As the star of some 30-plus martial arts films, Jean-Claude Van Damme has earned a place among the most kickass action heroes of the last 20 years, splitting and punching his way to many millions at the worldwide box office. But it wasn't until recently that the 47-year-old Belgian actor finally found something worth fighting for: respect.
"I'm a brand name. I'm not just a guy. [Now] I think I'm ready to be decent," Van Damme told MTV News at the Cannes Film Festival in France. "I'm hungry to make movies, but movies with deeper characters. I want respect. I want to believe in myself."
The long road from "Universal Soldier" to universally sought-after begins in earnest for Van Damme with "J.C.V.D.," a semiautobiographical story about a washed-up character who returns to Belgium, where he faces a myriad of personal problems. Van Damme playing what essentially amounts to Van Damme is more "Being John Malkovich" than it is "Rambo"
or "Rocky Balboa," but it's nevertheless a movie he's been preparing for his whole life, the actor insisted.
"Acting is not acting if you act. You have to tell the truth, and I learned that in my career only at the end of my 37th movie," the former "Muscles From Brussels" said. "In a way, I rehearsed for years [for this project]. I have been in the situations [in the film]. It was painful in a way because it's kind of disgusting to see the aftermath of everything. [But] it brought me to the truth."
The film, which Van Damme premiered at Cannes, is his first step in making better choices, he said, after a decade of movies that he admitted were less than stellar.
"It's hard to lie," Van Damme said. "I f---ed up [in the past] because of the fast life. Those movies [where] I'm making, like, 20 kicks and I'm getting punched 30 times with ketchup coming down — that was my entrance to the States. I didn't come with choices. [I want the] responsibility of making an OK movie — that way I have my way back to the States."
It's a philosophy that has given Van Damme a new outlook on his professional career, he said, a sunnier, more contented feeling about his future.
"To feel like a completely new person is very rich," he said. "But when you're strong about something and you love a scenario, which now I will be very precise when I choose them, you love the persona."
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