Jean-Claude Van Damme is a Belgian martial artist and actor best known for action films like Bloodsport , Kickboxer, Universal Soldier, Hard Target, Timecop, and Sudden Death. Now the 51 year-old hopes to make a big splash again as villain Jean Vilain in The Expendables 2.
Like the original Expendables, the film features an all-star cast of action greats from Sylvester Stallone to Jet Li to Jason Statham to Dolph Lundgren to Bruce Willis. Van Damme was slated to be cast in the original. It was rumored to be because of a scheduling conflict, but he explains it differently.
“The only conflict was that I live in Hong Kong for the last six, seven years now,” he recalled, “I direct a film called Soldiers a.k.a. Full Love…it’s a very different title, it will depend on the poster because it’s a contrast. But when Mr. Stallone called me I was in Hong Kong and he told me about the movie. It’s going to be Expendables. We’re going to put this guy, that guy, this guy, boom, boom, boom, fight, fight, fight. I said, ‘What’s the story about?’ He said…and I think at that time he was still working on the story. He didn’t have the vision of having all those guys together, but not yet the full story. He was trying to explain to me. He was very quick on the phone and I was completely into my cutting fever of the movie I had just finished directing. It’s not finished yet. We’re just finishing.”
“Anyway, at that time I said no,” Jean-Claude continues, “Because you know when you make a movie and you direct a film, in your own mind you think it’s going to be the biggest movie in the world, right, because you’re directing it. All your time is invested. So, I said no. He said okay and that was the end of it. That’s it. But then he called me back for Expendables 2 I was so happy that he gave me a second chance. Then I said, ‘Can I play the bad guy?’ And he loved the idea. I said, ‘Look, I know how to do action, I think. If I give you myself as a bad guy I think it will have more impact with the audience.’ It was a good decision, I think.”
Jean-Claude talks about whether it’s hard for him to play a villain.
“It’s fun but it’s also fun to be in Expendables as a good guy because then I can do Expendables 3, Expendables 4, Expendables 5,” Van Damme says, “I was from DVD to the big screen. But I made a decision either I’m going to go bad guy way or Expendable way and I will have more Expendable to do. You know, so I expand myself in a sense.”
Jean-Claude talks about what it was like acting with an all-star cast, which in this film consists of Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Chuck Norris, Liam Hemsworth, Bruce Willis, and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
“Because I was the villain I was able to see everybody,” Van Damme says, “I told Stallone if I’m going to be on this movie and I’m going to play the villain I’m going to be there from A to Z. I spent lots of time in my room. It was kind of sometimes depressing because they were shooting here and shooting there and they’d say we need you now. So I was in shape to go and then they cancelled it. You know how that goes in the film business.”
“But it was amazing because I saw Sly in Rocky, in Rambo,” he adds, “I saw Arnold in Conan. I saw Bruce Willis in Die Hard, all these before me making it. To me they were like big heroes and they were like role models. You need a goal in life. You need to see something to go somewhere. If you don’t see the moon you cannot land on the moon. They were my role models. Suddenly, I’m here in Hollywood and after Bloodsport, I was dreaming to only have one of those guys in my movie or me to be in their movies. Suddenly, years later I’m the villain and they all run after me when I was running after them buying a ticket in the theaters.”
Van Damme talks about the inevitable of his character dying as the villain of the film.
“Sly knows that I have another brother in Hong Kong,” Jean-Claude says, “Alex, he’s vicious, man. I’m a nice guy comparing my brother. And the evil one will come back very soon. Hopefully, they think about him. He’s busy right now doing some tryout stuff in Asia or something. But it would be cool if I can come back as a twin.”
Jean-Claude talks about a fight scene in the film between him and Stallone and how long it took to shoot.
“Not long,” Van Damme recounts, “I mean long and not long. Sly knows the camera very well. It’s like if the camera is there, for example, and Sly is there and I’m punching, it will be a miss. So, he’s going to automatically shift his body from the impact and me on the other side so we have a nice crisscross and it will work well. So, Sly knows the camera very well. I know my move and I know his moves. I’ve seen almost all his movies so I know what he can do. And when I read the script the final fight was not only me running away from him and jumping into a helicopter, taking off, and then he came in the warehouse with a chain and threw that chain into the propeller. Then the helicopter was in the warehouse. So, I took off with him. Him being bang left and right against the walls of this warehouse and then we go up the chain. Break the cockpit, take me out, the helicopter falls down and touches, He was kind of stuck. Then I took a knife, I go with a knife and escape and a big circle of fire, then the fights start. Then he was trying to shoot me. I didn’t like it. I talked to my assistant and I was complaining and I was nervous to tell him that because it’s a big movie. They told me, “JC, when you do a movie with Sly, we know your temper. Just be a good boy. Shut the f up and don’t say nothing and do your job.” And I cannot do this because I know what the fans want to see. The fans want to see mano to mano. If you go to the Russian fan club, French fan club, American fan club, they want to see Van Damme and Sly fighting. Since I gave myself as a villain I felt like, shit, this is not good. I was complaining, yelling and this and that, everything except to him.”
