|Dolph Lundgren, Jason Statham and Jean-Claude Van Damme at the 'The Expendables 2' premiere held at the Ritz Hotel in Madrid, Spain, August 8, 2012. (Sean Thorton/WENN.COM)
LOS ANGELES - Plenty of boisterous beefcake around here.
Jean-Claude Van Damme is acting out scenes for reporters unaware that his fly is undone. Dolph Lundgren claims all the actors stayed in caves and cages instead of hotels. Terry Crews jokes about Randy Couture's gun collection and Jason Statham sums it all up as follows: "You have to embrace the fact that this might never happen again."
Welcome to the world of Expendables 2.
While it's a rare treat to see so many action heroes, past and present, on the same screen at the same time, Expendables 2 is not relying on nostalgia.
The film is non-stop, explosive action, viewer reaction is overwhelmingly positive and the actors involved are happy to talk about their movie.
Expendables 2 gathers an army of action guys -- Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews, Randy Couture, Jet Li, Liam Hemsworth and one or two surprise guests -- to do battle with villains led by JCVD and Scott Adkins.
The plot goes like this: Track 'em, find 'em, kill 'em, leave 'em laughing.
Jason Statham, as one of the leaders of the good guys in Expendables 2, talks about the logistics of making the films.
"Putting that firm together is a task in itself," he says of the actors, "and then there's getting a script that can tie all those people into the same story at the same time, and also give a nudge and a wink to the great films they're all well known for."
A relative newcomer compared to his castmates, Statham, 44, is a former Olympic diver and self-described "barrow boy" who spent time as a young man hawking merchandise from a market stall in Norfolk.
Statham was working as a model when Guy Ritchie cast him (and childhood friend Vinnie Jones) in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels in 1998.
After the actor got to show off his karate and kickboxing talent in The Transporter in 2002, an action star was born.
Besides the Transporter series, Statham has starred in such films as The Italian Job, Cellular, The Bank Job, Death Race, Crank, The Mechanic, Killer Elite and Safe -- and, of course, Expendables and Expendables 2.
"I've grown up watching these guys," says Statham of his fellow Expendables actors. "They are cinema gods. For them -- Stallone, Bruce Willis, Arnold -- they coined the phrase action hero."
Statham says he remembers buying Muscle and Fitness Magazine as a kid and following Arnold Schwarzenegger's bodybuilding career.
"I've always followed his career as a bodybuilder as much as I have everything he's done, and whatever he turns his hand to, he become the best there is at that -- sportsman, athlete, government, movie star, spokesman. Whatever he does, he's gold at it."
He could never have foreseen one day working with these screen idols, says Statham.
"It would have been unrealistic to imagine that," he understates, laughing. "I was selling perfume and jewelry at the time. If I'd said I was going to be in a film with Sly and Arnold, they'd have said, 'You have to stop drinking.' "
Despite having turned down a role in the Expendables, Jean-Claude Van Damme gets to be the baddest villain of all in Expendables 2.
Bringing his odd mix of humour, intellect and convoluted English to the interview table, the Belgian actor, 51, is currently enjoying a renaissance in his career.
Van Damme's is a rags-to-riches to rags-to-riches story. The four-times-married action star struggled to find his footing in America before he finally got to act and to put his extensive martial arts training to use. He won acclaim for such films as Bloodsport, Cyborg, Double Impact, Universal Soldier and Timecop. Van Damme was a huge star by 1994, but various personal issues began to take a toll.
Before he was eventually diagnosed with bipolar disorder, the "Muscles from Brussels" was on a downward spiral of drug use and career failure. He never stopped working, mind you, and once he was back on the scene in good health a couple of unexpected hit movies helped refurbish his reputation. They were JCVD in 2008, a movie about Van Damme's life, warts 'n' all, and the animated Kung Fu Panda 2, in which he won a whole new fan base voicing Master Croc.
"Using my tail to kill!" he jokes of being Master Croc. "Yeee-aw!"
He seems very happy to be a part of Expendables 2. "It's fun to be bad," says Van Damme. The hard part is that he had to isolate himself from the rest of the cast. "And I love those guys, the Arnolds, the Bruce Willis, the Sly -- I was so happy! I knew them all from the big screen, I bought a ticket, I was chasing them, and now they're chasing me in this movie! It's like a dream!"
Van Damme says he'd so wanted to do a film with even one of them, "And here was the whole package! But I didn't talk to them. Much as I love them, I came on the set and stayed away from them to maintain that coldness. I had to create a distance between me and them. I was looking at them like they were nothing. Maybe they just thought I was an a--hole," he says, laughing. "But Sly understood right away."
He has yet to see Expendables 2, preferring to go to the premiere with his family.
"I want to see how the audience reacts, and, I know me, you know," he says, comically sinking lower and lower into his chair, pretending to hide. "I'll leave before the ending. I've done some boo boos in my life. I didn't forgive myself yet, because I come from sports, but I'm going slowly back up there."
Van Damme has a lot of respect for Sylvester Stallone and does a good impression of Stallone when he tells a story about wardrobe decisions. Actually, almost all the actors in the movie being interviewed do an impression of Stallone's deep, uninflected growl. The punchline of Van Damme's costume story is that Stallone's instincts were absolutely right.
"He knew why, when, what, he's really a guy who knows how to make movies. He gave me back some love for movies, like in the old time," says Van Damme.
"Because I lost some juice, going from the silver screen to DVD. I became kind of lazy, not wanting to make movies again, but because of Expendables 2, I'm happy again."
In Stallone, he continues, "I saw a guy past 60 who has got that drive, and it's fantastic. So a big thank you to him, to the cast and to the studio."