Of Course Jean-Claude Van Damme Went Method On The Set Of Expendables 2
Some time after turning down a role in 2010’s Expendables (the part he was offered lacked substance, legend has it) Jean-Claude Van Damme thought better of opting out of the Sylvester Stallone throwback, which went onto become a hit. But perhaps things worked out for the best: In this week’s Expendables 2, Van Damme steals away with the spotlight as the eccentric and hilariously disdainful uber-villain Jean Vilain (yes, really) with an over-the-top performance that called for full commitment to character on set.
At least, Van Damme believed his turn as Vilain required cultivating an icy rapport with his fellow action veterans on set. And so as Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis and Co. chummed it up during filming, the Muscles from Brussels stayed in character so well he only made nice after the bulk of filming wrapped.
“I said to [Sylvester] Stallone, 'How do you want me as a villain? Do you want me, like, an extravagant villain, or do you want a guy who's completely serious and believes in what he's doing and why he's doing that,'" Van Damme recalled to journalists recently in Los Angeles. “Then I said, 'By the way — why am I doing that?' and he said, 'Because you love money.' I said, 'Fine.' So, I became that type of villain.”
So committed was Van Damme to Vilain’s persona, he even found himself sneering at the crew. “When I saw all those cameras around me, I said, 'Who are those bunch of clowns looking at us with those lenses and the lights and everything?' I was really into the atmosphere of Expendables.”
When it came to treating his peers and personal heroes like enemies, Van Damme didn’t hold back. “I'll tell you what, those guys were like role models for me, because we have to be honest, we need to look at something to have a goal,” he recalled. “I saw Rambo. I saw Rocky. I saw Conan. I saw Die Hard. So to me, they were like heroes. I was back in Belgium watching them on the screen, buying tickets and dreaming of becoming like them. I wanted to be an actor since I was eleven, twelve years old, and now here I am and they're chasing me.”
Van Damme credits his acting skills to having worked with directors like Ringo Lam (City on Fire), who directed him in Maximum Risk (1996), Replicant (2001), and In Hell (2003). He counts Kirk Douglas and Charles Bronson among his screen idols and emphasizes the importance of finding truth within a scene, though his proclivity for doing something different in each take gave producer Stallone and director Simon West a challenge and a boon in the editing room. "If you do a good take," Van Damme said, "you cannot repeat the same one."
His chilly treatment of his on-screen rivals was an extension of that truth-seeking imperative. “When I came on the set I didn't talk to nobody," Van Damme remembered. "I didn't want to see them because, you know, Arnold is like bop, bop, bop and I was talking more to Stallone about the part than anything else. So, I believe, and I felt when I was looking at them, it was like, 'Who are you?' Nothing [in] the eyes. I felt like I didn't like them. I took it very seriously.”
“Of course, when the movie was finished I was like, 'Hey, guys, I really admire you, but I didn't talk to you in the beginning because I wanted to have that type atmosphere, that type of tension.' I think you can see that when you look at the lens, when I look at all them and I'm like, 'Go down to the floor, guys, bark all of you like dogs.' It's hard for me to say that to my heroes, but it was the only way, and then when the movie was going to end, that's when I started to knock on trailers and say hello to everybody. 'Hey, Chuck [Norris], how are you?'”
Stay tuned for more from The Expendables 2, which hits theaters Friday.