Simon West talks <strong><em>The Expendables 2</em></strong>

Simon West talks The Expendables 2, in theaters this weekend starting August 17th

The Expendables 2 is set to end the summer with a giant bang of explosions bigger than anything seen on the 4th of July, starting this weekend. It reunites Sylvester Stallone with his former cast mates, including Jason Statham, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dolph Lundgren, and Terry Crews while introducing a few fan favorite new comers such as Chuck Norris and Jean-Claude Van Damme.

The Expendables 2 promises to be so big, in fact, that Sylvester Stallone couldn't handle directorial duties on his own this time out. That's why he turned to Simon West, a man known for his awesome action sequences in such neo-classics as Con Air and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, to helm what is sure to be remembered as the best action movie of 2012.

RELATED: Schwarzenegger Won't Do Expendables 4 Without Stallone

We caught up with Simon shortly after The Expendables 2 premiered to a crowded house at Camp Pendleton near San Diego. Read on to find out how Mr. West took over the reigns on this popular franchise, learn the truth behind the PG-13 controversy sparked by Chuck Norris, and find out what kind of a weirdo Jean-Claude Van Damme actually is to work with on set.

Here is our exclusive conversation.

How did the screening go over with the guys at Camp Pendleton?

Simon West: I'm in England, so I couldn't make it. But I hear that it went great. I was getting texts during it that said, "They are laughing in all the right places. They are clapping and stomping in the right places. And they gave it a standing ovation at the end!" So, I got a live text commentary on how it went. It seemed to go over very well. That is our core audience, in some ways. We had almost as much firepower in the movie as the US military. Hopefully we go down with them pretty good.

The thing I liked about the first movie is that Sylvester Stallone found a way to give each character their moment to shine, which is a difficult thing to pull off when you have this many cast members. Now, in part 2, you are working in even more of these iconic actors. What were the challenges of making sure that no one got left out in terms of a big action set piece that served to define each personality?

Simon West: This was a challenge. Even with guys like Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, and Terry Crews...Sure, they were in the first one, but now you want to give them even more action than what they saw before. Making room for that was tough, because people want to see them display their skills, whatever they are. You have Terry Crews and Randy Couture, who are both physical guys. People want to see that. But then we go and add all of these new people, like Scott Adkins, and Chuck Norris, everyone has to have their big moments. There were two big puzzles. One was getting everyone's schedule together. Can you imagine having 12 big stars, and trying to get them all available on the same day, so that you can have some scenes where they are all together? Then the second puzzle is, when you do get all of these people together, you have to make sure there is enough time in the movie for everyone to have a great couple of moments. There is a big mathematical equation to making that work. And to make it, also, just a good film. It needs to be entertaining to watch, so it never gets too mathematical. I think, at least, when everyone shows up, the audience will love it. Everyone gets a great introduction. There are some great entrances, because you always have to think with these guys, they have to have a great entrance every time a new action star appears in the movie.

Who, in your personal opinion, gets the best introduction in the movie?

Simon West: That honor would have to go to Chuck Norris. Without giving too much away, there is a battle. The Expendables look like they are going to be wiped out. Somehow the fifty guys that are attacking them all get killed off. We presume it must be some elite fighting force that saved them. A small army, at least. Of course, who comes out of the smoke? Its Chuck Norris, completely single-handed. He introduces himself as the Lone Wolf. That has to be the best intro, at least visually, because everyone is going to cheer...Just to see Chuck Norris back on the screen, looking cool and taking out bad guys, is a special moment.

Speaking of Chuck Norris, I of course have to ask you about this big controversy surrounding the film. Chuck was on some foreign talk show a couple of months ago, and he claimed that the film was going to be PG-13 at his bequest. That he wouldn't do an R rated movie. That angered more than most of the fans. Of course, the outcry helped urge Stallone to bring the film back to its R rated roots. What is your comment on all that?

Simon West: I don't know...I know there was this rumor that it was going to be rated PG-13...But there is no way that could happen. Not with all of these guys on set. They couldn't say a line without dropping an F bomb, let alone firing their guns, and blowing fifty people up at one time. I can't imagine how the Expendables could ever be anything but an R. That's what it is. These are tough, down and dirty, blood and guts guys. I think, maybe, someone...Some financial person thought maybe it would make more money as a PG-13...But no one making it, or anybody in it, or anybody that wanted to watch it, ever thought that this could be anything but R. Because that's what the Expendables are. They are hard-core.

No doubt. That's what offended the fan base. They couldn't believe Chuck Norris was demanding a PG-13. Despite this outpouring of love for Chuck when he was announced as part of the cast, the fans turned on him pretty quickly...Did you see the video of Chuck saying that he demanded the movie be PG-13?

Simon West: I didn't, no. I haven't seen that...

These are words that came directly out of his mouth. He says he is out of the movie if it's not PG-13, because his fans don't go to R rated movies...

Simon West: Right...But you never know...There are conspiracy theorists that think, maybe the PG-13 myth going out there on the internet was actually counter programming, to make everyone get up in arms. To get everyone talking...You never know...

That's true...It worked!

