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Retro Action Heroes: Behind the Scenes of EXPENDABLES 2
By Tom Snyder, Editor
MOVIEGUIDE® was there when Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger were at Comic Con last month promoting their new action movie, EXPENDABLES 2. This month, MOVIEGUIDE® got a chance to interview other cast members from the movie, including Jason Statham, Terry Crews, Randy Couture, Scott Adkins, and veteran action stars Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren.
EXPENDABLES 2 is kind of a throwback to the action movies and action heroes of the 1980s and early 1990s.
In that light, one of the things that struck us about these interviews was the huge impact these movies and heroes have had on people, including the younger actors appearing with Stallone, Schwarzenegger, and Bruce Willis.
This proves – once again – MOVIEGUIDE®’s old adage that the mass media creates the culture that shapes hearts and minds.
At Comic-Con, Stallone admitted that Couture (three-time UFC Heavyweight champ) could probably beat up all of the movie star bad guys. He said getting all these action stars together in one movie is sort of like a rock music revival featuring a bunch of classic bands and performers.
Former Calif. Gov. Schwarzenegger said it was good to be back in the movie business. He praised Stallone’s success at creating three blockbuster movie franchises, first the ROCKY movies, then the RAMBO movies, and, now, THE EXPENDABLES.
Stallone said his favorite Schwarzenegger movie was TERMINATOR 2.
After the EXPENDABLES panel, Comic-Con gave Schwarzenegger a special award for is contributions to pop culture and the convention.
On a side note, actor Terry Crews gives a shout out to the real heroes of the United States military, with whom he’s been working on the new NBC-TV show STARS EARN STRIPES.
Jason Statham – Statham plays Sylvester “Sly” Stallone’s right hand guy in THE EXPENDABLES 2
Q: How much fun is it getting together with the boys and doing a movie like EXPENDABLES 2?
Statham: You have to embrace the fact that it might never happen again. Putting that crowd together is a task in itself. To try to orchestrate a script that can tie all those great people into a story and at the same time have a nudge and a wink towards some of the great films that they’re well known for. It’s a bit of a nightmare for whoever’s trying to book flights to get everybody there on the same day and get away on time.
Q: Do you think there will be an EXPENDABLES 3?
Statham: I do think that, yeah. I can imagine that they’re already thinking about that.
Q: You must have watched some of these guys when you were a teenager.
Statham: I’ve grown up with these guys, yeah. They coined the phrase “action hero.” Stallone, Bruce Willis, Arnold. These are the living action heroes.
Q: What would your 15-year-old self had thought to end up in a movie like this?
Statham: It would be unrealistic to imagine that, yeah. I was selling perfume and jewelry at the time. If I had said I was going to be in a film with Arnold and Sly, people would have said, “You ought to stop drinking.”
Q: How important is it to have a good director and a good stunt coordinator on this kind of movie.
Statham: If we don’t have a good stunt department and a good director, you’re lost at sea. There’s all kinds of reasons to panic.
Q: Talk about working with Arnold Schwarzenegger. Was he what you expected?
Statham: He’s everything and more. We talked about his documentary PUMPING IRON when he was a body builder. As a kid, I remember buying muscle and fitness magazines. So, I’ve always followed his career as a body builder and everything he’s ever done. It just seems whatever he turns his hand to, he becomes the best there is. Whatever he does, he’s gold at it.
Q: Do you have one scene or moment in EXPENDABLES 2 that stands out as your “this is it” moment in the movie?
Statham: The whole thing really. It got much bigger and a bit more bang than the last one. The locations sort of dictated that. We had big trucks going through these big sets that they built in Bulgaria, and we never had any of that before. If I remember anything, it was all the big sets that we came through and crushed.
Q: Were you aware making it that the humor was going to come across so well?
Statham: We tried to stick with the recipe. We had the banter with Sly, with Barney as the leader, the backbone of the story. We were given all these great people to throw around there in the mix. If I was still selling perfume and jewelry, and I saw the poster for the movie, I’d be rushing up to buy that ticket, for sure.
Q: Is there something you’d like to do that wouldn’t necessarily be offered because you’re seen as an action star?
