Belgian-born martial arts action star Jean-Claude Van Damme, aka The Muscles from Brussels, has done many wild things over the course of his career.
Hes battled men who can fly (in films like Street Fighter) and saved babies from tigers (in Double Team.) But his new Amazon show, Jean-Claude Van Johnson, is his most out-there venture yet.
The action-comedy series, premiering Dec. 15, is Van Dammes first major TV role. He plays a version of himself who comes out of retirement to film a bad Huckleberry Finn martial arts reboot which is just a cover for his real job: as an undercover private contractor code-named Jean-Claude Van Johnson. And, if thats not enough, he also plays more than one character, including a time-traveling lookalike and a foolhardy factory worker (think Double Impact). The challenge was to play a few characters in a truthful way, says Van Damme, 57. It took a lot of energy.
Van Damme says there are big differences between his real-life persona and the fictional version of himself in the show. In real life, Im a little more serious and I think a lot, he says. If he had his own show, it would likely be more like the nature series Planet Earth. I love nature and ecology and animals. Without nature, we would be unable to survive, he says. But of course its hard to tell people to care, so I think it has to be about knowledge. Its good to be informed Animals can bring people together; you never know about destiny.
In Jean-Claude Van Johnson, Van Damme isnt doing anything that hasnt been done before (Matt Le Blanc in Episodes, James Van Der Beek in ABCs Dont Trust the B). But Van Damme, who rose to fame kicking his way through martial arts action movies in the 80s and 90s, is perfectly suited to the concept, since it both overhauls and pays homage to his image and thats what hes counting on. People can have a different idea that Jean-Claude Van Damme is not only the guy who can only kick, he says.
Van Damme does share one surprising commonality with his on-screen persona: In the first episode of Jean-Claude Van Johnson, hes shown riding a Segway. He also uses a Segway-like device in his everyday life. I dont want to say the name, because Ill give you a free promotion, but I have one without a handle, he says. My house is one level, and from my office to my bedroom is a two-minute walk. A real two-minute walk is a long time, and Ive got a wood floor. [The device] is very convenient, because I always forget my portable phone or my training bags. So I go back and forth.
I dont think the [shows writers] knew about [how he gets around], he says. So those two came at the same time reality and ideas. Thats cool.
Jean-Claude Van Johnson Series premiere Friday on Amazon