"He makes sense when he talks. He doesn't talk with complicated words, he's direct. You look into his eyes, they are good. He will never try to hurt you or take advantage of you. He's too busy and too rich, he has his own focus, his own mission. He's not looking at how your arms are so big and the way you dress. He's above all that. I like him a lot."
Jean-Claude Van Damme on Arnold Schwarzenegger
When Jean-Claude Van Damme's movie career first started picking up steam, he was immediately compared to the established Austrian Oak. It was easy to see why of course as Arnold was king of the action film along with Sylvester Stallone. But with a European heritage and background in bodybuilding, surface comparisons were easy to make between The Muscles From Brussels and The Schwarz. I'm not sure if the two interacted much on the 1986 Mexico set of Predator when JCVD was playing the original creature before dropping out. Jesse Ventura gives Van Damme a shout out in one of his books, saying he was impressed with the young martial artist and thought he had a promising career ahead. After JC left Predator and the suit was redesigned, the two would meet again on the set of Red Heat where Van Damme was unknowingly sitting in star Schwarzenegger's chair. Cut to the Hoover Dam location of Universal Soldier in 1991 where by now Van Damme was a million dollar leading man opposite Dolph Lundgren in his first big budget studio effort and Arnie showed up with former bodybuilding champion/best friend Franco Columbu to wish co-star Ralf Moeller a happy birthday. Apple juice and cigars flowing, the duo continued to build their rapport and when producers of Arnold's big budget summer release The Last Action Hero were looking for stars to cameo, Jean-Claude Van Damme answered the call and received a quick, speaking part while Chevy Chase, Damon Wayons, Sharon Stone and Robert Patrick among others were silently seen.
While the two stars might share vague similarities in the sense they're both European white guys who lift weights and do action movies, the likenesses more or less stop there. Van Damme was always flattered to receive the comparison but knew he was his own man with his own plan. Besides, it's better to be compared to a king than a pauper, right? Whereas Arnold broke into the mainstream with his mix of hyper masculine physique, looming presence and boisterous sense of humor, Van Damme always played it a bit quieter and a bit more sensitive. Arnold's first signature roles showcased him as unstoppable barbarians and cybernetic killing machines in Conan and The Terminator while Van Damme burst into the scene playing a mentor honoring karate fighter and revenge seeking kickboxer in Bloodsport and well, Kickboxer. As Arnold was usually meting out violence with a sword or sub-machine gun in hand, JCVD was busy kicking people in the face and doing the splits. Whereas Arnold had a square, muscular jaw and a physique that was difficult to hide, Van Damme's smaller stature and baby face made him less menacing and more apt to aspire to be a romantic, dramatic and comedic leading man. As Van Damme's profile grew, his films became more action oriented than martial arts driven and put him into the same cinematic turf as Arnold and Sly. While we never saw Van Damme mow down a field of baddies with a machine gun or win a war, hybrid action/martial arts flicks like Timecop, Hard Target and the pure action, Die Hard style Sudden Death attempted to bring him into the full mainstream to unfortunate diminishing results. As the era of the 80's and 90's action movie came to a close, Arnold was the last man standing who never went Direct to Video and after a few under performers, left the business on a high note with Terminator 3's $433 million dollar worldwide gross.
Today, Arnold's return to film has produced solid flicks like The Last Stand, The Tomb and Sabotage but he's only struck box office gold in small cameos in The Expendables franchise. Since his last starring role wide release in 1999's Universal Soldier: The Return, Van Damme has kept his filmic output to a minimum compared to DTV factory Steven Seagal and for the most part has challenged himself as an actor in dark and serious efforts like In Hell, Wake of Death and Until Death before playing himself in 2008's meta-mockumentary breakthrough JCVD which earned the Belgian his highest praise to date. Subsequent branching out included a voiceover role in Kung Fu Panda 2, a return to the big screen as the villain in The Expendables 2, playing dumb in ensemble comedy Welcome to the Jungle and finishing up his directorial effort Full Love/Soldiers/The Eagle Path.
I like Conan: