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Van Damme gets real

14 November, 2008

A former martial arts champion who became known as The Muscles from Brussels,
Jean-Claude Van Damme, 48, is the Belgian-born star of a series of action movies such as Bloodsport and the Universal Soldier series. He hadn't had a hit in years however, until the surprising «JCVD», a festival favourite in which he plays himself as an aging action star who gets caught up in a hostage-taking at a local post office. In the film's most famous scene, he sits in a chair that raises into the air and delivers a six-minute monologue on his dreams of movie-stardom and how they all went sour. Van Damme, who was in Bangkok filming his new movie «Full Love», talked to Canwest movies writer Jay Stone. This is an edited transcript of their conversation.

Q: "How much of the character Jean-Claude Van Damme in the movie «JCVD» is the real Van Damme?
A: "I play the actor and at the same time a certain reality of my life. So it's half fiction and half real because Mabrouk (director Mabrouk El Mechri) put me into a situation in the post office, it became Van Damme the so-called movie star being trapped with normal people like I was year ago. I mean I'm still normal. I was there with people and not playing the big guns and kicking all over the place."

Q: "How did that six-minute monologue about your life and career come about?"
A: "I said to Mabrouk, 'What about doing some sort of confession, talking to the public the way I see Hollywood, the way I see me 20, 10, two years ago, and also to tell people I made it because I did believe and I dreamed that dream I believe'."

Q: "You say in the monologue that you haven't really achieved anything worthwhile in your life. Do really believe that?"
A: "I was dreaming about being that so-called movie star. I saw Lawrence of Arabia when I was so young with my father, and those movies like Ben-Hur, and I was dreaming always about the big cinema. When I did Bloodsport people said, 'Wow, the guy's amazing,' but what people should know is I started training when I was 11, so without knowing, I did rehearse so many years. From there I became that sensation overnight and I didn't find nothing special. It was as empty as I was back in Belgium, full of life but still empty of feeling something I would be happy with. Then at the end of my career when I met one or two directors, Ringo Lam, he would teach me how to be real, which is when you go into a movie, it's not to go into a movie, it's to go into a situation you believe is real. And now it's like a different feeling for me to make movies. It's not empty any more."

Q: "Your character in JCVD is 47 years old, and he says he's getting too old for action movies. But you're still making them, aren't you?"
A: "I just finished shooting a movie I directed called Full Love and it's plenty of good action but it's kind of different from what I've done before. I'm going to use the film to show something visually to the audience that is going to be very controversial. Like I said in that chair, I've done some good deeds but not big enough to die happy in a way. So in the movie I'm risking something because I've got a career and JCVD is putting me back in a good place, but I've got to do this movie."

Q: "I understand you're still in Bangkok because you have a sick dog?"
A: "I adopted seven dogs in Thailand, I love animals, and one dog had a stroke. So immediately I left for the clinic and took him to another clinic, the emergency clinic, he was in a coma. And he came back alive. And believe it or not, this is the dog I chose for my movie. And when I came to choose that dog in the kennel I saw other dogs and I adopted them because one was handicapped with three paws and another dog his body was lifeless, with his two front paws and the back is just dragging, so we bought him a wheelchair. I love animals. I love dogs. I'm crazy about them. I like to walk in the morning on the beach in Belgium, we have those very wide, beautiful, hard-sand beaches, and I walk with my dogs for hours in the morning and nobody's there, it's like infinity-looking. And I don't talk. I talk to people, I talk to you, but I don't talk. That's a special moment because I'm like them, I'm not using my voice to talk. I'm just using my mouth to breathe and my nose to smell and feeling even more part of their clan."

Q: "Thank you very much for your time."
A: "Are you kidding or what? Thank you for your time."

Jean-Claude Van Damme

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