As a kid, he dreamed of being a Formula One race-car driver, but his love of the water brought him into the world of competitive diving, where he was a member of Britain’s National Diving team and actually finished 12th at the World Championships in 1992. “When I was younger, I had such a strict regime, because when you’re at a competitive, international level, you just have to put in so many hours daily, and I also practiced many different sporting activities — gymnastics, trampoline, martial arts — to help my diving.”

Even though he stopped competing when he was about 27, there’s a fire in his eyes that tells you that his competitive drive fuels his movie career. “That competitiveness never sleeps. It’s what keeps pushing you to improve your skills and techniques. Once you lose that competitive spirit, you may as well call it a day,” he says, laughing. “For example, I’ve been directed three times by my friend Guy Ritchie, but my relationship with him is based on competition; whether we’re playing chess or fighting for a submission in jujitsu, we’re always trying to outdo each other.”

It’s obvious that Statham, the actor and person, likes to surround himself with people who motivate him. In fact, he suggests, “You can only be good at something if you want to be better than the man you’re facing off with. If you work out with a crowd of people, like those guys at 87Eleven who are like-minded athletes, or with people you’re learning new skills from, that competitive spirit in you drives you to better yourself and your skill sets. In such crowds, everybody’s pushing each other. And that spirit never seems to die for me.”

When Statham is in full workout mode, his regimen begins with stretching and general cardio such as rowing or running, then moves to impact training and interval circuit training. But he admits you can’t always train at peak levels. “Sometimes, you have to nurse an injury. And, if the holidays are coming up, I’m certainly not training at that intense level,” he muses. “You have to enjoy life too. I spent so many years doing gymnastics, diving, and then fight training, spending five hours a day killing myself. There’s only so many miles you can put on your body, so you have to try to drop down a few gears in between the times when you need to turn up the gas. So if I can give the body a rest, I try and do that. And then you can attack it with more of an extreme measure.”

He adds, “It’s now about training smart, and trying to do things that benefit me and help me with the action movies that I do. So the training is specifically geared to help me in that area, rather than just slogging it out all the time.”

But since we first saw him in that rousing opening scene in Lock, Stock… where he’s street pitching, then on the run from the police, it seems he hasn’t stopped running. He takes a breath, explaining, “It’s a long road, you know. There are choices that you make and there are so many elements to a movie that impact on whether it does well or not. It’s like the game Snakes and Ladders sometimes — you may step on a snake and other times you hit a ladder and move up a little. No one wants to make a bad film, so you try and do your best. The good ones are so rewarding and motivating. But there are no guarantees.”

He’s also motivated by filmmakers. “Working with a good filmmaker is also key, and they’re the type of people I want to continue working with. People like Guy Ritchie, Simon West, Roger Donaldson, and Luc Besson, who I worked with on the Transporter movies and who wanted to develop an actor who wasn’t just about kicks and punches. Later in 2012, I have Parker, a film I’m really excited about, coming out directed by Taylor Hackford. Taylor is one of the greatest directors I’ve had the opportunity to work with.”