More than a decade ago, director John Hyams made a documentary about Mixed Martial Arts star Mark Kerr entitled The Smashing Machine. It was purchased by HBO and got wonderful reviews. A few years later, the material was re-written as a biopic, and Jean-Claude Van Damme was hired to play the lead. Then, just days before filming was to begin, the production was abruptly cancelled. At the time, the actor claimed he nixed the project because of creative differences, but if the dude who played Crixus on Spartacus is to be believed, that’s not what happened at all.
Back in 2007, Manu Bennett was a completely unknown actor taking auditions in an attempt to catch a big break. He met with producers of The Smashing Machine, and they hired him to play a lead character who battled steroid problems. Not wanting to let anyone down, he decide to jump in as aggressively and recklessly as possible. Bennett started working out twice a day with a former Mr. Australia and he began experimenting with the same banned substances his character did. In three months, he gained 44 pounds and arrived on set looking like a Greek God, much to the delight of producers and allegedly, much to the fury of Jean-Claude Van Damme.
Speaking to Men’s Journal, Manu Bennett claims Van Damme took one look at the pre-production photographs he’d taken and suddenly decided the movie was no longer a good idea. So, The Smashing Machine was cancelled.
"He'd seen a picture of me, and I was absolutely pumped, and he was not in the best shape of his life at that time. This fuck-up just thinks of himself. He looks at this photo of me and feels egotistically challenged."
A seasoned actor could have simply vaulted to a different project. Since that was Bennett’s big break, or at least supposed to be his big break, and he spent all of his money training, however, he had to take a job as a day laborer and deal with the after-effects of having experimented with all of the substances he took for the role. Calling the experience "horrible", he toiled away on a building site for eight months before he got a shocking phone call from the producers of Spartacus. They’d somehow come across the same picture that allegedly scared off Jean-Claude Van Damme, and they thought he would be perfect for the role of Crixus.
Through good old fashioned hard work and not shady supplements, Bennett was eventually able to gain back much of the weight he put on during that hectic three month preparation for The Smashing Machine, but to this day, he’s never been as jacked as he was on the day he took that picture. His anger toward Van Damme, however, has never subsided. It probably won’t ever either, but luckily, he’s still been able to move on in some particularly exciting ways.