While action icons like Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger have recently gone a bit darker in their quests for more somber and pensive roles, Jean-Claude Van Damme has taken a different (and more comedic) route. That path will culminate in this month's release of Amazon's Jean-Claude Van Johnson, in which JCVD plays a bumbling assassin version of himself. I sat down with the folks behind Van Johnson during the show's recent press junket to ask them about the decision to bring Van Damme on-board, and they explained that the Belgian action star conveys the heart and humility that makes him ideal for the show. Series creator Dave Callaham explained:
Well, I grew up loving Jean-Claude Van Damme, so he was the only person I was ever interested in telling this story about, but in addition to my own personal preference for him, and I know Peter has a specific interest in what Jean-Claude brought to the table. Jean-Claude is very unique in that he brings a certain degree of heart, but also a certain degree of humility that a lot of action stars, almost every action star from the era, isn't able to do. So, knowing that I wanted to do a comedy that was going to be meta and was going to require him to make fun of himself, I just wouldn't imagine anyone being able to accomplish what he would've accomplished with the role.
Jean-Claude Van Damme has kicked plenty of ass over the years, but the transition into the latter portion of his career has been quite distinct when compared to the other types of actors who would appear in an Expendables movie. The master of the splits has a unique ability to lampoon himself in a way that's ideally-suited for Jean-Claude Van Johnson's particular brand of storytelling, thus making him a clear choice to headline the new Amazon series.
Director Peter Atencio similarly chimed in during our discussion and explained that the heroes Jean-Claude Van Damme typically played in his films like Hard Target and Timecop were a bit more sensitive and pacifistic than his action contemporaries. That allowed them to craft Jean-Claude Van Johnson into a meta-comedy series that could also maintain a sense of heart and compassion for its buffoonish main character. Addressing this balance, Atencio said:
For me, growing up, that was what I loved about JC's movies, was all of the other action stars it was all about bravado. Being macho. Shooting people. Being the most jacked. For JC, there as always this more sensitive emotionally, vulnerable side. He always played guys who, they would rather not be in there kicking ass. They just got pushed to that point and now they have to. That sensitivity and that vulnerability was always really attractive to me. Seeing it represented on the page, that dictates the tone. There are funny moments. There are sad moments. It's like life. He said earlier today. Life's funny. Sometimes it's sad, and knowing how to keep the balance is just instinct.
When you put all of that together, you're left with a wholly unique action star who can do self-deprecating comedy and raw drama better than most. Couple that with the ability to deliver swift roundhouse kicks, and you seem to get a one-of-a-kind premise like Jean-Claude Van Johnson.
Jean-Claude Van Damme will don his hilarious and deadly alter ego when Jean-Claude Van Johnson hits Amazon Prime on December 15. Elsewhere in the small screen world, you can check out our fall premiere guide and our midseason premiere guide to get more information on the shows debuting over the next few months and listen to the most recent episode of The Cord Cutter Podcast to hear what we have to say about the world of streaming content!