Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham and Dolph Lundgren are one half of an elite band of mercenaries in The Expendables. Along with Terry Crews, Randy Couture and Jet Li, the team must head to South America to stop David Zayas’ evil, David Bowie-loving dictator. It might seem odd, then, to see these deadly machines flanked by bodyguards as we attended the London press conference for the new release. Wimps. Sly wrote, directed and acted in the film, and was the undoubted star of the show. He was joined by the incredibly angry looking and deep-voiced Statham and the surprisingly quiet Lundgren.
To what extent does the level of expectation and excitement bring an extra responsibility and challenge to doing something special with The Expendables?
SS: It’s a lot of pressure. Sometimes you come to a film and you know you’ve got a major turkey and it’s not even Thanksgiving. It’s that bad. But this time it’s the other end of the spectrum where there is a great expectancy…and you start saying, “Is this going to live up to its expectations?” It’s kind of complex. You’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
JS: Well, it’s all on Sly I’m afraid.
SS: There we go. Right away just deflect on to Sly…
JS: No, I mean that’s why you choose to work with people that know what they’re doing.
SS: Well then you better go work with Christopher Nolan, pal. I’m just guessing my way through this.
DL: I’m afraid of saying anything. It’s like fighting in the world championships instead of the regional championships I guess. This movie is like the world class, the best of all time, and you just want to live up to it.
Sly, has your onscreen relationship with Dolph changed since Rocky IV?
SS: Well I’ve never trained as hard as I did for Rocky IV and Dolph’s scene was brutal. He’s a world class athlete so we got to know each other well. Then times change: we go through some ups and downs, marriages and things. So meeting this time is really a pleasure. Of all the actors I’ve worked with, he’s remained the most grounded and humble. So it has changed. Plus, I’m dying to kick his brains in because he really beat me up badly in that movie. I look at it now and I’m like: “What was I thinking? This guys a monster.” I remember saying, “Dolph, I saw this amazing fight. I want you to try and knock me out.” He put me in the hospital for four days. So you don’t think I have a grudge? That’s why I shot him [in the film].
How did you balance the testosterone on set?
SS: You don’t. The guys are very aggressive […] and [they] keep building in competitiveness. That’s why you have such a physical, testosterone movie, because men are just naturally competitive and they want to keep upping the ante.
Are there any stunts you won’t do or are afraid of?
JS: I won’t wear a flowery shirt.
SS to DL: What are you afraid of?
DL: Saying too much at the press conference.
SS: He’s afraid of being short.
The Expendables has an incredible cast, how did you assembly it and was there anyone you wanted to cast who declined?
SS: It started off with just me, Jason and Jet Li and I began to build it from there. One time I was thinking about Ben Kingsley as the bad guy, and Forest Whitaker. But then I decided to go really old school. So I called Dolph and he accepted immediately […] and I went to MMA and got a five time world champion [Randy Couture] who is literally ferocious, and also Steve Austin who is an incredibly powerful human being. Then I called Jean-Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal, but they just had different ideas on their career…
Do you feel the need to justify the violence in your films?
SS: I believe the violence is very justifiable. I only kill people that need to be killed. Let me put it this way: the ones who deserve it, get it and they get it good. The ones who go after women really get it. I’m not going to have a wife-beater just shot with a bullet: it’s too civilised. He’s gonna feel real pain. I don’t feel guilty about it at all.
Would it be fair to say the female characters’ roles as ‘victims’ are prehistoric?
SS: No. Maybe we are though. We were like head waiters at the Last Supper. We had a dinosaur as a house pet. We’re old. Or at least, I am. But that girl [Giselle Itié] was tough. She got waterboarded for real. She did her own stunts. She was right there with all the guys.
Jason, what was it like reuniting with Jet Li again?
JS: Actually, all the movies I’ve done with Jet, apart from this one, have been no good. But it’s coincidental that we were doing this film together. It’s not like we beat Sly up and held him down and said, “We want to do another film together.”
Sly, are we going to see more action films like The Expendables from you, rather than more dramatic movies?
SS: I think I’m past my prime in doing ‘dramatic’ films. It becomes almost a pathetic cry out to be recognised as a serious dramatic actor. I did my little moment. I’m very proud of the drama in Rocky Balboa, but that’s about as a deep as I can go. I would much rather just direct dramas. But I’d like to go on with The Expendables. I would cut Dolph though.
DL: It’s because I talk too much. As you’ve noticed.
SS: You’re too tall to work with.
Dolph, are you thinking about giving up acting and directing?
DL: No. I think both are cool. They’re different. One is easier than the other. Front of the camera is easier and behind is more challenging. It’s fun to do both.
SS: You know, contrary to the way he looks, he’s really smart. He’s this beautiful guy, 6ft 5ins. Viking. 29ins waist. I’m like, ‘He’s got to be a moron,’ and then I find out he’s an MIT graduate, he’s done chemical engineering, he’s a full scholar. I’m like, ‘Are you serious? Him?’ Can you imagine him in a lab with test tubes going, ‘Yes. I will cure this rat of something’? It’s amazing, look at the transformation. It’s unbelievable. From scientist to savage.”
How did you afford the cast? Do you think it could have happened back in the 80s/90s? Did you call in favours?
I did. I could never afford Bruce [Willis] and Arnold [Schwarzenegger], they would cost the entire budget of the movie. Jason is a lot of money, but well worth it. Seriously, £100 a week. Unbelievable value. It would have been totally impossible [back in the 80s]. This was all favours. It was done really low budget. Some people worked for almost nothing…meaning me. But it never could have been done back then. I certainly couldn’t have got Bruce and Arnold. Not a chance. Never.