Jean-Claude Van Damme is in spectacularly good spirits at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills. He should be, since he's promoting his biggest theatrical role in years. Van Damme finally joins the cast of Sylvester Stallone's Expendables franchise with The Expendables 2, playing a villain named "Jean Vilain," if you can believe it. He's surrounded by friends and family, and takes a few minutes to get the interview started because he wants to spend more time with them. We were happy to oblige, especially since once we finally got the ball rolling, he was willing to dish out on why he didn't come aboard for The Expendables 1, why they won't let him appear in the Bloodsport remake even though he'd do it for free, and thinking he might have to wait until The Expendables 4 to return to this franchise.
CraveOnline: You seem in really good spirits. Is it for The Expendables or are you just having a really good day?
Jean-Claude Van Damme: I think for The Expendables. I’m having a good day. I’m back with my family. I live in Hong Kong and I stay there for a long time. So I came back and I’ve got The Expendables, I’ve got good family, I’ve got a good publicist. It’s good. I’m lucky. I’m a lucky guy.
I think a lot of us feel lucky that you’re finally in The Expendables. A lot of us wanted you to be in the first one.
Tell us about the process. What did it take to get you to come in for The Expendables 2?
Oh, they just called me for it. And that’s cool. But also I said I’m sorry I’m not in the first one, because I refused the first one. I was busy cutting a movie called Soldier, aka Full Love. It was first Eagle Path, then it became Soldiers. We may call it Full Love, depending on the poster, for the contrast. It’s opening in Bosnia. So there’s a lot of fire going, and then “Full Love,” what the f*** is that, right? But it’s a great story. So I was in my own fever. Let’s say if you make a film yourself, and somebody’s calling you, and you’ve got to believe in your own head that what you’re doing is the biggest thing in the world. So I call [Sylvester] Stallone and [say] I’m making a film, I’m talking about this, that… He didn’t want to hear my story.
He said, I’m calling you for a movie and you’re telling me about your film! He thought he was talking to a wacko guy. Then I call him back and I say I’m sorry. [He says] it’s okay, and then for number two, I say to Avi [Lerner, producer], can I be in Expendables 2? I’m now available and I would love to, say I’m sorry to Stallone, and no problem. He called it in.
Well, that makes sense. You’re both excited about your own movie and not really in the headset to talk about another one.
When you talked about Expendables 2, did he just offer you the villain role or could be what you wanted?
Yeah, I said I wanted to be a villain.
You wanted to be a villain.
Yeah, because I heard one day from a big lawyer, and I think he still represents Stallone, Jake Bloom… I don’t know if you know him…
He said, “If one day you want to play a villain, do it. Offer yourself in a big film.” So, don’t do a villain in DVD, sh** like that. It won’t work.
I imagine it’s good for a career. You’re seen as such a hero.
It’s good to show that you can be another kind of character. What did you want to bring to your character in this particular film to show a different side of you?
My conversation with Stallone was, first of all, what type of villain you would like me to play? I need to know, because I need to build a character. I cannot show up as a “Van Damme” villain. Like, in Chad and Alex [the twin brothers from Double Impact], Chad was like “Hey!” [Light-hearted], easy to do the “hey,” and Chad was like, “Hey” [deeply serious]. That was an easy thing to do. But today, after movies like JCVD, I built some layers. I said, I know about the plutonium, but what type of guy [is he]? And he said, “Look, you’re like us. You have a code of honor, but on the other side of the wall.” Yin, yang, black, white, fire, water. And I said, “But why am I doing this? For whom?” He said, “For yourself. It’s personal. You love money. You’re a mercenary.” I said fine, then I knew. Then I prepared myself for that. […]
The vein, what he told me to be was there. All the rest, the meat around [the vein] was just detail. [Using different inflections] If I’m going to kill you, I’m going to kill you, I’m going to kill you, I’m going to kill you. It doesn’t matter. It was the same type of feeling, in all different takes. […] I was listening to him. Experience? He has lots of experience. He knows his business. People make fun of him sometimes. The guy never won an award.
He was nominated for an Oscar for Rocky.
For writing. But as an actor, he’s an amazing actor.
You’ve worked with Dolph Lundgren before. You’ve worked with Scott Adkins before. Have you ever come close to working with Sly or Arnold Schwarzenegger before?
Yeah, I worked with Arnold before on Last Action Hero.
A small part, as a favor. I was invited there. And also… that’s it. Yeah. I knew all of them before the movie. Then, from a theater point of view, I bought tickets to see them. Now I’m here and they’re chasing me. Not for the ticket, to kick my ass, right?
I was watching the film, and I was waiting until after the credits, hoping that you would come back. That you would be back for Expendables 3 as your twin brother.
Do you think it can work? Because I’ve got this movie, have you seen Wake of Death? I play a cop who’s rotten.
I think I missed that one.
You should see that movie. Not Sudden Death. Wake of Death.
I love Sudden Death.
Yeah, that’s Peter Hyams. I just finished my last flick with him, called Enemies Closer. You’ll like it. I play a villain too, but an extravagant type of villain, which is very difficult to do. To fight, laughing and smiling. It’s hard to do. Because you when fight and do action, you have all the movement, and to move cutthroat with high grace is difficult.
But would you be up for Expendables 3?
I would love to. That’s what I’d like to see. I want to show Sly a film I did where I look totally different, with long hair […] But I don’t think he will do it. Maybe Expendables 4. Who knows?
Maybe. The thing I like about this film is, it’s not just playing off of the characters in the film, it’s playing off of what the audience knows about the actors.
There’s a lot of references to previous films, and you… the odds of you playing twins in a movie is almost higher than any other actor I’ve ever heard of.
Yeah, I’m bi-polar, and to get that bi-polarity to go from one type of guy to another type of guy is kind of dangerous, if I don’t take my medication. [Laughs]
Double Impact was your first film where you played two characters?
Yes, that was great, but imagine now. You saw JCVD, right? Imagine a JCVD type of guy, in Double Impact, a sequel, a guy like… The Expendables but even different. The movie I just finished, I play a real, real crazy guy. Unusual. And if I can put those two characters in Double Impact 2 it would be great. But the problem is the movie has lots of legal attachments from different people who invest, distributors in Europe. This and that. […]
Because all my franchises died. Bloodsport, they did Bloodsport 2, 3, 4, because the company was bankrupt, Cannon, and they sold Bloodsport. Kickboxer 1, 2, 3. Died. Lionheart was a great franchise. Died. Double Impact was my only franchise left. But Bloodsport, what a franchise. I didn’t do Bloodsport from ’86 to 2012. So it’s 26 years ago… That’s why the writer of Taken is writing the remake of Bloodsport. So I called [Edward] Pressman, who’s producing the film, and I said, can I be in the remake? Maybe as a trainer, like Jackie Chan with The Karate Kid? And the writer said no, he doesn’t like it.
That’s too bad.
Because he wants to take the credit of being able to have a big box office without Van Damme in Bloodsport. It’s like Hollywood sh*t. “Oh, if Van Damme is there…” […] With Bloodsport I really started something. I really started Mortal Kombat fever.
Quite directly. I think Boone and Tobias even said they were inspired by you.
I think it’s kind of insulting not to have me. In the sense of, I’d work on it for free. Just be like a trainer, because I was in the first Kumite as Frank Dux, and Frank’s an old guy who can still kick and everything, by the way. I think Billy the Kid [Liam Hemsworth], from Expendables 2, is going to be in Bloodsport.
You think so? Have you heard that?
That’s what I heard. I don’t know.
Street Fighter: The Movie has an increasing cult following. I think people have finally started appreciating that movie for the fun, silly film it was. What do you remember most from that production?
They called me for the sequel, and I didn’t do it. I was so stupid. They used twenty cameras in Thailand and it was a huge hit. But the first movie was a disaster. The director was a writer, Steve de Souza, he’s a good writer but then he directed a film and it…
It didn’t come out too good.
No. I rolled up my sleeve. I was only booked for a week, and I stayed there for four weeks.
Where do you want to go now that you’ve played this villain role in a major production?
Here’s the problem. I’ve made four movies. I’ve done Welcome to the Jungle, a comedy. You’ve got to see it. You will not believe it! Because you know, in Expendables, you’re trying to bring the best of what you were made from. You know, the split, the kick and that.
The essence of what you’re perceived as.
Arnold wanted to be better than what he was before in Expendables 2, to show the best of [himself]. Sly the same, it was great. So they were all envious about themselves, to make it better. And then we became envious of each other. Not jealous, big difference. So we’re competing with each other to become the best possible, and Expendables became that way, because of that type of competition. In a comedy, the more dumb you become, you win the game. You know what I’m saying? Like you’re stupid and everything, and that was the deal in Welcome to the Jungle. And finally, the movie I directed, Soldier, is coming out after Expendables. That was a four-year process film, because of the financing, I stopped to add some shooting scenes, everything. And then the Peter Hyams film, and [Universal] Soldier 4 is coming out. I did movie that’s DVD quality, but good fighting scenes, I fought some new moves, called The Butcher. So my answer to you is, right now, no movies. Right now I’ve got to take care of those movies. They’re well done. Peter Hyams ain’t chopped liver. Welcome to the Jungle is funny. And the one I get to direct is a good quality film.
It’s interesting when you’ve got this movie that can take your career in a new direction, but you’ve already got this backlog of other films.
So now I’m going to stop to promote them, and take it easy now, take a rest and find a great script. I want to do something with Jet Li. That would be great.
I was hoping he’d fight you in The Expendables 2.
Yeah, we’ve got to do something together. I think so.