The adrenaline-charged Transporter: The Series, airing on TNT, centers on Frank Martin (Chris Vance, who is also an executive producer on the show), a professional transporter who is paid to pick up and deliver people or cargo from anywhere in the world. He is the very best at what he does, but lives a roller coaster ride of action and suspense because he only handles the most difficult and dangerous and assignments.
During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, actor Chris Vance talked about what sold him on a Transporter TV series, how he likes being an action hero, being aware of the way Jason Statham established this character while also making it his own, the roller coaster of action, how this is both physically and mentally exhausting, and the various facets that the other characters also bring to the story. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
Collider: When you first heard that they were doing a Transporter TV series and that you would essentially be taking over for Jason Statham, what was your reaction? Did you think it was crazy, or did that make for an enticing challenge?
CHRIS VANCE: I just wondered how we could get it done on television. I’ve done a lot of television, so I know how it works. I was like, “How on earth are they gonna pull that off?” So, that intrigued me. I was aware of the movie franchise. I’d watched all three films, and enjoyed them for what they were. As I was being considered for this, meeting people and putting a few things on tape, it became clear that maybe we could put this on TV, and maybe it could be compelling and fun. To play a potential protagonist in the action genre was something I hadn’t done, I was like, “I’ve gotta give this a shot and just have fun with it.”
How are you feeling in the action world, at this point? Does being an action hero fit comfortably for you, or does it feel a big foreign?
VANCE: I don’t consider myself an action hero, at all. My domestic life is the same as anyone else’s. I’m thoroughly in love with my wife, and we have a 1-year-old son, so it’s about changing diapers and playing. Being an action hero is make-believe. I don’t find it foreign, at all, especially when it’s as tongue-in-cheek as Transporter. You’ve just gotta jump in and be a boy about it, do the one-liners as best you can, and have a bit of a laugh with the whole thing. If you take yourself too seriously, you’re dead in the water. I think the key to it all is to have a laugh, have fun, and express every desire you had, as a kid, imagining you were James Bond, or whatever. If you throw all that in with some abandon, then it doesn’t feel foreign, at all. It’s fun.
Had you ever thought about doing an action role like this before now, or had those types of roles never come your way before?
VANCE: A bit of both, really. As an actor, I never really had a strategy. I just take projects, as they come. It all comes down to the writing, at the end of the day, for me. I don’t care if it’s a two-line cameo or the lead of the thing, as long as the project has some weight behind the writing and it’s interesting and I think people will enjoy it. I had no aspirations to be an action hero, but now that I’m there and now that I am, I should have had. It’s awesome!
VANCE: As an actor, when you take on a role that has been done on the past, and done very successfully, you have to study it and look at it. Jason Statham’s performance in the movie franchise was awesome. He was cool. But, I’m not one to imitate anybody. I’m no mimic. I can’t really emulate people. That’s the last thing in the world that I want to do, as an actor, anyway. Back in the day, you’d watch several productions of Hamlet, and then play the part yourself. You’re aware of the history, but you bring your own interpretation to it, or else what’s the point? So, that’s what I did with Frank Martin. I started at the beginning, aware of what came before, and went through my usual process, as an actor, which is to ask a thousand questions about what makes this guy tick, about the world that he’s in, about the relationships or non-relationships that he has, and whether he’s a hero or an anti-hero. And then, I jumble the answers together to create something that I think will be accessible in the medium, which is different from a movie franchise. You’re not a one-off venture, at the end of the weekend. On top of that, I just threw myself into it with a whole bunch of enthusiasm, and learned as I went along.
The show really dives right in and doesn’t stop. Will there be times that things slow down a bit? Will we get a bit of background on Frank Martin and the people in his life, that we wouldn’t have gotten in a movie that didn’t have time to explore it?
VANCE: You will. Not as much as I would like, at the moment. We’re working on that. We really want to expand things. In the first season, we establish the whole thing. In the second season, we develop it a bit more. We pick up some packages that are not just a box of diamonds. There will be more of a moral challenge for Frank. As we push the series further, that’s exactly where we’ll take it. We’ll reveal more about the Transporter world and Frank’s place in it.
