August 10, 2018 at 07:29 PM EDT

In the just-released The Meg, Jason Statham faces off against one of the biggest creatures that ever lived — no, not the actor’s Fast and Furious franchise costar The Rock, but rather a giant prehistoric shark known as a Megalodon, which has attacked and disabled a deep-sea submersible in the Pacific Ocean. “I play this diver called Jonas Taylor who specializes in rescue missions,” says Statham. “He gets brought in to save the crew at the bottom of the ocean that’s confronted with this 75-foot shark. Taylor encountered this shark many years ago, but everyone thought he was crazy.” Turns out? “Everybody was wrong!”

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What was the shoot for The Meg like?
JASON STATHAM:
You know, it was great, because New Zealand is a part of the world that I went to back in 1990. I was diving off a platform at the Commonwealth Games and we had such a nice time over there. The people are second to none and the country itself is just a place you want to go and work. We sort of moved about a little bit, but most of it was down in Auckland. [There] are so many amazing things to see down there. The nature is just like Land That Time Forgot. The beaches are incredible. The South Island will just blow your mind. So, to go and work in a beautiful country is always a privilege. You know, I’ve been to some s—holes in my time, and this is not one of them. [Laughs]

Was the shark entirely CG? How did you act with it?
You know, obviously, there’s none of these creatures around, so we have to get very creative. They combined CGI with models, and we have to sort of act and move around in the water. So, it’s a really clever sort of thing in how they put things together. But it’s tricky stuff.

Li Bingbing plays the female lead. Could you talk about her character?
She’s a great actress. We had great chemistry. We have a sort of frosty kind of relationship, but it warms up a little bit. We have some great scenes together, and we were in and out of the water a lot. It’s a tough shoot, you know. It’s not like working on a movie set. You’re in and out of wetsuits. Sometimes your patience gets a little bit thin and the water’s cold. But she was great to work with and a real sweetheart.

You were shooting in the actual ocean quite a lot?
Well, we’d go in the ocean, we had a tank. You know, it was a combination of many things. It’s quite difficult to get out in the middle of the sea and put cages down there and a crew, so you have to sort of combine both elements. The trick, really, if they’ve got it right, is to not know where we were, whether we were in a tank or whether we were out in the ocean.

Did you get close to any real-life sharks?
Yeah, I did. We took a trip down to Fiji, and we went diving with some bull sharks. They hand feed them, and it’s a spectacular thing to see. These things are three meters in length, huge big things — when you’re in the ocean, and you’re like six, eight, 12 inches away from these things, it’s quite an ordeal. There were 20 or 30 of these things and they were hand-feeding [them] big tuna heads. We got very very close and it was a spectacular moment. To swim in close proximity to a big, three-meter shark is to be recommended to all and everyone. [Laughs]

Have we found the thing that scares even Jason Statham?
[Laughs] You know, it’s funny, because you get anxiety when you’re on the boat, but once you get in the ocean, things take a very different turn. You get very relaxed, and when you’re in their environment, it’s quite a tranquil sort of thing. The anxiety goes away completely. It’s remarkable to experience. All of the fear — or the perceived fear — is done in your own head before you get down there with them. It’s all on the boat, so once you’re swimming down there with all the other divers, it’s phenomenal. It’s one of the greatest experiences you could have, for me anyway. I’m a big SCUBA diver fanatic and, wherever I am in the world, if I get a chance to get in the ocean, I do.

Will there be more Meg movies?
Well, I think it’s like anything in this day and age. If it makes money, there’s obviously an appetite to make more money. And if it doesn’t do well, they’ll soon sweep it under the carpet. But that’s the way Hollywood works. Everyone tries to make a good film and it lies in the hands of the audience. People are the ultimate decider, the audience is the decider of whether anything gets to be a sequel or not.

Check out the trailer for The Meg above.

 

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