Watching these three sharp-dressed men walk into the room, it's hard not to be overcome with their iconic presence. Sylvester Stallone looks great for 64, impeccable in what is clearly a custom-made suit. His old Rocky IV nemesis Dolph Lundgren towers over him at 6'5" and has that annoyingly ageless Scandinavian face, as his whole body expresses a boyish charm. And Jason Statham looks rock-solid, amused to be here alongside his predecessors in the action movie business.
There's a relaxed camaraderie between them is infectious, as they swap insults and private jokes. They're all sharp and very funny, and Statham and Lundgren defer to Stallone, who plays with his voice, putting on that meathead attitude for perfect effect. So it seems a bit strange that The Expendables is so deadly serious, because the amazing line-up of actors could have had a lot more fun with it...
The cast for this film is so extraordinary that people applaud the names as they appear in the credits.
Stallone: Well, that's commonplace around my house. Every morning I wake up, someone's applauding! No, it's a lot of pressure because sometimes you come to a film and you know you've got a major turkey and it's not even Thanksgiving. It's bad. This is the other end of it, where there's a great expectancy.
Statham: Well, it's all on Sly, I'm afraid. That's why you choose to work with people that know what they are doing. A lot of the time we don't get such a luxury in that choice.
Stallone: Yeah you better go with Christopher Nolan. I'm just guessing my way through.
Lundgren: I'm not saying anything! Well OK, I guess you have world championships and regional championships in sports, and this movie is like world-class, the best of all time. And you just feel like you want to live up to it.
How did you bring the cast together?
There arent a lot of bad-asses out there anymore
Stallone: At first it was just myself, Jason and Jet Li, and then it began to build after that. I just decided to go old-school, so I called Dolph and he accepted immediately. And I started to realise that there aren't a lot of bad-asses out there anymore — guys that just want to get it on. Now I believe the younger generation is there, guys who love to show their mettle. All young men want to prove themselves &emdash; it's just part of it. But when you get old you still want to prove yourself — it's just in the blood. So that's why I went to wrestling and got the five-times world champion who's at the top of his game; Steve Austin is an incredibly powerful human being. And I just kept building from there. I talked to Jean Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal, and they both had different ideas on their career!
Did the testosterone levels on set ever get too much?
Stallone: Well, guys are very aggressive. For example, I'd get Jason to do an action beat, and he's very physical. His hands were in ice, and he's leaping onto baked ground over and over. He keeps wanting to do it, and I'm saying, "Stop!" Well, then the next fellow who has to do his stunts goes, "You know, Jason's awful good. I'm gonna kill this guy." And so it keeps building the competitiveness. And that's why you have such a physical, testosterone-fuelled movie, because men are just naturally competitive and they want to keep upping the ante.
How have films changed over the years?
Stallone: There is a lot at stake today, where you went from 400 films a year, now down to 250, maybe 150. Then when you get down to studios, maybe even less. So the stakes are very, very high, and there's a science on what they make. So there is no more, "Oh I've got a gut feeling. I'm going to take a chance — I know everyone says no, but I'm going to try anyway." That's gone. So, it's all scientific. Every actor is weighed against what he's going to bring in for the territory. It's like a math project. It really is.
Are the physical demands of an action film harder now than 25 years ago?
Stallone: I've never trained harder than I did for Rocky IV. Dolph was a world-class athlete, so we got to know each other pretty well. Then times change, we go through ups and downs, marriages, and then meeting again at this time it's really a pleasure, because of all the actors I've worked with he's remained the most grounded and humbled. So yes, it has changed, plus I'm dying to kick his brains in because he really beat me up badly in Rocky IV. I mean, I look at him now and I go, "What was I thinking? This guy's a monster!" And back then, in the first scene, he put me in the hospital in the first 30 seconds, so you don't think I had a grudge? And it's still not over.
Lundgren: But you made me do it!
You could argue there's something prehistoric about this film.
I wont wear a flowery shirt!
Stallone:Yeah, definitely! Are you kidding? We were like headwaiters at the Last Supper. Yes, we had a dinosaur as a house pet. We're old! Well, I am.
As you get older are you tempted to use your mind more than your body?
Stallone: I don't know. I've done my "mind movies" and probably I don't think people are really that interested in seeing me do that anymore — I think I'm past my prime doing dramatic films. I think it becomes maybe a pathetic cry to be recognised as a serious dramaturge. Come on! I did have my moment. I'm very proud of the drama in Rocky Balboa — it's about as deep as I can go — and Copland. But I would much rather just direct dramas. And The Expendables, I'd like it to go on. I like everyone except Dolph.
Lundgren: I talk too much.
Some of the stunts are crazy. Is there anything you're scared of?
Statham: I won't wear a flowery shirt! No, it's all par for the course. But the good thing about the way movies get made when Sly's in control is that he shoots a lot of the stunts in the camera. A lot of the action directors today tend to see the movie as a visual, so it becomes boring because it's a lot of CG. So when you are doing an action movie that requires real men doing real action, it's an opportunity to do that — and that's all we're looking for. We can't wait to get stuck in and do that kind of stuff.
Stallone: Yeah. Dolph, what are you afraid of?
Lundgren: Saying too much at a press conference.
Jason, what was it like acting with a hero like Sly, who you grew up watching?
Statham: Well, he's a bit of a bully, actually. He carries a big stick around and starts, you know, ordering tea and coffee. It's not as comfortable as you think.
Stallone: I'm a pain in the ass.
Statham: It's a situation that you get to know the real man behind the camera. It's not the filmmaker anymore; it's a regular guy. To me that the best part about working with Sly was getting to know him as a person. There is no substitute for that. We've seen all of his movies for years. We are very familiar with everything he's done, and that's why we get excited when we get to do films like this, you know?
Stallone: Yeah, it's nice knowing I could be his father. It's very comforting.
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