LOS ANGELES -- Jean-Claude Van Damme is happy to be back making movies.
The 51-year-old Belgium native was one of the biggest action stars of the late 1980s and 1990s with the movies "Universal Soldier," "Time Cop" and "Cyborg." His athletic abilities earned him the nickname "muscles from Brussels."
Then work dropped off dramatically. Van Damme says he has no one to blame but himself.
"I lost the juice because of going from the silver screen to DVD. I became kind of lazy and didn't want to make movies anymore," Van Damme says. "Because of 'Expendables 2,' I'm happy again. Even if it doesn't go anywhere, I've done my job. I saw a guy who is past 60 (Sylvester Stallone) who still has that drive, and it's fantastic."
Van Damme is so enthusiastic about being part of the big action film, he often leaps from his chair to act out his point. While explaining how they came up for the right look for his character, he peers around a wall to show how he and Stallone secretly observed security guards on the movie set to get the costuming inspiration for his character.
In his heyday, Van Damme was chiefly cast as the hero. In this movie, he's the villain.
"You first have to decide what kind of villain you want to play," Van Damme says. "I asked Sly what kind of villain am I -- an extravagant style villain or more serious, deep villain.
"Sly told me that my character has a code of honor like the heroes, but he just loves money."
Returning to work was not the only joy Van Damme got from being in "Expendables 2." Getting to star in a film with Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis and Stallone surpassed any dreams he had when he would watch them on the screen while growing up in Belgium.
Van Damme always hoped to make a film with just one of the action stars. He says being in the film with all three was an amazing opportunity.
There was only one problem.
"I didn't talk to them. As much as I love them, I came on the set and I stayed away from them to have that coldness," Van Damme says. "They thought maybe I was an (expletive deleted). Sly understood right away, but the other guys, they looked at me funny."
At this point in his career, Van Damme is interested in doing comedy films like the upcoming "Welcome to the Jungle." He likes that in a comedy, the dumber and stupider the performance, the funnier it gets.
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355 or firstname.lastname@example.org.