Statham: Yes, but that’s the world you live in. Sometimes if you’re strength is that, then people would like to book you for your strength. There are directors who would say, “This would be great because people wouldn’t expect that of you.” But, it can’t be so radically different that it’s uninteresting and people would say, “Why did he do that? That is the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen.” So, it has to be a smart decision, and it has to have a little bit of what you can give, a certain element of “I could do that” in it.
Q: You and Sly are the backbone of both movies. You guys connect so well. Did you guys realize that when you first came together?
Statham: Yeah, it’s one of those things. You meet people. You have a good chemistry. It’s either there or it’s not.
Q: You capitalized on it in two movies.
Statham: There are some [different] balls we throw at each other. He likes that. The more you can give him, the better he receives it. Guess what? One’s coming back your way very quickly! It’s that “silly bloke” humor. There’s a lot of fun in that improvising.
Q: You guys didn’t lose a beat with Maggie, the girl played by Yu Nan. What was it like when she came on the set, when you guys let a female on the set?
Statham: She puts us in our place.
Q: Just curious. Why the duck ringtone on your cellphone in the movie?
Statham: Yeah, somebody told me there was a duck ringtone. Sly got the last one over on me!
Terry Crews and Randy Couture, who play Hale Caesar and Toll Road
Q: Is there any moment that stands out for you?
Couture: The entire movie was so much fun, but the opening battle sequence sets the pace for everything, and you know exactly what you’ve come to. We had three cameras. We shot in a bunch of different locations to put that whole sequences together.
Q: Terry, could you talk about comparing this to the work you did on the reality series STARS EARN STRIPES? Was it similar in the physicality of it?
Crews: On the TV show, they teamed us up with real Special Ops. It made me really realize how true the EXPENDABLES action is to real life. I had an op [in STARS EARN STRIPES] where they would leave him in Afghanistan for six weeks, and he would find people, train them, go on missions, free people out of prison, radio in, and they come get him out of nowhere. That’s an EXPENDABLES mission. That’s what we were doing. Exactly what was happening in the beginning of the movie is what our special ops, and what America’s military, does every day, and we don’t hear about it. You just don’t see it, you don’t know it. One reason I did the TV show was to bring to light these real, real heroes who are doing the stuff so that we can sleep good. I’m an actor. When I do my thing, and they say cut, I kind of disappear and go to my next scene, but doing that show, we jumped out of helicopters, we fired live ammo, we did all that stuff. It gave me a total new respect for how serious this stuff is. In a movie, you don’t have to aim your gun, but the level of professionalism and calm you need to actually aim your gun and do everything correctly, you have to be a pro. And, Randy knows. Because he has all the guns in his backyard. Everything in EXPENDABLES, he was like, “I got two of those.” I couldn’t believe it, and he knew how to operate ALL of it. They were handing it to me, and I was like, “Can somebody load this for me, please?” They didn’t need to give him any training.
Q: How much training did they give you?
Crews: With a shotgun you don’t really aim it. So, it was about the look, about the camera, about where do you want it? But, when you’re talking about a real live operation, where it has to be in sync, someone else could get wounded or get hurt. It’s a lot more contained on a movie set. There are so many people that tell you exactly how to hold it and what to do, and then you get that one moment of action.
Q: What do you mean when you say shotgun?
Couture: It’s an automatic shotgun, a 12 gauge shotgun, but it shoots off a drum. It’s a remarkable weapon. It’s a character in and of itself. It’s a real gun. It was an experimental weapon in the first movie.
Crews: And, Arnold wants that one, and Arnold gets it! I didn’t even know what’s going to happen when we got in there. I went. “Wait a minute! He really IS gonna take my gun. Wait a minute, this is my baby! Hey, man! I don’t care who you are! Arnold what?
Q: How important is it to you that THE EXPENDABLES harkens back to classic action? It’s not all high tech and computerized. It’s classic action, boots on the ground, gunfire, kicking, karate, martial arts. . . .
Couture: That’s what I think about it. I’m driving a [Dodge] Challenger downstairs. I love that car because it looks like the 1970s Challenger I remember from high school. That was the make of car I thought was cool. Everything’s got that retro flavor now. This movie is exactly that. It captures that essence. That’s one of the things I like about it, that makes it look cool. It’s fun to be a part of. To get to actually grab hold of stuntmen and have to know how to throw them around and do the things we do in a real stunt capacity is what makes it fun.
