Van Dammage control
February 3, 2007
At a time when most action stars are trying to re-establish themselves in new roles,
Jean Claude Van Damme, aka the "Muscles From Brussels," believes the opposite. When you're on a good thing, stick to it, says the Belgian former karate champion and kickboxer who these days is as popular in Japan for a rumored liaison as for his action movies.
"It helps that I'm only 42. I started out in action films when I was much younger than others," said the quiet-spoken Van Damme during a recent visit to Tokyo to promote Replicant, in which his fans get a double dose of him. He plays a serial killer nicknamed the "Torch." In order to catch the Torch, the cops use his DNA sample to construct a killer clone programmed to obey the FBI's orders.
Van Damme says he enjoys making these kinds of movies and sees no reason to stop. "I've got plenty of time to think about it, so why should I change?" he asked with a shrug. He's certainly still in good shape to make action films. His daily diet consists of lots of vegetables, carbohydrates and fiber, no meat and fish once a week. He does weights and stretching for two-three hours a day in the gym and finishes off each session by sparring in slow and fast motion.
It's a regimen he has stuck to since childhood when he started learning ballet and karate at the urging of his father who was a flower salesman. Van Damme said he has been able to transcend the brute force of the martial arts genre by incorporating the elegance of ballet into his karate and kickboxing. He also fondly recalls the influence of his karate teacher who had a trained dog. Van Damme had to get into a padded outfit and was told to run. Then the dog was sicced on him. He learned to run fast and roll well.
He quickly found fame in Belgium as a karate champion and health club entrepreneur, but the young Van Damme decided he wanted to be an actor. So he went in search of a film career in Hong Kong, beginning a relationship with Hong Kong directors that continues to this day.
"Hong Kong action movies are really well made on a small budget," he said. "I've got a lot of faith in their directors. John Woo (who directed Van Damme on Hard Target) is really good at action sequences."
From Hong Kong, it was onto Hollywood. He was 18 and spoke only French and Flemish. While teaching himself English, Van Damme toiled away at a variety of jobs such as taxi driver, nightclub bouncer, pizza delivery boy and carpet layer. He got his break one night when he surprised big-shot producer Menahem Golan with an impromptu martial arts display outside a restaurant.
After making his U.S. film debut in the 1987 release Bloodsport, Van Damme was on his way with such movies as Cyborg, Kickboxer, Death Warrant, Double Impact, Universal Soldier, Nowhere to Run, Hard Target, Street Fighter, Sudden Death, Maximum Risk and Timecop.
Van Damme thinks he is growing more and more with each part. "In Replicant, I'm playing a psychologically bad character. It was a challenge for me to separate the bad and good in my mind, to change back and forth. People would see me going in and out of my trailer and think I had a twin brother."
Computer graphics are making life easier for action stars, Van Damme said. "CGI is more economical, too, because you don't have to destroy things anymore to make it look real." Despite his rigorous workout schedule, Jean Claude Van Damme admits he likes to take it easy in between movies. He usually starts getting in shape two months before a shoot begins. "Sometimes I wish I had a clone who I could send out to make movies for me."
He could also use a clone whenever he comes to Japan because the tabloids had a field day with him last summer when he was linked to a Japanese illusionist named Tenko Hikida. Although he is married, rumors swirled that they were an item and that she was going to make his wife vanish.
Asked about the rumors, Van Damme at first was lost for words. "In our business, lots of people are always making up stories. They are playing a game." Yes, but what about the rumors? "I have never had sex with that woman and I'm not going to marry her. If you ask me again, I'll give you the same answer," he answered firmly.
But to ease any fears of a kick to the head coming, he added in a good-natured tone: "It's OK. Don't feel bad about asking. That's life. What can I do about it? I'm just here for awhile."
"Replicant" opens in Japan on Feb 23.
Jean-Claude Van Damme