The Expendables: Why Jean-Claude Van Damme Passed (But Accepted The Sequel)
Here’s why Jean-Claude Van Damme turned down a role in The Expendables 2 after being offered one by Sylvester Stallone. In the early 2000s, Stallone had a streak of box office flops, including the remake of Get Carter in 2000. With 2006’s Rocky Balboa and 2008’s Rambo, he was able to resurrect his career by reintroducing two of his most beloved characters. Following the popularity of those two films, Stallone created The Expendables, in which his mercenary Barney commands a motley crew of warriors.
The Expendables’ main selling point was that movie starred Jet Li, Jason Statham, and Dolph Lundgren alongside Stallone (who also directed the film). The Expendables was also advertised as a return to a more practical, R-rated era in which the cast’s careers were determined. The Sylvester Stallone film was a success, and sequels were released in 2012 and 2014. Although none of the films earned very positive reviews, with even action aficionados expressing disappointment – particularly with the PG-13 Expendables 3 – they did have their moments of fun, and a fourth instalment is set to hit theatres in 2022.
It seemed a foregone conclusion that Jean-Claude Van Damme would be invited to The Expendables, given the series’ objective of bringing together some of the world’s finest action actors. The action star was cast as Jean Vilian, a terrorist leader who is still the first opponent in the series to murder one of the titular mercenaries, in The Expendables 2.
Despite having less screen time than the other important characters, Van Damme steals the show. Jean-Claude Van Damme, who was famously sacked from Predator in 1987, turned down a role in The Expendables when Stallone offered him one in 2009 because the director was unable to tell Van Damme what the tale would be about.
In a 2009 interview with Total Film, Jean-Claude Van Damme said he turned down The Expendables despite being offered a part by Stallone, who was promoting action over plot. Van Damme reminisced of a time when “‘You’re going to make a lot of money,’ he predicted. That is not what I want to hear; I want to know what my character was like.
” During this time, Van Damme had gained critical acclaim for his portrayal in the drama JVCD and was searching for more character-driven roles. He had also recently completed directing his own action drama, Full Love. Van Damme declined when Stallone approached him with a half-formed pitch and no clear vision for his character.
If Jean-Claude Van Damme had accepted The Expendables, he would have portrayed Gunnar Jensen; instead, his Universal Soldier co-star Dolph Lundgren (Castle Falls) would have played the part. According to the Sunday Times (via AceShowbiz), Stallone offered a another perspective on Jean-Claude Van Damme’s decision to leave The Expendables “I wanted to pit Jean-Claude against Jet Li, but he refused because he didn’t want to lose. That didn’t sit well with him.” During a 2019 interview with THR, Van Damme would later refute that claim.
Despite the fact that Jean-Claude Van Damme turned down The Expendables, he was claimed to have regretted his decision after the film’s popularity. That’s why, in addition to the chance to work alongside fellow action heroes Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis, he quickly signed on to play the villain in The Expendables 2.
In The Expendables 2, his adversary was brutally killed, but Van Damme has a ludicrous idea for a future Expendables film in which he would portray Claude Vilain, Jean’s twin brother.
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