Crews: When you look at the superhero movies, there’s nobody that looks like we do. Period. You look at Sly’s forearms. Those are earned. That’s not something that you can paste on and put in a suit or whatever. The way we look, I got my body from hitting guys at 20 miles an hour on a football field. There’s only way to get it. This man [Couture] has beat people down in an octagon, in a cage, and in wrestling for years. He’s a legend in what he does. Arnold was the biggest superstar bodybuilder in the world. No one looked like him until he created it. I love comic books, and I love the whole thing, but they put the muscles on, and you rip ‘em off, and it’s kinda like “well. . .” There’s a place for that, but I think there’s a place for us. That’s a place where people want to see people who’ve really done some things in their life, who had bad credit one time and had to build it back up. All of us have had a number of failures. I want to see people who fail come back! America loves a comeback.
Q: Terry, do you finally feel that you’ve earned your stripes, that you’re an action hero?
Crews: Believe me, when [Sly] gave me that amazing scene in the first movie, I used to sneak in the theaters when it was out and stand in the back. When I come through [with the AA12 shotgun] and people jump up like they can’t even help it, people just stood up out of nowhere [and cheered]. That is what you want. That’s the dream, and you are bonafide, and you still get Tweets. It’s kind of like classic rock. You remember when you heard a song, where you were. You remember who you were in love with. You remember where you were in your life when you heard that song that you love. It’s the same thing with action heroes. You remember where you were in your life when you saw Bruce Willis, you first saw ROCKY, you first saw TERMINATOR. And where you were in your life and what it meant to you. It’s the same thing. People now in my generation are going to say, “I remember in EXPENDABLES when he came through with the AA12, and I jumped out of my seat. And, I remember where I was.” Comedy is another thing that never gets respect, but it makes people remember. They may not remember a lot of the drama, but they remember that one joke that made them crack up. They never forget it.
Jean-Claude Van Damme, who plays the villain
Q: Is it fun to play bad?
Van Damme: Yes, because you can really push. But, first of all, you need to know what type of villain you want to play. I asked Sly, “Playing a villain is great, but what type of villain? “Extravagant type of villain? Or more serious villain? What type of guy I am?” He said, “You basically are like one of us. You have a code of honor, but you just love money, and you work for yourself. You’re a selfish guy. And, you don’t [care] about anyone.” So, that’s what I was. And, the difficulty was because I love those guys – the Arnold, the Bruce Willis – I was so happy because I know those guys from Belgium on the big screen, and I was chasing them. I was hoping to make only one film with one of them, and here’s the package, all of us, together. It’s amazing. But, I didn’t talk to them. As much as I love them, I came on the set, and I stayed away from them to have that coldness. They thought maybe I was a [jerk]. The only way to be that way, since I like them already, I had to create a distance, a coldness between me and them. You’re going to think I don’t like you if I do my job as [the villain], but I was looking at them like they were nothing to me. Sly understood right away. Sly’s a pro.
I’ve done some boo boos in my life [Van Damme struggled with addiction in the past and has claimed that he was homeless at one point]. In America, people forgive fast. Also in the world, but I don’t forgive myself yet because I come from sports. But, I’m going back slowly out there.
Q: How fun is it for you to step into a movie like EXPENDABLES 2, but still find time to do a children’s film like KUNG FU PANDA 2.
Van Damme: It was cool. Also, I’ve finished a film called WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE. You’ll have to see that one. It’s kind of unknown right now. It’s very funny. I hope I can do more comedy. In a comedy, the more dumb you are, the more stupid you are, you’ll win the case. I was having fun with myself.
Sylvester Stallone is really a guy who knows how to make movies. He gave me some love back of how to love movies. Because I lost the juice going from the silver screen back to DVD. I became kind of lazy, not to want to make movies any more. And, because of EXPENDABLES 2, I’m happy again. Even if it doesn’t go anywhere, I’ve done my job, but I saw a guy [Stallone] who’s past 60 who’s got that drive and it’s fantastic. So, a big thank you to him, the cast, the studio.
Dolph Lundgren, who plays Gunner in EXPENDABLES 2
Q: Has making an action movie changed since the 1980s?
Lundgren: To some extent. Post production is more important now, but cameras are pretty much the same. And, craft service is craft service. The trend now is to get very good actors, more dramatic actors. Stories are getting much more complex and intricate.