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The Hot Seat: Ben Foster

The actor blows away his Disney past in a turn as an aspiring hitman.

Illustration: Dan Park

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Alpha Dog, 3:10 to Yuma, The Messenger and now The Mechanic. Everybody seems to agree that you're awesome.
[Laughs] That's...cool.

But do you sometimes feel that your early work in the '90s kids' show Flash Forward gets ignored?
Wow. You've done your homework, sir. That was a minute ago.

It's your 21 Jump Street.
For Disney.

In this film, Arthur's [Jason Statham] method of violence is so effortless and detached, like when he stabbed a guy through the leg with a spear. It seems very personal for your character, Steve. Which killing style works better?
Well, certainly Arthur Bishop's. He's a professional, he's a trained authority on the matter—particularly to those with the young-man disease. You have all this energy, all this rage and confusion, and don't know where to put it. When you're young, you look up to the older kids. Especially when you don't have a father figure. Or you do, but the relationship isn't so hot. You substitute.

Arthur's approach to violence is clearly much more effective. And I think Jason does some really nice work in this as with a man who is growing ill at ease with his profession. And in a way [Arthur]'s grown more than Steve has. Steve is expanding and getting his confidence and tools for violence, but Arthur is second guessing a lot of what he is doing with his life. It makes for, I hope, an interesting dynamic.

You've now worked with a number of tough-looking dudes. Who do you reckon is the most legitimately badass among, say, Russell Crowe, Bruce Willis, Christian Bale, Jason Statham and Justin Timberlake?
[Nervously laughs] These are all guy guys. And they're all extremely different. Yeah, I've been lucky to work with some bad motherfuckers.

You're on your way to becoming one yourself, it seems.
I don't know what I'm doing. Just really happy to be working. It's so scary out there. I'm just shaking it up, refusing to be bored in this life.

Good approach, but I notice that you artfully dodged my question. Timberlake, then?
You know, I can't answer that question. I'm on a press junket with Statham, man. If this comes out about Timberlake, we're gonna be on the news, but in a bad way.

You're very diligent about researching roles. You hung out with meth enthusiasts for Alpha Dog and studied the movements of mountain lions for 3:10. How does one begin to research the role of professional hit man?
You connect with it in your own way. And these kinds of films—this film, in particular—rides on the gun porn. That's why people go to see films like this. That's why I go to see films like this, for exciting action done in hopefully some unique ways. So the prep becomes a physical one, in addition to trying to understand who this person is and how they get there, and how they end up pulling a trigger? How do you end up fetishizing violence? And not to get overly philosophical about it...

No, by all means.
The generation that Steve is in—the generation right below my own—it's the video games. It's the ancient attachment to and interest in and bloodlust for vicarious violence, and he wants to get closer to it. And we can call that a crazy person or a sociopath, or we can say that this person has been damaged, like we all have been, and has made choices in his life that brought him to this current place. And you have to find a way to connect with that, and defend that person.

You tangled with a guy about twice your size in the film, and took a pretty savage beating. Did you do your own stunts?
I got pretty badly injured the night before—tore the shit out of my shoulder doing a stunt that should have been very simple, and I insisted on doing it, and this was the night before we're supposed to shoot the big fight. I had been working on the choreography for about two months. I woke up in the morning and couldn't move. My shoulder was to my ear. I was convinced my collarbone was broken. I couldn't move my back, my arm or my neck. Pain has a curious way of not showing up until the next day.

The Mechanic premieres Fri 28.

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