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Jean-Claude Van Damme on Why He Loves ‘John Wick’ and Playing Himself on ‘Jean-Claude Van Johnson’

In a series of interviews, the legendary action star talks about his new Amazon show, choreographing his own fight scenes, and struggling with splits.

Jean-Claude Van Damme
Foc Kan/WireImage

Jean-Claude Van Damme is making a comeback.

The legendary movie star has rebooted his action career with the Amazon action/comedy series Jean-Claude Van Johnson, and, in 2018, he’ll star in the badass-looking CIA thriller Black Water alongside pal Dolph Lundgren. Van Damme will also return to his kickboxing roots with an appearance in Kickboxer: Retaliation, which also stars Mike Tyson, Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson, aka "The Mountain" from Game of Thrones, and Christopher Lambert in supporting roles.

In Jean-Claude Van Johnson, Van Damme plays a fictionalized version of himself who works as a private undercover agent after retiring from the movie business. Between missions, Van Damme tries to work out the time-bending logic of his film Timecop, tries and fails to do splits, and gets into a confrontation with a person named Filip, who, mysteriously, looks just like Van Damme (Van Damme the actor also plays Filip).

This isn’t the first time Van Damme has made fun of his persona and career. In 2008's JCVD, he played another fictionalized version of himself, starring as an out-of-work actor who gets caught in the middle of a criminal heist at a post office.

In the midst of his press tour for Jean-Claude Van Johnson, Van Damme spoke with Vulture about his film career, how he trains, the funny moments of Van Johnson, and what he thinks of the John Wick franchise fight style.

Here are some of the best highlights from the interview:

On choreographing some of the fights himself on Jean-Claude Van Johnson: “The old-fashioned way. You get those guys, they’re very good-looking, big muscles, but they can not project a belief into one punch or one kick. In my school, Shotokan way, you have to be ready to go 'Pop! Pop!' and that’s it.”

On the fight style of the John Wick franchise: “They have big tools to play with, acrobatic, big money. But just two guys, if it’s well-choreographed with pushing and dialogue—‘Are you gonna kick my ass?’ ‘Oh yeah, you’re gonna kick my ass’—and then we have a fight, it doesn’t need a big crane. Two or three close-ups to where it hurts [punches palm of hand] Ooooaaaah! It can be expensive in terms of emotion. When you see those mafia movies, they bring so much danger to the scene and the eyes. We’re scared more of that presence than the actual action. To build something and explode. 'Cause all those guys, John Wick, I love it—pah, pah, shing, shang, whoop!—but it doesn’t go like this in real life.”

On playing multiple versions of himself: “When I play this—you come home, you’re dead tired. You have no time to know which one you play. I mean, you know which one you play, but you don’t know which one you love. I love all of them. I love the blond one, I love Filip, and I love Van Damme, JCVD, JCVJ, JCVV—that’s the real him, but it’s all good.”

Jean-Claude Van Johnson is now streaming on Amazon.

Black Water will be released on Feb. 18, 2018.

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