As you’ve gotten into this role, have you found it to be more mentally challenging or more physically challenging, or is it both?
VANCE: That’s a smart, interesting question. To be candid about it, it is all-consuming. My days are never less than 18 hours. It’s seven days a week when we’re shooting it, and we shoot it over six months. I’m in nearly every scene, and I’m an executive producer on the thing. Trying to maintain the standards of everything as hard as we can, it is all-encompassing. By the end of that six months of shooting, you literally collapse. There’s no other way of describing it. Emotionally and physically, you collapse, but it’s worth it. It’s a privilege. I’m incredibly lucky to get to be in this industry and get to play a role like this, and get to be able to produce this show that I’m the lead of. You have to give it your all, but it’s exhausting, by the end of it.
Had you been wanting to get involved as a producer?
VANCE: It’s not just because I wanted more of a say and more of a voice. It’s something that I’ve been interested in, since joining the entertainment industry. I got into it through learning to write, and then came the acting. Almost immediately, I put a theatre company together and started producing and directing plays. It’s something I’ve done, right from the beginning, back in my mid to late 20s. As things have progressed and I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten more and more involved on the producing side. It’s been a natural progression. The more you become exposed in a particular medium, the more you can bring to the table and people start trusting you. You’re valued a little bit more, so you have more of a voice. It’s something I would like to do, through the rest of my career.
On this show, there’s a combination of hand-to-hand combat and fight scenes, and then these big action sequences. Do you prefer one over the other, or do you like the variety?
VANCE: The challenge is a combination of all of it. The challenge is to get a balance into each episode of the show. Actually, that’s not strictly true. It’s more fun to do the intimate punches. It can be more tongue-in-cheek. The fight coordinator on the project is a good friend of mine. We’ve been working together for three and a half years, so we have an absolute laugh, trying to bring as much variation and stupidity to the whole thing. It’s more of a challenge in coordinating the bigger action sequences because there’s much more that goes into it, in terms of safety, logistics and production, that everybody has to be aware of.
When you got injured enough to halt production for a bit, did you find yourself reconsidering the choice you made to sign on for the show?
VANCE: There were four or five days where I couldn’t stand straight. I was bent at 90 degrees in my lower spine, but it gradually got straighter and straighter, as the docs worked on me. And there were a few days there where I was like, “Chris, what are you doing?!” But the whole thing has been such a wonderful experience in my life, I’d do it all again.
VANCE: He’s this guy with a set of rules that he hides behind, and we have to try to make that work and make that believable. And of course, we’ve gotta break those rules. Delivering a package from A to B with no obstacles is not fun. We do as many things as we can to complicate the delivery of a package. UPS could probably get it there quicker, but I think that’s the fun of it. As the series goes forward, we play with that. To be able to do this as a television series, it takes a lot more thought because it could get really boring and crippling to have this set of rules when all you do is break them every time. What would be the point of having them? So, it’s a challenge for us, and it’s a challenge that I’m grateful to being some imagination to.
Have you ever wondered how many times he can actually have his rules broken before he looks into another career option?
VANCE: Oh, yeah!
Even though he has these rules, there are people in his life that never seem to listen to them, like Dieter (Charly Hübner). What does it take for someone to get past Frank Martin’s walls to be important enough to him that he doesn’t worry about those rules anymore?
VANCE: I don’t think it’s fun or smart to have a central protagonist on his own, hiding behind a set of rules, on a television show. You have to have a window into this characters somehow, and one of the ways we did that was Charly, who’s the great actor playing Dieter. There’s a bit of a boys club that gives you a window into Frank Martin’s soul. You can have some normality there, juxtaposed with the craziness. If you don’t have anything that’s tangible, then what’s the point. The central characters on this show bring various facets to the table. Inspector Tarconi (François Berléand) is on the moral conscious side. Frank Martin can use that to remain somewhat ambiguous in the world, or to put a barrier between himself and the reality of daily life. Without those characters, I don’t think we have a story, and certainly not a story that can live and breathe over a period of time.
Transporter: The Series airs on Saturday nights on TNT.