Retrospective Interview: Jean-Claude Van Damme

There are three actors in this world who I will always have an adoration for, and Jean-Claude Van Damme happens to be one of them. Growing up, I was a scrawny kid who got his ass-kicked a lot and Van Damme helped me escape to the fantasy world and believe that one day I'd grow up to be just like him - big, tough, non-shit taker. That day never came but I still loved all the films he made pre-STREET FIGHER. It wasn't until JCVD that Van Damme got back to what he initially seemed to have lost, his passion for film.

Two weeks ago I was asked if I wanted to interview Van Damme on behalf of his latest film, ASSASSINATION GAMES. After punch-dancing my happiness (I'm serious, that really happened), I did an interview with him via email. Unlike a lot of the straight-to-DVD movies he has done in the past, ASSASSINATION GAMES has some heart to it. In the film, Van Damme plays a lone assassin who teams up with another gun for hire (played by Scott Adkins) to take down a vicious mob boss. 

Among the things we talk about in the interview, I got Van Damme to open up about his brilliant and somewhat candid performance of himself in JCVD, why his last few films haven't had his signature moves, and where his career is heading. Check it out after the break!

For my first question, I want to talk about your character, Brazil, in ASSASSINATION GAMES.  He reminds me of Léon in Luc Besson's LEON: THE PROFESSIONAL - he keeps to himself, he's dangerous, and he adores something other assassins wouldn't (in Léon's case, a plant; in Brazil's, a violin). With that, did you draw an inspiration from other characters in cinema? If so, who?

The idea was to give some personality to the character through some idiosyncratic behaviors. This technique as you have observed in your question, gives both contrast and depth to a character and certain aspects of a performance. There are so many great actors that we have seen do this over the years. Often, small behaviors that become associated with a given character lead to what many consider to be very memorable performances.

I noticed you didn't do your signature splits or roundhouse kick in the film. Do you plan on bringing either back in future roles?

These moves have never gone away, but they weren't in the script and didn't really fit the character. Not every film is in the genre of Time Cop or Blood Sport.

In ASSASSINATION GAMES you play the violin; how much experience did you have playing prior to signing on to the film?

That is an interesting question. I watched the Godfather quite a few times, and Harpo Marx, that is really the extent of my violin knowledge. No one has suggested I quit my day job and take up the violin.

This is director Ernie Barbarash's first film with two big martial arts stars. I read that you already signed on to his next feature, THE BUTCHER. What was it about Barbarash that made you trust he could make a great action film?

Ernie has a pretty broad background in the film industry. He is a writer, producer and director depending on which film he was involved with. Ernie has had exposure to a range of films including action and science fiction. I was impressed with his attention to detail and character development. He really pays attention to this. I found that we were able to work as an effective team. In this case, you could say that working together, 2 guys had "triple impact." We really hit it off.

JCVD really broke the wall of illusion for action stars, helping fans understand the boundaries of real life and fantasy. In the film you proudly put your real life on display with a sense of humility and delivered the most honest and best performance in your career. I'm not alone when I say you should have gotten nominated for an Oscar. Do you plan on or currently have any serious projects in the works?

JCVD was really complex for me. On one level it gave me a chance to really stretch the envelope of my acting and to demonstrate what I am capable of. At the same time, the story, although it touches on certain aspects of "me," is very much a fictionalized version of me. This was really fun to play with. I am definitely interested in continuing to push the envelope on my acting range. I have several projects ranging from comedy to action comedy in the works, I can't really tell you much about them at this point, but I will be able to in the near future, and I think the audience will really enjoy it.

How difficult was it to deliver the six minute monologue you gave in the film? How much was improvised according to your actual life?

I am not Fidel Castro, so I can't do the 8 hour monologue, but as my wife and kids would tell you, 6 minutes is not a problem for me. In the monologue I expressed what I felt was in the heart and soul of the character. I had an easy time getting into character in this film, and the monologue came quite naturally. As you know this type of monologue is in flavor more French than American. I was worried that non-Francophone audiences might not get it, but overall it seemed to work well.

This is more of a selfish question but I have to ask: which film of yours from the '90s is your favorite and why?

Actually, I am asked this question with some frequency. It is a great question and very tough to answer. When you are an actor, how you feel about a film is often a combination of both the story and certain things that may have taken place during the making of the film. It is also a function of where my head was at during the making of a given film. I have always enjoyed Double Impact, I had a great time making that film. I also enjoyed Blood Sport but for different reasons. It was early in my career, my acting had less range but it was a very honest performance. So.....the answer in a sense is there is not a favorite, I will leave that part up to the audience. In most cases though, I have some great memories of the making of most of my films.

For the final question I want to ask about THE EXPENDABLES 2. There are rumors floating around that you will have a role in the film and that it would be as the villain. Can you confirm this? If not, is there anything you can say if you are in the film?

I think that Expendables 2 will be a very good film. It will build on Expendables, which was very well received. I would be proud to be a part of it, but I will let the Producers do the talking on this one.

ASSASSINATION GAMES opens (limited) on Friday, July 29th.


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