The Hollywood Dream
An Interview With Jean-Claude Van Damme
Blitz magazine: April 2
by Don Warrener
The April edition of Blitz, an Australian martial arts mag, featured an interview with Jean-Claude Van Damme giving advice to young "Hollywood wannabes." The interview also reappeared in the January edition of the Swedish magazine "Fighter".
Sitting here in my studio in Hollywood, California I have just finished talking to another young man who has just moved from Edinburgh, Scotland to Hollywood, California where he is in pursuit of his lifetime goal of becoming an action martial arts superstar. "I have taken Tae Kwon Do for about three years and I can do a full splits," he says. He is a pretty good-looking guy but he is the fourth one this week.
This sparked me to talk to my good friend Jean-Claude Van Damme and ask him how does someone realised the Hollywood Dream like he was able to?
DW: How did you make it Jean-Claude to the top of the action martial arts superstars?
JCVD: Well when I decided to go for it I was running my karate school and weight gym in Brussels in 1983 and I decided that it was time for me to put into action all the philosophy, confidence and faith I had in myself that I had learnt through training in the dojo. In a dojo, as you well know, you will never become any good unless you believe in yourself. The obvious next most important thing you need is something that many young people nowadays just do not have, that is discipline and what I call a "never give up" attitude.
DW: Can you elaborate on this for me?
JCVD: If when you’re fighting and you get hit and you go down, you better get up or you are in trouble, right? Well, if anyone thinks that they are going to make it here in Hollywood without facing problems, they are fooling themselves. After all, if it was easy everyone would do it, wouldn’t they?
I think that in Judo they have a great saying I always remembered from when I was in Belgium: "If you fall down seven times get up eight." This is perfect if you want to make it here in Hollywood. I think it was Jigaro Kano who said that.
DW: Is there anything else that you would suggest to those young martial artists who want to take over your spot?
JCVD: Well, I had better be careful of what I say, because some of them might just do it. Then I would be out of a job. No I am just kidding, if I can make a suggestion that will help someone I will be very happy.
If I want to be a martial arts superstar in Hollywood nowadays I would try and see what is the common denominator that has made all the others who have made it to the top.
For example the number one martial arts superstar of all time we all know was Bruce Lee. When I look back at him, I try to model myself after him in so many ways. I would say to a "Hollywood wannabe," do the same. The first thing you must do is you must be in absolutely perfect physical condition, this means you really have to watch you diet and you have to train weights so that you look lean and cut as much as possible. Take a look at Bruce in the photos or in "Enter the Dragon" and you will see how cut he was and his total body fat had to be about 4%, he was real lean and in great shape. I did the exact same thing and I still train hard, and before I go into a picture I increase my training and I really watch my diet.
The other thing is that you must have clean technique. It is not enough to just be a good fighter, you must be able to throw a roundhouse kick that will look great on camera and this (as we all know) comes from hours and hours of training in the dojo, whether it be on a bag on in the air.
The last thing I would suggest technically, is that you must really work on your stretching and overall flexibility. You never know what you may have to do on a set, and the best way to prevent injury is to be flexible so that you do not pull muscles. If you get hurt and cannot perform this could mean $100,000 easily depending on how severe the injury is.
DW: What other pointers can you give to martial arts students who are considering a career in Hollywood?
JCVD: Well I would say to them "you better be able to take rejection and you better be ready to jump in when the opportunity presents itself." For example, when I first got my big break was when there was a movie being done by Cannon Films and Menahem Golan was the president, they had someone else doing the lead in Kickboxer, Menahem wasn’t happy with the way it was coming out so I begged him to give me a chance and he did. So don’t be afraid to speak up, you never know when you will get another chance. Just imagine if I had not spoken up.
