Van Damme a parody of himself? No problem

Action hero Jean-Claude Van Damme balances comedy and tragedy in new TV show

The Muscles from Brussels is back, and this time it isn't serious.

Action star Jean-Claude Van Damme returned to the screen last Friday as the bungling star of a new Amazon Studios comedy TV series.

The Belgian, whose career went into a tailspin after Timecop made him a worldwide star in 1994, plays a comic version of himself in Jean-Claude Van Johnson.

Fiction and reality cross over in the show created and executive produced by Dave Callaham, the screenwriter of Godzilla and The Expendables. Van Damme sends up his own desperation to get back into the big time.

But he has a secret double life. Operating under the alias "Johnson", the martial arts expert comes out of retirement to hire himself out as the most easily recognisable undercover agent in the world.

For Van Damme, 57, most of whose recent work has gone straight to video, the "burlesque, clownesque" series produced by film-maker Ridley Scott's Scott Free Productions is "maybe a way to save my career".

"I wanted to do television for the last nine or 10 years," he said, but realised he was not "Brad Pitt, who can just raise his hand and he would have TV shows calling him".

Nor did Van Damme have any problems playing a parody of himself, saying: "It is difficult to make fun of yourself. But since I am a good actor, why not?"

He said the show walks a thin line between comedy and tragedy.

It is difficult to make fun of yourself. But since I am a good actor, why not? Jean-Claude Van Damme

"It is almost poignant. It takes a lot out of you."

He said he would not have done it without trusting the team behind the camera.

"Having Ridley Scott, Dave Callaham and Amazon all together is less of a risk than a movie like Pound Of Flesh," Van Damme added, referring to the 2015 action flick where he played a man who woke up one morning to find someone had stolen his kidney.


"The trust was there right away. You can see love in the eyes of a person. You can see if a person doesn't like you," said Van Damme.

Callaham, who grew up with Van Damme's films, said he was convinced the Belgian had hidden depths.

He said: "I have waited my whole life to write something for Jean-Claude.

"My mother is from China, so she raised me watching martial arts films... I felt very strongly from watching so many of his movies that he had a side to him that no one had fully taken advantage of." - AFP