Former world-class diver Jason Statham, the toughest guy in Hollywood, is still one strong competitor.

Jason Statham is taking a breather in between rehearsals, actually sitting still in a house close to Lake Pancharevo on the outskirts of the beautiful and ancient city of Sofia. He notes a winter chill coming off the lake (winters can be harsh in Bulgaria), but he smiles, warming to the chat about working again with one of his mentors — action-movie icon Sylvester Stallone — on The Expendables 2, which is filming in this Eastern European location. He flashes his charming grin and allows, “Things are good. And acting is a great job when it goes well.”

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Since his head-turning film debut in 1998 in Guy Ritchie’s crime classic Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, British-born actor Statham has brought his all-action, handsome persona to more than 25 movies — including The Italian Job, the Transporter franchise, Crank, and, most recently, The Mechanic and Killer Elite with Robert De Niro and Clive Owen. A former world-class and competitive diver, Statham has served up thrills, spills, and his own dazzling brand of kinetic entertainment.

In the process, the movies he’s appeared in have grossed more than $1 billion at the box office. And, he’s created a signature gallery of action heroes: Handsome Rob, Chev Chelios, Frank Martin, and Lee Christmas, who deliver up clever and droll one-liners in between an array of fast fists, flying kicks, and jaw-dropping stunts — most of which Statham does himself. No wonder a major men’s magazine called him “The Toughest Guy in Hollywood.”

You gotta love this guy. And millions do worldwide. His newest movie, the first of three he has coming out in 2012, is the action thriller Safe, in which he tries to protect a 12-year-old Chinese girl from the Triads while outwitting corrupt New York officials and the Russian Mafia. But as successful as he’s become, he remains in awe of his fellow action heroes like those in The Expendables 2, set for a summer 2012 release. Most of these actors are so legendary they go by one name — Sly, Arnold, Bruce, and Chuck.

Statham, who comes from working-class roots in England but now lives in Los Angeles, is quick to suggest, “If you can’t eat humble pie when you’re around legends like Sly and Arnold — the biggest action stars that the silver screen has ever seen — then you may as well get that early plane home.” He laughs easily, then adds, “All kidding aside, they truly are inspirational, especially Sly.”

In some ways, legends like Stallone and Schwarzenegger, who’ve been kicking bad guys’ butts since the early ’70s, are passing the baton to younger guys like Statham. So while he waits to rehearse for a big fight sequence by the lake with the redoubtable, L.A.-based 87Eleven stunt team, Statham tells us more about his own sporting life.