Over the course of my life, I’ve met a lot of celebrities. If I’m lucky, they’re cool. If I’m really lucky, I get a good story out of them. As to just how lucky I got with Van Damme, read on and find out for yourself!
I’d originally met JCVD at the San Diego Comic Con back in 1994. At the time, Elfquest was under option by Pressman’s company and the groups were all mixed together a bit on the con floor. My buddy, Barry Blair, and I were introduced to Van Damme by one of the producers. It was a brief meeting – Barry and JCVD didn’t get along and, at one point, I thought there might be an altercation. We left to sketch for a line of fans and, I believe, Jean-Claude went off to do his own lines.
Fast forward 10 years. I had been working at Shoreline Entertainment for a couple of years and one of its directors, an Englishman named Andy Prendergast, came up and asked if I wanted to go with him to meet Van Damme. Andy was a producer for Rebellion, the owners of 2000AD. JCVD wanted to play a character called “Rogue Trooper” and Andy wanted an American who was familiar with comics. I fit the bill in spades.
Being the ridiculous kind of guy he was, Andy picked me up in the smallest Miata I’ve ever seen…something which wouldn’t be an issue now. At the time, though, I was topping the scale at just about 460 pounds. Buttering myself up, I squeezed into his car and we were off.
The Van Damme I encountered had been having a ton of difficulties getting hired because of his behavior. Jean Claude was actively trying to clean himself up. As we talked, Van-Dammage kept reassuring us of his sobriety and how he was being a “good boy” now. To accentuate this, he would pull his shirt up to show off his abs and chest. In his defense, the guy looked great for someone his age. In my defense, I really didn’t need to see it as an unaffiliated third party.
All-in-all, it was a good meeting. I hung out with a guy whose films I loved – his mullet in HARD TARGET was a thing of beauty. I talked about comics. And I was able to stare at the cheese-grater like stomach of another man. I count that as a win any day of the week.
The final encounter came a couple of weeks later. I received a call from the Van-Dammage. In his definitive French accent I heard “Mat, you worked with us on Time Cop, yes?” I confirmed. “And you do storyboards.” It was a statement, not a question, but I confirmed again. He then requested I come out to his home that Saturday to help put together a film pitch. He and Ken Shamrock (I believe) were going to choreograph something and he wanted someone with martial arts and storyboarding experience to come run video. He also really wanted me to draw something so it “looked like anime.”
I arrive out at Van Damme’s house and am promptly told Shamrock isn’t going to be there. JCVD still wants to go ahead. He says “Mat, you used to do martial arts…you can fill in.” I remind the man that I had a Ni-Dan in Aikido when I was younger, but that I was almost 500 pounds and hadn’t worked out in ever.
Van Damme grabs my tripod and camera, sets it up and says something that still haunts me to this day. “You’ll be fine. Just stay on your mark.”
If aren’t familiar, in movies a “mark” is usually a little X made from tape and placed on the floor. It gives an actor a precise spot to stay – it helps make sure you’re EXACTLY where you are supposed to be for filming, for the other actors, and, in the case of a stunt, to guarantee you don’t get hurt.
He’s going to throw a kick and I’ll stumble back. Sounds easy. He does a test to show me where the kick will go and to make sure the camera won’t see the six inches or so it will be missing me by.
Cool. We got this. Camera is rolling. JCVD is in his spot. I’m standing on my mark.
I’m going to highlight that statement. I am standing on my mark. This is important to remember and acknowledge.
Scene one, take one. I’m standing there…on my mark…Van Damme jumps in the area and spins – he’s like a ballerina. Graceful and elegant in the air. He chambers and blasts out one of the most beautiful kicks I’ve ever seen…right into the center of my chest.
I feel a crack and, as every ounce of wind is expelled from my body, I drop to the ground…landing ON MY MARK.
Annoyed, Van Damme strides over and begins to yell at me, as I begin to weep and wheeze uncontrollably, STILL ON MY MARK! The master of the splits screams “You missed your mark! This is why I don’t work with amateurs! Stay on your mark!”
I attempt to scream back, but only a choked off whisper comes out. “I’m on my God-Damned MARK, you bastard!”
The entire project ended there as his assistant/manager told me to leave. I wound up at the ER with a cracked sternum and two fractured ribs. I have no idea if anything ever happened with JCVD’s pitch because he never again answered my calls. I do know that the Rogue Trooper film fell through – you can read about my time on an aborted Judge Dredd film HERE – which is for the best, because I’m not sure anyone will ever be ready for a shirtless, blue-painted Van Damme wearing a giant mushroom helmet.
-Mat “Still On His Mark” Nastos