Jean-Claude Van Damme may be 51 years old, but he can still kick you through a wall. The kickboxing Belgian has been fighting through scores of baddies ever since he first roundhoused his way into our hearts in 1988’s Bloodsport. His latest film, Dragon Eyes, sees him taking the backseat as a mentor to martial arts star Cung Le, but with a role as the villain in Sylvester Stallone’s upcoming Silver Pictures Reunion Tour sequel The Expendables 2, there will be plenty of Van Damage in the near future. We spoke with the Muscles From Brussels about kicking ass, taking names, and collecting puppies.
In Dragon Eyes, you play a Yoda-esque mentor character. Did you enjoy the chance to play the teacher?
Playing a mentor reminded me of when I was giving karate classes to children, which I started at the age of 17. So I understood training people, because I’ve done that before, and before I came to America I owned a gym. I was kind of a training mentor by profession before I came to the States, so it was exciting to me to remember those moments, but it was also the excitement of meeting Cung Le because he’s a fighter who’s using his legs a lot, so I was attracted to his style of fighting.
Both of you have experience in the world of competitive martial arts. Did you exchange stories while filming?
My time of martial arts was traditional. Today, in 2012, it’s different. People have special vitamins, they drink special water, they pump in oxygen, they have a different training program — it’s like taking care of a Formula 1 instead of a Model T. But, nevertheless, when two warriors, ex-fighters, talk together, it’s the same spirit, so the spirit was there.
How much do you train when you’re actually making a movie?
When I go on location, we have a schedule. And when you have a schedule, you know when you’re not working, so I train very well on location. But I also train three or four times a week at home, but today I train differently than before. I train, for me, very smartly. I don’t train heavy, I do a lot of isometrics. I actually have an idea. I don’t know if it’s good, but I want to do it. It’s half-hour lessons to teach people how to train themselves at home and also I can talk about my experience of life.
The JCVD Workout Routine?
And a part of the money will go to charities. I love animals. I’m crazy about dogs, I want to save lots of dogs. That’s my hobby.
Do you have a lot of them?
Oh, yeah. I have nine here, and four in the U.S. at my second residence. I’ve even got a handicapped dog who has a wheelchair made in Holland.
Based on that fact alone, I’m now thinking it was a bit of a stretch for you to play a nasty villain like the one in The Expendables 2.
No, no, I’m good as a villain! I don’t play many of them, but I play good villains. Plus, it’s a big movie and it’s good for me to go from DVD back to the big screen.
So is this going to start you off on a string of villainous roles?
Well, in my next movie I play a villain. But it’s a very strange villain. I have a good director—Peter Hyams, we did Timecop together. Just to give you an idea, I play a villain who’s a vegan, so imagine if you have a leather belt around your waist, he’s the type of villain who would say, “Why do you have that piece of skin around your hip, please?” So he’s really for the animals, he loves animals. He can kill somebody and you’re falling down to the floor, and suddenly he becomes interested in a flower on the floor. He’s a very interesting villain.
And plus you can relate, because you both love dogs.
Yes, like me! It’s going to be called Enemies Closer. And it will be from the people who did Dragon Eyes. I’ll go from teacher to villain, and I’ll look different. For the Dragon Eyes role I needed a professor look, so I put some gray color in my hair. [Pause] No, I’m joking! I didn’t put the color in my hair. I was just joking. The color in my hair is my natural hair color: gray.
I promise I won’t tell anyone.
No, go ahead! It looks good when you see someone kicking at the age of 51 with no double. It’s kinda cool for people to know that past 50 we can keep flexible.
Do you ever start to feel your age when making a film?
Of course. When you’re fighting, your body produces less oxygen in your red cells. So for example, if I was fighting today against a fighter, I’d need to win fast, before the third round for sure. And if you take a blow, you will recoup less than a 25-year-old guy, so fighting at the age of 50, it’s a very big, big, big, big challenge.
Well, I still definitely don’t ever want to fight you.
What I’m doing, it’s the element of surprise. I do one kick and it connects and does lots of damage, but for a young fighter, he’ll see me coming and put up a fight. But you’re right, against a simple civilian who doesn’t know anything…
So then you’d be someone who would benefit from my JCVD Workout Routine!