Shed a tear if you're feeling charitable for Jean-Claude Van Damme. Sure, the one-time nearly A-list action star (perhaps my odd admiration for "Timecop" and "Hard Target" is showing here?) admits he's made a fortune in the last decade thanks to straight-to-DVD movies with titles like "Wake of Death" and "Until Death," but he's not very proud of any of it.
When MTV caught up with Van Damme to discuss his latest flick, "The Shepherd: Border Patrol," he was in an introspective mood, admitting he's only ever made a couple of decent films and wondering if a career resurrection is in the cards at the ancient action-star age of 47.
MTV: So where in the world is Jean-Claude Van Damme today?
Jean-Claude Van Damme: I'm a big traveler these days. I was in Hong Kong. I live there. I was just in Belgium with my parents and now I'm on my way to North America. You will find me all over.
MTV: Do Mom and Dad call you "the muscles from Brussels"?
Van Damme: [Long pause.] Don't make fun of me. My mother calls me Siska; it's Belgian slang for something you want to kiss. Sometimes my father calls me Jean-Claude, and I hate it. I want him to call me Siska like when I was 16 years old. I want to be that kid.
MTV: Tell me about this new film of yours, "The Shepherd: Border Patrol."
Van Damme: It's a simple, not too complicated story. I play a former detective from New Orleans. I take a job with the U.S. border patrol and I'm working undercover and I find out the new drug lords are controlled by ex-Navy Seals. It's full of action. I was in very good shape for the movie and used new fighting techniques. It's a Van-Dammage-type of action movie.
MTV: How do you keep action movies interesting for you at this point?
Van Damme: By challenging myself. My body looks like 30 but my face looks like 50. But I cannot walk bare-chested in the streets. I like to do these movies to challenge myself physically. I just finished a movie called "J.C.V.D." We're going to premiere it in Cannes. It's an acting type of film, a dramatic part. It's funny. It's got everything.
MTV: I can guess what J.C.V.D. stands for. Tell me about it.
Van Damme: It was well-written by Mabrouk El Mechri. They call him "the new Besson." [Ed. note: Writer/director Luc Besson's films include "The Professional," "The Fifth Element" and "La Femme Nikita."] He wrote a script about a guy who was arrested too many times in the U.S. Being drunk, my [character's] life was from success to failure. And this guy is now leaving the States to refresh himself, to go back to Brussels to see his parents. He's got no money and he's looking for any type of movie to pay his lawyers for child custody. And then he shows up in a post office where a heist is happening, and people think I'm part of it. And then it becomes very "Dog Day Afternoon." I think it's the best film I've done in my career. I didn't take any salary for it. I've got to respect my fanbase, the people who made me famous, but I'm trying to bring them something different. With me playing me, it was a very shocking experience. When I saw the movie a couple of weeks ago, I wasn't able to function for a few days. After 37 movies, I said, "I will never do another movie I would not like." What Mabrouk did to me, it's like Scorsese did to De Niro years ago. It's a very different picture for Jean-Claude Van Damme.
MTV: You sound re-energized.
Van Damme: Yes, and my next movie will be called "Full Love." I know it's not a Van Damme title, but it's a strong story. It's going to be completely financed by me, and I'm going to direct it. By financing your own movie you have a better chance to go theatrical. This is the only way I can come back.
MTV: There were reports that Brett Ratner wanted you for "Rush Hour 3." Was that true?
Van Damme: Yeah, I was approached. But if I do an action movie today I cannot walk through the streets and do karate moves. I would not believe it anymore. It's hard for me to say that. I cannot go and do three somersaults. I would feel like a monkey. So "Rush Hour," even though I would have been well paid, would have been difficult for me to accept.
MTV: They're also making a new "Street Fighter" film. How does that make you feel?
Van Damme: In fact they called me for that movie, to do the sequel. Again, I would have been well paid but I didn't want to do it. I've made enough money. I don't want to make a movie and then come home and be unhappy about it. Life is short. I'm 47 years old. I've got 10 years to go where I can be the best I can be. I want those 10 years to be precious, not like before, cranking two or three movies a year. I've made a ton of movies in my life, but so what? It's time for me to do things I like so I will be happy, my wife will be happy, my friends will be happy. I just want to do something I'm proud of. It's time for me to change. I could sign with a company for 10 movies and I'm the king of video and so what?
MTV: Your one-time mentor, Chuck Norris, has been supporting Mike Huckabee. Are you endorsing anyone for president here?
Van Damme: My friend, I'm not so much into politics. But Chuck Norris is one of the nicest guys I've met in my life. Politics is all about money anyway. The thing about America though ... I came to America with a dream and I made it. The dream became reality. America is built for success. And those people can forgive.
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