The main hook of the 'Expendables' concept was the long sought-after team-up of Hollywood's biggest action-names. An ensemble that, a couple of decades ago, would have probably cost the income of an entire country to finance is now a little less pricey - its cast now wearing their cuts and bruises and invite for inclusion as a badge of honour. In 2009, the mere idea of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone and Bruce Willis was enough to pack in fans by the tank-load, but with a third chapter now about to hit cinemas, the hook needed to be more gilded and ambitious. Yes, Jean Claude van Damme and Scott Adkins made their presence felt in Expendables 2 and Willis might be quite literally 'out of the picture' for this latest outing, but with seventeen recognisable names on the new poster and a line-up that includes seven actors with their own 'franchise' status, it seems like the attitude is 'the more the merrier'...
This time around the 'new' old kids on the block are Antonio Banderas (Zorro, Shrek, Spy Kids), Wesley Snipes (Blade, Demolition Man), Mel Gibson ( Mad Max, Lethal Weapon, Braveheart) and Harrison Ford (Star Wars, Indiana Jones). The question might not be why they're appearing, but what took them so long to do so. In the case of Snipes and Gibson, outside forces were the major factor - Snipes served time over tax offences and Gibson had a spectacular fall from grace after drunken, racist rants and encounters with the police. Arguably, for both of them, appearing in Expendables III is the Hollywood equivalent of a redemptive do-over...
"For me, there’s a finite number of actors that I think bring a certain kind of cache or personality that blends. You try to not to get ‘two of the same’, if you know what I mean? I have long-term relationships with people and I had no idea how far they went back," Stallone explains. "We’d done Expendables 1 and 2 and so we needed to up our game, so I thought ‘Hmmm, Antonio… he hasn’t done an ‘action’ film, but he’s very physical and up to it..’ It’s very time-consuming… it takes a long time to convince some people… literally calling them on their birthdays… you do a lot of begging and bullying. You call Harrison Ford? Okay, he’s in! Originally I wanted Mel Gibson to direct but Mel’s such a great director and everything is so personal, it has to come from him. But he said ‘I wouldn’t mind playing the villain!’ BAM… sold! Wesley and I know each other very, very well and we'd worked together before on Demolition Man..."
"I see these type of movies always with the possibility to have a wink of the eye to the audience. I brought... comedy. I saw possibilities in the character to just let people have some comic relief. I talked to Sly and the character was designed in a way that allowed me to do that pretty clearly," Banderas notes. "I started playing with that idea in mind and ended up improvising a lot. This guy became a compulsive talker. I had the weapon of 'mass distraction'... of talking. When I saw my fellow actors starting to roll their eyes, I said 'Yes, I am there!' That actually provokes laughter, but the character is hiding something painful inside and this is is way to do it..."
"I've wanted to work with you again ever since (Demolition Man), " Snipes nods to Stallone. "But you were busy, I was... 'busy' (laughs). It was terrific to work with a whole squad of extremely talented and iconic action-guys. Like Antonio, I tried to bring a bit of humour to the character and a little bit of martial-arts action and have a great time at the same time…bring a bit more 'colour'. I respect these guys greatly. The opportunity to work with them and find out that they’re also good guys with wide, colourful personalities that I can resonate with… that’s the icing on the cake. You can imagine being on an Olympic team. We’ve got some of the best of the best players all playing at the same time with the same kind of interaction and interplay and cracking jokes at each other’s expense. All the guys are funny…"
“So you don’t mind that I’m writing Escape from Alcatraz II for you?” Sly quips. Snipes rolls his eyes.
Of course, the premise of the film requires these veterans to be able to keep up with their younger counterparts. Antonio says that he got himself physically fit, but that - ironically - he was one of the first people to get hurt...
"I got injured in the very first take that I did in the movie. I carried it all the way through the movie but I didn't say that to anybody because I didn't want for them to think I was getting older," he sighs. "It was just running up to the roof, to the helicopter. I got a pain in my right knee and now it's gone - but it stayed there for a couple of months..."
Of course, with so many 'names' and testosterone on set, there's the temptation to think that one or two egos might get in the way of the bigger picture. Stallone admits those egos might have been present, but they were applied to getting the project as good as it could be... making each actor raise their game.
“It is like a team. Everyone here as healthy egos and athletic ability. Some very good actors. It’s hard NOT to be competitive. No-one wants to be the one that is sitting there looking like a piece of chewed string at the end of a scene. ‘Boy, did I get wiped out!’ You do your best. When I’m working with Harrison Ford… he’s very minimalist and I think I’m eating him up on screen. But then I see the dailies and it was ‘YOU just got swallowed, Sly!’ He’s GOOD. He’s very, very good," Stallone admits. "I appreciate them coming on board and I think we have eons to go. I just see so many other actors who could come in. For instance, Kelsey Grammer…is amazing. He’s got an incredible range. You start plotting Expendables 4. ‘Hey Kelsey, wassup?’ You just have so many opportunities. It’s not just athletic actors, there’s opportunities for ‘real’ actors to advance it more and more and more…”
The Expendables III is released by Lionsgate on August 14th.