In regards to rejection it sometime seems that for every step you take forward sometimes you take two back, then all of a sudden something clicks. Believe me, there is no greater surge of energy in the world than when everything falls into place and everything seems to work perfect. The ups and the downs here in Hollywood are amazing, one day it seems that everything you do turns to gold, so to speak, then the next day no one wants to know you. Then when you make a comeback they are your best friends again. It just makes me laugh sometimes at how fickle these people are. But I guess it is, as they say, the nature of the beast.
DW: Is there anything else you can say that might help martial artists achieve their dreams?
JCVD: No matter what your goal is, the last thing that they should realize is what I call "the big three." You must be in the right spot. In other words if you are a good-looking young lady, and a good-looking young lady is needed for a part here in Hollywood, and she lives in let’s say Caracas, Venezuela, well the chances of her becoming discovered so to speak, is almost impossible. If you are serious about acting as a career, you must be right here in Hollywood day in, day out. Again look at Bruce Lee, he started in Hong Kong but had to come here to make it big. Then look at Chuck Norris, he was in Oklahoma, but he had to move to Hollywood to make it. Myself, I lived in Brussels, but I too had to move here to become discovered. Even Jet Li or Billy Blanks, they had to move to Hollywood to make it.
The second point is that you must know the right people. Again, you can only make it if you get a chance, and you are only going to meet the people who can really help your career, here in Hollywood. The last point is that your timing must be perfect and chance has a lot to do with this. You must be in the right place at the right time. It could be as simple as waiting tables in a restaurant or working in a dead-end job, and all of a sudden a producer or director walks in and sees you and he is working on a project and you are perfect for it. Well you just got lucky and that is exactly how it works. This goes for goals of any kind. Be in the right area, know the right people, and sooner or later you must find yourself in the right spot at the right time.
DW: That is it, nothing more than this?
JCVD: That is it, but remember, you better have all the other pieces of the puzzle in place at the same time. Like for a movie career it will really help if you study acting and if you study movie making. All aspects of it, not just the acting side of it. In other words if and when you are lucky enough to get on a set and help out, don’t waste this valuable time, learn as much as you can from everyone - the lighting guys, the camera men, and anybody who will teach you anything. Become a sponge and absorb all the information you can.
DW: Is there anything you can say in summary of this great interview Jean-Claude; that just might help some young people out?
JCVD: Remember this, there are an estimated 300 people every week moving into Hollywood to try and make it in the movie business, and if they are lucky maybe one in 5,000 will make it to some level of success. But being a martial artist you readers have a better chance than others, because martial artists understand that we can never give up under any condition. Someone has to become the next martial arts superstar, so why can it not be one of the people who read this article? I am the living proof that you can make it. I am just another karate guy that had a dream. The difference between myself, and others who have had the same dream, was that I was, and still am, unable to understand the meaning of the word quit or give up. I will not quit, they would have to kill me before I would ever give up in anything I believe in. This is the code of the Samurai, at least the way I understand it. So tell your readers to just never give up and follow their dreams.
DW: So after all that, what is next for you in Hollywood?
JCVD: I have just finished two movies, one is called The Order and the other is called The Replicant. Now I am on to doing another one called Derailed, which I am shooting in Bulgaria for Nu Image, a great company here in town to work for, it is really appropriate at this time after 911 in New York, as it is a story about terrorism and a train with biochemical warfare. But the one I am really excited about doing is a movie called The Monk, which is total martial arts and one that I really want to do especially, with a great director, Ringo Lam. The other project that I am going to do, and I am counting on your input to make these the best they can become, is a series of video tapes on karate along the "how to do" side of things, coupled with martial arts philosophy. I personally think that this is an excellent idea, as I am always being asked if I have any videos on kicking and stretching. So we will make them and hopefully they will act as a supplement to the instructors and improve the student’s skills, as well as give them a Budo philosophy.
DW: Thanks very much Jean-Claude for that very inspirational interview, and yes you can count on me to help you make these videos the best they can possibly be.
JCVD: Thank you, but it wasn’t meant to be inspirational, it is the absolute 100% truth.