Turning 60 years old, Jean-Claude Van Damme – a talented actor, director, producer, screenwriter, has not shown any signs of age but is still firmly at the peak of his career with rising days. Flowers with series of projects. The Belgian star marks a spectacular return in the latest Netflix series: The Last Mercenary. Through an exclusive interview with ELLE, we invite you to listen to share your career, passion, and love. And the charm of this week’s green gentleman.
Before becoming a “legend,” Jean-Claude Van Damme (JCVD) also faced ups and downs, difficult times, and then gradually progressed to the glorious arena and achieved the most luxurious life with 36 years of dedication to the profession. In 1988, JCVD’s career took a “sublime step” with action blockbusters such as Bloodsport, Kickboxer, Full Contact, and Double Impact, to JCVD (2007) – a work in which he played himself; or like The Expendables 2 (2012 ) – where he reunited with the top action superstars at that time.
Can you share something about The Last Mercenary?
Jean-Claude Van Damme: I play Richard Brumère – a former secret service agent who has left the organization and traveled the world searching for private life. On a previous mission, he met a woman and had a child with her. However, he made a deal with the French government to protect his son, Archibald. In return, he would disappear and keep this completely secret.
One day, to save his son from the mafia, he befriended a group of young men and established a connection with the son. In short, he’s in trouble. Did you find your way back home and the problem solved? Not so fast! The film also features a great cast, including Patrick Timsitt, Miou-Miou, Alban Ivanov, Eric Judor, Valérie Karpinski…
What genre of movie is this?
Jean-Claude Van Damme: An action comedy film directed and brilliantly written by David Charhon “made for me” for me! It is quite similar to the once-star Belmondo (Bébel) movie, an exciting combination between Incorrigible and That Man From Rio, creating a typical American break. I always watched Bébel’s films, grew up with Bébe, and admired his acting on screen.
He is a classic stage actor but knows how to capture the madness. That is best demonstrated through Louis de Funès in The Big Restaurant, Don’t Look Now…We’re Being Shot At! Well, he’s funny but at the same time very serious about acting.
Right at the beginning of the film, he performed a classic split. Did it difficult to make this move?
Jean-Claude Van Damme: Oh, no problem! I started learning ballet when I was 13-14 years old and practiced for five years. I’ve also been studying karate since I was 9. These two disciplines require different types of movements. However, the split in ballet requires more technique than karate because the key is to keep the middle of the body straight. I was even invited to the Béjart Ballet School at that time. But I listened to my father and stuck with karate.
Do you see any differences between yourself and the character Brumère?
Jean-Claude Van Damme: He is pretty tricky and rarely compliments his son. As for me, I also have children (Bianca, Kristopher, Nicolas) but always encourage and support them. I don’t want them to have a hard time.
How did you go through the 54-day filming process – over ten weeks?
Jean-Claude Van Damme: I adapted well! I live in Hong Kong, from Australia, Los Angeles, Turkey, to Armenia. I travel by private plane, so time goes by quickly, and I am not afraid of Covid. I was in Australia when Covid spread, the world went into chaos, and everything was canceled. I shook hands with hundreds of people and stayed there but luckily didn’t get infected. Thanks to that, I was able to return to Belgium, France, and Italy. Everyone has tested positive for Covid, like Tom Hanks, for example! Australia was one of the first countries affected. Right now, I’m fine. But you know, the virus can attack anyone at any time.
What motivates you to be able to persist in the lead role throughout 65 films?
Jean-Claude Van Damme: Well…That’s the ideal job! I have to work non-stop, yes, but in return I am very fortunate to film both in France and in the US, to receive offers from both sides, it’s incredible! Along with that is Paris – a city with diverse cultures and so is Italy.
He has worked with many international directors, from France, the USA, Germany, to China. Which cinematic approach do you like best?
JCVD: To be honest, I usually don’t care about the origin aspect when interacting and working in cinema. I once ventured to shake hands with John Woo when he was still not famous in Hard Target. They gave me a month to work on the script on a relatively tight budget.
It was the same with Emmerich when I made Universal Soldier (Jean-Claude Van Damme’s highest-grossing film at the box office). At that time, he was just a German director with no name. I also worked with Stephen Norrington on Blade when no one knew about his work. I also enjoyed working with Martin Scorsese, Tony Scott, Peter Weir… But I also made a lot of money-making movies without a director. That’s how I approach cinema!
Are you an actor who quickly listens to directions?
JCVD: I am easygoing and always willing to listen. When you’re in a Ferrari with a driver, you don’t need to touch the car. With a good director, it’s the same thing. He knows what he’s doing. So let’s go in that direction! When you only care about your acting, then that’s perfect.
I’ve done a lot of movies and handled the editing myself. Take the example of Tom Cruise in Born On The Fourth Of July (directed by Oliver Stone) and in Cocktail (directed by Roger Donaldson). It is important to have a good director. If I made a movie with Scorsese, he wouldn’t let me leave the scene until he was satisfied with my performance.