“So, I came down because nobody would go and talk to Sly,” he continues, “We’re all scared of him because he’s a guy who has lots of good authority. He knows what he wants and he knows how to control the movie. So, I wrote a letter. I said, Dear Sly, you know how much I like you. I’ve seen the Rocky and this and that. I prepared such a nice letter. Then the letter I’m going to go to his trailer. ‘Come in.’ I go inside his trailer. I said, ‘Hi, Sly. How are you, man?’ He says, ‘Sit down.’ ‘Oh, no, no. I know you’re very buys. But I have a letter for you.’ I start to look around and I feel the letter. It was stuck to my pocket. I look all over the place and I start to sweat. He goes, ‘Sit down.”’No. It’s just a letter to explain the final fight. Just some correct. He goes, ‘Sit down.’ So I sit down and I go, fuck it. I’m going to tell him what I feel because if we don’t do it this way I’m out. I know myself. I cannot do the helicopter stuff. I was training and everything. I said, ‘Stallone, I think people want to see Muhammed Ali against Fraiser.’ They want to see…I mean I’m not Muhammed Ali. I’m not Fraiser. But it’s a metaphor. Look at your arms and this and that. You’re strong and this and that. We need to do a fight. I’m here to give you myself and punch and kick the shit out of me. And hopefully I will do some damage to you. He said, “You’re right. The helicopter, a few days of shooting we’ll below two or zero. I’ll tell you what, go and design the fight.” When he said that to me it was like joy in my body. I’m like that’s very nice. I go to my trailer, I go to the warehouse and they show me a place where I was able to see the fight. It was like I’m at two levels though so we can start from here, entering there and I run the staircase, he comes this way, I come that way. Then he brought this man stunt coordinator. He was a cool guy, great guy. He added his own spice. But basically the path was like that and the fight was like that. That’s how the final fight became that fight. Sly’s a smart guy because he knows and he saw in my eyes that I love the guy. You know when you talk to somebody he saw I was a kid with his idol and I wanted the movie to look great. I know what people want to see. They want to see that. He said go for it. He can smell the bullshit. You cannot bullshit him. The fight became this fight. You know how to do. He made me look good.”
Van Damme talks about what Stallone was like as a person and having Arnold Schwarzenegger return to action and reprise his cameo role for The Expendables 2.
“Well, I think it’s great because I met Arnold in Last Action Hero,” Jean-Claude says, “Arnold was with me. He did those Olympic games for handicaps. I did the first one with him. He never forgot. Arnold is a great guy. I met Sly before on the Planet Hollywood. I even tried to jump his wall at his house to become friends and to ask him to make a film with him. I’m that type of guy. I knew all those guys. Chuck Norris, I was training with him in Rolling Hills at the time. I knew all those guys. Then I was dreaming to be with those guys and then I see all of them there being together and through the end of the film I came and shook hands with all of them.”
“But not really before that because I kept a certain distance so it was kind of cold between us,” he adds, “They felt it was either I was an asshole or a guy that was very shy. But you can see on the first scene when the helicopter comes down you can see that. I like Arnold, I like Sly, I mean all those guys, I like them. But I gave them the eyes like they were nothing. I was looking at them like they were nothing. It was very hard for me to do that. The only way to be to that level is not to talk to them and to ignore them as much as possible.”
Jean-Claude was asked if he had any input on his character’s clothing.
“Everything’s Stallone, wardrobe and everything,” Van Damme says, “Stallone did a lot in that film and made me look so good because his experience and everything.
We asked Jean-Claude about his movie Soldiers, which is set for release sometime next year, and how he not only wrote, produced, edited, and directed it, but the fact that his family is also in it.
“Yes, some of my friends and family,” Van Damme says, “And it took four years to make it with finance and everything. I think it’s going to be a good flick. I think so.”