The universally positive response to JCVD has given Jean-Claude Van Damme a career boost. While fans have long championed the man and his movies, only now do the mainstream media seem willing to acknowledge his appeal. In this Black Belt exclusive, the comeback kid talks about his latest films and what he has planned for the future. Black Belt: Were you surprised by how well JCVD has been received? Jeane-Claude Van Damme: It’s been refreshing and inspiring to see [that] the film is getting such great feedback and that people have taken it to heart. (laughing) It’s funny as for a long time I didn’t think we would make the movie. The first time the project was discussed was after I’d been interviewed for a documentary a few years ago. The director had come up with an idea for a movie about me being caught up in the middle of something, but it never went any further. The project came up a few more times, and then I met this young guy named Mabrouk El Mechri, and he’d expressed his interest in doing such a project to show people a different Jean-Claude Van Damme. He told me that he thought I was a good actor and that he wanted to do something very different. Mabrouk is a very charismatic, very intelligent guy—he really sold me on the idea of the film, and then I didn’t hear from him for some time.
Learn more about the greatest martial arts movies of all time with our FREE guide—Our Bruce Lee Movies List: Little-Known Trivia From Bruce Lee's Pictures.I didn’t know that Mabrouk was going through a hard time. When I spoke to him again, I told him how disappointed I was that he’d made this big speech and sounded like a man of his word and then nothing had happened. He apologized and asked me to give him 15 days to put something together, a rough screenplay to show me. I said he should come and see me when he had something real to show me. It was maybe 10 days later [when] he traveled by train to Belgium and came to my house. He sat down in front of me like a little kid and proceeded to tell me the whole film, not just a rough outline but pretty much the entire film with all the dialogue, situations and characters. I knew then that Mabrouk was the right man for the job. I have never had such a positive experience making a movie. Every day when I came on the set, he would be happy and enthusiastic and welcoming. One day, I was having problems with a scene—something kept going wrong, and I was having to repeat the same things again and again—and I was getting frustrated. Mabrouk just came over and put his arm around me and told me not to worry, that we should stop shooting for the day and come back tomorrow. He wasn’t upset or worried. He felt that if we weren’t going to get it right, we shouldn’t be killing ourselves to keep doing it; we should step back and try again the next day. And we did. He was able to rework the schedule and shoot what was needed. His attitude helped me give the film everything I could. He was the writer and director, but it was a collaborative way of filmmaking. He’s a genuinely talented director. When I first saw the film, I was disturbed. It wasn’t exactly what I thought we’d been doing; I hadn’t realized how raw it was. I wasn’t sure how people were going to react to it. I wondered if the fans of my earlier films—who want to see me kick ass—might not accept me like this. But it struck a chord with a lot of people. The response has been very good, and I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback about my acting.