Jean Claude Van Damme in "The Expendables 2."
Updated: September 14, 2012 6:04AM
LOS ANGELES — “The Expendables” became a worldwide hit in 2010 with a cast of tough guys including Sylvester Stallone (who also directed), Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren and Steve Austin.
But where was Jean-Claude Van Damme?
“I was directing a movie when Sly and the guys shot the first ‘Expendables,’ ” says the 51-year-old action hero. “There were all these stories that Jet Li and I were fighting and that’s why I didn’t do it. Not true! He’s a nice guy.”
Once planning started on the sequel, Van Damme finally got the call. “It’s almost like Sly and I planned this and said, ‘Now, it’s time!’ ”
The Muscles from Brussels plays bad guy Jean Vilain in “The Expendables 2,” opening Friday. When Mr. Church (Bruce Willis) gets the Expendables back together for an easy paycheck, one of their own is murdered and they have a hunger for revenge.
Q. The word on the “Expendables 2” set is that you weren’t hanging out with Sly, Bruce and the other he-men? Did you want to psyche them out?
A. No, I love those guys, but I took my villain role very seriously. I asked him: “Sly, do you want me to play it comical or serious?” Sly said, “When you’re serious, you can still have this comical attitude.” I play a guy who is selfish, egotistical and there for the money only. That’s why I kept my distance when we weren’t shooting from these heroes of mine. I was so cold that they thought I was that guy who didn’t talk. I stayed in my trailer. It was hard because when I looked at these heroes on the set I would look at them like they were nothing to me when they were really such mentors. It did work. In the movie you can see the hate in some of their eyes. That was the point.
Q. After the fight scenes, do you cry for your mother?
A. I’m past 50, so I could have done a lot of fighting closeups, I could have used a double, but forget it. I said, “Guys, let’s do it with the wide angle so the fans can see the fighting.” Everyone was very impressed with my kicking. I knew I could do it because I’m still in the gym at least five times a week. I know how to train in a way that’s smart. In the past, I was working out too heavy. Your body has enough weight for you to be in perfect condition just working against yourself. You can create the perfect triceps by just pushing yourself off your wall.
Q. You had many lean years before making it big. How bad did it get?
A. I came to America without a work permit. For six years, I was the guy who cleaned cars and cleaned houses in exchange for a place to stay for free. I lived in garages. Gold’s Gym was open 24 hours a day in L.A. I’d go at 4 in the morning to work out because the guy was asleep behind the counter and never checked memberships. I went there to take a shower in the morning and at night. I was always clean, always training, always pushing. Finally, I kicked so high above a producer’s head almost begging to give me a job that I actually was cast in “Bloodsport.”
Q. You reunited with your first wife Gladys Portugues in 1999. Tell us a bit about your life now?
A. I came back to my original wife. I came back to her after I made a few boo-boos in my life. Coming back to her was good for me, good for her and good for the children. She’s very nice, straightforward and lovely. Always nice. That means so much in life. … We’ve lived in Hong Kong for the last seven years. There are normal people in Asia. No f--- you, showing you the finger. If you wanted to be treated like a prince or princess you go to Thailand and get a massage and a manicure, plus the food is fantastic. I don’t need much to make me happy now. I do actually visit Chicago now and then on a trip. I love your city. I’m sure you hear about the great food, but I like that you have lots of wind. I love to stand by your lakefront in the wind. It’s invigorating.
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