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The Tao of Jean-Claude Van Damme

"The Muscles from Brussels" opens up about his new Amazon series, his feud with a "Power Rangers" actor and the key to becoming a martial arts icon.
Jean-Claude Van Damme
Jean-Claude Van Damme stars in Amazon's new series "Jean-Claude Van Johnson." Photo by Amazon Prime Video

Jean-Claude Van Damme has been kicking butts and taking names on the big screen for decades. Now fans will get to see another side of the star when his show "Jean-Claude Van Johnson" premieres on Amazon.

Dipping his toes into the comedy waters, Van Damme plays a past his prime, fictionalized version of himself in the new series, which debuts Dec. 15. But "The Muscles from Brussels" doesn't just take on the role of an aging actor looking for a comeback, as his character is also an undercover spy who gets into all kinds of trouble, to the chagrin of his handler and ex-lover Vanessa (Kat Foster).

Van Damme tells Metro that he had a lot of fun showing off his comedic chops—along with his high-flying kicks—in "Jean-Claude Van Johnson."

"I think people will be surprised when they see that," he says. "I really did it over the top. It was the only way to show that I can do something in that area."

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Despite his ups and downs, the 57-year-old actor has remained a beloved icon among action movie fans over the years. He credits his longevity in the business to his charisma, something he believes only a handful of martial arts stars have.

In particular, he doesn't think Chuck Norris has that same X factor as Bruce Lee or even an "out of shape" Steven Seagal.

"Charisma, bro. It’s true," says Van Damme. "I love Chuck, but Chuck didn’t have what Bruce and I have. It’s like that click. The click is happening for us." 

"And it’s real," he adds. "Our moves are real and we believe what we’re doing so you can project that energy."

Van Damme began his martial arts journey as a kid, frequently going toe-to-toe with sparring partners who were much older and stronger than he was. As a comic book fan, Van Damme was inspired by his favorite heroes to step up his game and hone his physique so he could compete with the big boys.

"They were tough kids and I was scared as s—t," Van Damme says. "I started lifting weights to have a good body. Of course, I fell in love with those comic books. By looking at their bodies, like Spider-Man and Silver Surfer, you see their body shape, so you start to imitate their bodies."

Before diving into the world of movies, Van Damme participated in full-contact karate and kickboxing matches back in the day, earning a slew of knockouts and championships. Van Damme briefly toyed with the idea of returning to the ring against Olympic boxing gold medalist and Muay Thai legend Somluck Kamsing during filming for his short-lived, 2011 reality series "Jean-Claude Van Damme: Behind Closed Doors."

These days, Van Damme tries to keep his kicks in the gym, occassionally training with mixed martial artists like UFC champion Georges St-Pierre. He nearly unleashed his fists of fury, though, during an appearance at a Comic Con event in Mexico last month.

Van Damme almost came to blows with "Power Rangers" actor and occasional MMA fighter Jason David Frank, who previously challenged the "Bloodsport" star to a fight in 2010. Frank claims Van Damme initiated the altercation, but the Belgian actor disputes his account of the situation.

"All he’s saying is bulls—t," Van Damme says. "All he’s saying doesn’t exist. This guy, I just say hello to him in Mexico. He came at me, I say hello and that's it."

At his age, Van Damme would rather watch MMA fights on TV than throwdown in a cage—or backstage at a convention. However, he admits that dealing with agents and everything that comes with Hollywood can be just as dangerous as a street fight, or even the spy vs. spy moments in "Jean-Claude Van Johnson."

"It can be very dangerous," Van Damme says. "Where you have lots of money, it’s always dangerous."

"Jean-Claude Van Johnson" premieres Dec. 15 on Amazon.

 
 
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