he's a bit of a screw up. From the get-go you know that he is the weak link in the chain. Parker recognizes that immediately."
For the crucial role of Claire, Parker's live-in love, the filmmakers launched an extensive search. "She is vital to the story," says Hackford. "She's the person that Parker has chosen to be with, although he does not share much of his past or professional life with her. He knows that if she knows too much, it will hurt her. They had to be able to communicate a lot in very few words."
Actress Emma Booth, an Australian native, plays Claire. "She has a perfect American accent and fantastic talent. She doesn't gush or need to go for glamor," says Hackford. "She just has something real. And all of us, including Jason, immediately knew she was the one."
PARKER is Booth's first foray into the action-film world. "I was really excited by that prospect, especially with Taylor directing," she says. "Then, of course, Jason was starring in it, so the combination of cast, director and the script itself was great."
Statham says that having someone like Hackford in the lead was crucial to putting together a cast capable of working at this level. "Taylor has an ability as a filmmaker to put great people in movies and everyone wants to work with someone like that. People are interested in working with talented filmmakers and they just turn up when Taylor picks up the phone."
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