Ben Foster‘s most critically acclaimed role to date was as a quietly tortured military man who delivered news of soldiers’ deaths in “The Messenger.” So his participation in a straight-up action flick, “The Mechanic,” is a bit of a shock. Co-starring with stuntmaster Jason Statham in the remake of Charles Bronson’s 1972 original, Foster toughened up and decided he wasn’t about to let something like vertigo — or even the possibility of death — prevent him from doing his own stunts, too. Particularly one of the movie’s most stunning: a free-fall off the side of a 450-foot building.
OLSZEWSKI: How did you get involved in the remake?
FOSTER: I got a call saying, “Do you want to blow [stuff] up with Jason Statham?” and it sounded like a really good idea.
OLSZEWSKI: How familiar were you with the Bronson original?
FOSTER: I was aware of it; hadn’t seen it. If I haven’t seen it beforehand, I choose not to watch it so I don’t consciously or unconsciously steal from it. There’s a lot of discussion about how you live up to an original that’s beloved by so many. That issue came up with “3:10 to Yuma.” But my feeling has been, connect with it in your own way. It’ll never live up to the original’s fans’ expectations, but it may be something successful in its own way.
OLSZEWSKI: Talk about the jump off the building. [Director] Simon West says you have vertigo?
FOSTER: I’m not partial to heights. [That stunt] was absolutely crushing! Because you don’t start at the top — they drag your ass up, they put you in a little harness, they hook you up to this wire. And then they say, “OK, you ready?” and one of the riggers came up and said, “Well, that’s not how you do it.” And other people are saying, “We gotta go! We gotta go!” and he’s saying, “You gotta loop it the other way.” And it’s like — bup bup bup bup [indicates going up] — “What do you mean?! What other way?!”
And it’s four minutes, roughly, to the top, and the physics of it is that the wire turns so you start to spin. And — my heart’s racing just talking about it — there’s a certain moment when you say, “[Screw] this, get me down, no! No.” And we get to the top and the camera operator says, “Let’s go.” So you just give in. You think, “OK, so the thing’s not hooked up right. What’s gonna happen? You’re done.” There’s no way around it, you know, you’re done. So there was a moment of comfort in that.
OLSZEWSKI: So you overcame your fear?
FOSTER: The first time you’re thinking, “Oh, I shouldn’t do this, I shoulda let the stunt guy do this.” But the second time you wanna go up again. Then it’s the best ride in the world. “Do it again! Drop me! Let’s go! Faster, drop the thing faster!”
OLSZEWSKI: Did you ever get hurt?
FOSTER: We trained for about three months for my character’s big fight sequence. The night before we started shooting the bulk of it, I got injured, terribly, doing a very small stunt that I shouldn’t have allowed myself to do. I just did a fall — fell on my shoulder, it snapped. Didn’t say anything on set, thought I’d just kinda shrug it off. Woke up the next morning, shoulder’s up to here [raises it to his head]. It’s not a phone call you want to make to production.
So they sent me to the doctor for the [New Orleans] Saints and he pulled out a big syringe and gave me about five shots. And I felt really good. So I was like, “Let’s do this, we’re ready, my arm’s back.” And an hour before we were ready to shoot, the shoulder went back up. Doctor comes to set and he’s just laughing. He’s like, “You know, I work with the Saints and they’re a lot bigger than you. But I’ve never given anyone this much.” [The arm] wasn’t quite operational so we just re-choreographed the scene so everything was reversed.
OLSZEWSKI: When you started acting, did you ever imagine yourself jumping off buildings and fighting significantly bigger bad guys?
FOSTER: I’ve been doing this for 18 years, and your expectations evolve if you’re lucky enough to keep working. It’s all about doing something you don’t know anything about; it’s not proving what you know. I don’t know anything about these worlds. I’m a 9th-grade dropout, and there’s always going to be that insecurity of feeling lke you don’t know enough. You can never know enough in life. You can never cover it all.
So the gift of the job is you get to talk to interesting people and ask a lot of questions. It’s never gotten down to: Maybe I’ll be falling down a building, or maybe in the military. It’s speaking to people and hopefully gleaning a little bit and connecting with it on an emotional level. It’s the greatest job in the world.