LYT: I understand you were the first to obtain the rights to use the name "Parker." I had known a lot of people hadn't done it before, but how did that work? They optioned the rights to the book but not the name? How did that work and how did you navigate it?
TH: Donald Westlake was a pretty tough customer, and he basically had sold the various books, but in Point Blank, Lee Marvin's name was Walker, and in another movie he's named something else. I think he said "I'll sell the character if you'll make all of the books." That's pretty unrealistic. But at this point, the company, Sierra Infinity, and Les Alexander (one of the producers) was very close friends with Donald Westlake - you've got somebody there who really respects the man and is protecting the legacy. Les and Abby Westlake, the widow, said "Let's develop a series." I have to be honest - if this film does well, maybe there'll be a sequel. They certainly have the rights. But it all comes down to the luck of what happens. You always roll the dice with the audience, and the audience either discovers the film or not, and I've been around long enough to know that.
I like genre movies. This is my first genre movie. I've done film noirs, but I don't consider those genre movies. This is my first action/crime movie, and I wanted to step out and do something, and make it credible. Hopefully we have; we'll see how the audience responds. If they respond well, maybe there will be more.
LYT: One last question: The leading lady role that Jennifer Lopez takes, is that a tough one to pitch? It's a leading lady who gets turned down by the leading guy for a younger woman, and I would think some actresses might be afraid of that, because people might think it's what things are really like for them.
TH: I had worked with Jennifer developing a film. It didn't happen; we couldn't get it financed. But I knew her, she's fantastic. She is anything but a diva; she's for real - that girl is from the Bronx! And I love her, but when I called her, you can imagine - I called her up and I said "Jennifer, I'm doing a film called Parker starring Jason Statham." She already knows that the star is not Jennifer Lopez.
I said, "Listen, there is a character that doesn't come in at the beginning, she comes in part-way through. She's messy. She's pushing 40. She's a failure, in her own terms, but I think this character is very real, and I think you could play the hell out of it." Think about this: when I'm telling her this, 1) we get along, but 2) she's saying "What is this guy offering me?" She read the piece, she called me back and said "I'm doing it. I love it!" I said, "I want her messy, I don't want a diva, I don't want the most beautiful woman in the world." She said "I dig! I'll give it to you!" And she did! When she came to the set, she was just fantastic, and she is a really good actress.
One of the problems when your personality in real life is so big, and the world knows you as this glamorous character, there's a lot of resentment. "My god, why is she so rich and glamorous?" But they tend to miss out on something. She's a girl from the Bronx. She's really, basically at the core, she started as a dancer. Dancers are masochists, they work and work and work, and they never give up, and I think that defines Jennifer Lopez. She wants to work. I had a dream directing her, because when you're working with an actor, you can suggest that they do a take, and you say "I would like you to go here." Sometimes they can do it, sometimes they can't. Jennifer can always go there, and you give her a note, and bang! She's there. And you're going, "Wow! She's not just kind of part-way there." She just embodied what you just told her, and turned it back wonderfully.
I think one of the things in Parker is that people will rediscover Jennifer as an actor. Not the glamorous character that they know, but somebody real. Patti LuPone, who is another friend of mine, who I put in this film, plays her mother, a Cuban mother and her daughter. Jennifer has to suffer the ultimate indignity, after marrying somebody she thinks is Prince Charming, goes bankrupt, sidles her with his bankruptcy. She's so strapped for cash, she's got to do the ultimate nightmare; at 40 years old, moving back in with her domineering mother. (laughs) To see Jennifer and Patti together is very entertaining, but you understand that she has a lot that she needs to get away from. I think that process of this character - you think, how does this cold, tough professional Parker ever team up with an amateur? And I think the idea is that she's smart, Leslie, and she's got moxie, just like Jennifer Lopez. And she and Jason Statham are pretty interesting in this film.
Parker opens tomorrow in theaters.