Today, Jean-Claude Van Damme is synonymous with kicks and splits. Back in the ’80s, he was a struggling actor. He had parlayed his kicking skills into a few villain roles in martial arts movies, but it was Bloodsport that made him an action hero. He got that job by impressing a restaurant customer with one of his kicks.
Van Damme is featured in the documentary The Go-Go Boys: The Inside Story of Cannon Films. Bloodsport producer Menahem Golan, who died in 2014, tells the story of how he met Van Damme, and Van Damme himself elaborates. The Go-Go Boys is on DVD and Blu-ray July 20 but Showbiz Cheat Sheet watched an early copy to hear this Van Damme story.
When Menahem Golan met Jean-Claude Van Damme
Van Damme hailed from Brussels and paid his dues waiting tables like many actors before him and after. When he saw Golan, partner in The Cannon Group, Van Damme seized his opportunity.
“I was sitting with my wife in a French restaurant and here comes one of the waiters, a handsome young man holding two plates of soup,” Golan said. “He says to me in French, ‘Vous et Monsier Golann?’ I said, ‘Yes, I am Golam.’ He picked up his foot, right foot, and he rubbed my head. The soup did not move.”
Jean-Claude Van Damme got a meeting
Van Damme confirmed, “I kicked above his head.”
Golan saw the potential and offered Van Damme a meeting.
“He said, ‘My friend, tomorrow, come to my office. We’ll talk, you and I, business.’” Van Damme said. “I go to his office and I try to provoke some sort of dialogue. I took my shirt, my jacket and I showed I’ve got muscle, I can do the split. So I take a chair, I pull back in the split position.”
Menahem Golan reconsidered the waiter
Van Damme became famous for doing splits. Pretty much every movie incorporated an opportunity for Van Damme to do a split. Golan wasn’t sure splits would make him a star and Van Damme thought he may have overdone it.
“Maybe I gave too much,” Van Damme said. “He said, ‘Van Damme, Michael Dudikoff is a star. What can I do with the split? The muscle? I need acting. Sorry.”
Dudikoff was then the star of Cannnon’s American Ninja movies. They were awesome, but Dudikoff did not remain an action hero as long as Van Damme. Van Damme ultimately begged, and it paid off. He would eventually join the ranks of Steven Seagal and other martial arts movie heroes.
“I go, ‘Menahem, please,’” Van Damme said. “I break down. He looked at me with this big heart. ‘Don’t go, don’t go. Sit down, sit down. Okay.’ I said, ‘I’m so sorry. I’m sorry if I cry.’ Then he thinks and he thinks. ‘Darling, bring me Bloodsport.’ [The assistant] comes and [Golan said], ‘You want to be a movie star? I’m going to make you a movie star.’”