At age 67, Sylvester Stallone still shows no signs of slowing down. He's in three movies this year, and he's already hard at work on "The Expendables 3" for 2014. But even the Italian Stallion can't do everything, and when a project he'd been working on for over a decade finally came to fruition, he had to pass the lead role onto someone else. But he didn't have to look far.
Stallone had written the screenplay for "Homefront," based on the novel by Chuck Logan, nearly 10 years ago with the intention of directing and starring in it himself, but it was put on the shelf. After his recent string of successes, he and his producing partner dusted off the script and recruited director Gary Fleder ("The Express," "Runaway Jury") to take over. Fleder told Yahoo Movies in a phone interview this week that Sly knew just where to turn to find their leading man.
Fleder said, "When they were doing 'The Expendables 2' last year, they showed the script to Jason Statham and said, 'Hey, what do you think of this?'" Within, I guess, 24 hours, he said he loved it."
Watch Jason Statham in the exclusive trailer premiere for 'Homefront':
Statham plays a former DEA agent who moves with his daughter to a seemingly quiet small American town, but he runs afoul of the local drug kingpin, played by James Franco. Surprisingly, Fleder said they did not have to change much of the script to adapt the role intended for Stallone to fit a British actor more than two decades his junior.
Fleder said, "I love the idea of [keeping] Jason's natural British accent because it made him more of an outsider. It made him more threatening as an exotic presence in this town." Rather than try to hide Statham's nationality, it becomes an unspoken yet inescapable trait that sets him apart in the film's Southern setting. "None of the characters actually mention his voice or his manner as being more English than American; it’s a texture that I think really served the idea of the outsider in the story."
Fleder recalled that he had actually met with Statham over a decade ago when he was casting the villain for his film "Don't Say a Word" with Michael Douglas. Fleder felt at the time Statham was too young for the part, but he said, "I remember thinking he was funny, he was charming, he had a great laugh, great smile. There’s sweetness to him." Statham's star did eventually rise playing hardened, unshakeable tough guys in films like "Transporter" and "Crank," but for this role Fleder wanted the actor to tap more into his sensitive side.
"I said to him — and so did Sly — you have to find your vulnerability," Fleder said. "You have to find a smile. You have to be a father. You have to be a parent to this child." Fleder compared Statham's performance to Stallone's role in "Cop Land," where he famously put on weight to play a more vulnerable and human type of screen hero. In "Homefront," Fleder said, "Jason is a guy that doesn't want any trouble, doesn't want the violence, doesn't want the mayhem, and you see him trying to make peace."
Of course, even though he wasn't on screen, Stallone was still a major presence behind the camera as the screenwriter and producer. So as a director, how does one give script notes to Rambo? "Very carefully," Fleder joked. "It's easy to forget that Stallone is a terrific writer, and he's an Oscar-nominated screenwriter for 'Rocky'… He has a tremendously gifted ear for dialogue and for character, [with] kind of a wicked sense of humor." Fleder said he and Stallone found common ground in rooting the film in character dynamics, and not story beats: "It's not about the plot. It’s about the people in the plot."
"Homefront" hits theaters on November 27.