Simon West: Exactly! It got everyone talking about the movie. People were getting behind it, pushing the R rating. It was definitely a fan-based movement to say what they wanted. Of course, if they are loud enough, they are going to get what they want...

It's a smart play if that's the case. It makes sense...

Simon West: You never know...Now, that may just be a conspiracy theory. You never know...

I like that theory. It makes total sense. Financers want a PG-13, you have Chuck Norris float the idea out there, and the fan cry is defining...

Simon West: Yeah, absolutely...

Now, were you a big fan of these actors in the 80s? Were you always an action guy?

Simon West: Some of them. I don't think any of the guys would pretend that a lot of the movies weren't pretty bad. But every now and again, there was a gem in there, and a really good one. That's the great thing about time and the movies. You only tend to remember the really good ones. For every great one, there were five or six bad ones. Even Sylvester Stallone on set was joking about the bad ones he'd made. I think all of these guys had learned lessons. That's why they are all humble and grateful to be doing this. Because they were such hit and miss guys, they didn't ever have a clear career path. They just sort of went from film to film, and like I said, only about one in five was any good, at the most...Sometimes we don't even remember some of the good ones...There is a certain amount of nostalgia that comes with putting all these people together. With Sylvester Stallone, you remember Rocky and Rambo. You don't remember Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot, or any of these other movies that he likes to laugh about. He came on the set one day, and said, "I made the biggest mistake of my life when I came on set wearing a diaper." I think he keeps that at the back of his mind, "Whatever you do, don't ever come out wearing a diaper again!" He takes it with a pinch of salt. He knows that every film can't be a winner. Like all the guys, he has some that he is proud of, and some he'd rather bury...

You bring up Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot. That movie was written by Blake Snyder, who went onto write the popular screenwriting book Save the Cat. In that book, Blake lays out the formula and structure for what a Hollywood blockbuster should be. His formula for success is laid out in a traditional three beat structure. Now, when Sylvester Stallone went to write the Expendables 1, he bucked everything that Blake teaches in the book, and that first movie is made up, basically, of a two-act beat structure. It's a non-traditional story technique that serves its purpose quite well, and purposely flies in the face of Save the Cat's teachings. Does The Expendables 2 do the same thing? Or is it more of a traditional three-act story?

Simon West: Mainly, I don't think it breaks as many rules. But what it does do...Heroically, and character wise, it does break a lot of rules. Because these guys aren't politely correct. That's what the fans love, and have fun with. These guys are ruthless. They are mercenaries. They work for money. Eventually, they have to do the right thing. What breaks the rules here is, they are against the edge of being on the wrong side of the law. But here, I'm not sure that we did break apart the entire three-act structure. Not at all, story-wise. We do follow a classic, heroic path. These guys are always on their back foot. What I like about the first one is that they weren't elite. They were the opposite of elite. They were burned out. They didn't have the right equipment. They were ill informed. They weren't the best of the best. They were doing the best they could. I think that's what people loved about it. They found it kind of endearing. They weren't in their prime, age-wise. And they weren't in the top market of mercenaries. They were the dregs. Everyone roots for them, because they are the underdogs. That is traditional. But it was also refreshing. Because it's not a superhero. I think people wanted to take a break from the superhero that had unbelievable powers, and could do anything. These guys had no powers, and could do very little besides fight their way out of a corner.

How do you take someone like Jean-Claude Van Damme, who is the villain, and make him someone we can root for as well as hate? He brings his own fanbase to this operation, and those fans are going to want to look at the story from his point of view...

Simon West: What was interesting about him...With all bad guys, you want to make them fascinating. And interesting to watch. Even if they do despicable things...People like to watch the villain do despicable things...Its amazing for people to watch. It's the dark side of human nature. As long as they get their just desserts in the end, they don't mind the hideous things these guys do along the way...But, I think...You want an entertaining bad guy...With Jean-Claude Van Damme...The biggest surprise for me was how unusual of an actor he was. Because, honestly, I knew he'd done all of those action movies, but he never had any big dialogue roles. We actually wrote the villain's part before casting Jean-Claude Van Damme. It was written as a very articulate, very intelligent, with lots of dialogue, kind of bad guy...And then we went through all the people that this bad guy could be...Maybe Nicolas Cage or John Travolta...Maybe Javier Bardem...We looked at people like that, who you would guarantee could handle that dialogue. The idea of Jean-Claude Van Damme was great. But it was written for someone very different. It was very nerve wracking to see if he'd be able to handle all of that dialogue. English isn't even his first language. Let alone, something that is quite complicated dialogue. He jumped in and embraced it. Some of it was difficult for him. But he worked so hard at it. And he was so weird and unpredictable. It was scary to film. He was a very untraditional actor. He wouldn't do anything in continuity. One minute he'd have the knife in his left hand, then he'd have the knife in his right hand. He'd be on one side of the room doing the dialogue. The next day, he'd be on the other side of the room. The camera operators didn't even know where he was going to be. It was sort of like shooting in the dark. It was scary not knowing if those scenes would work, because he was so off the wall. When it's all edited together, it came out brilliantly. He looks like a total psychotic maniac. Unpredictable, suave, and intelligent. He is one of the great movie bad guys. That is something I couldn't have predicted. Because it wasn't written for him. It was written for a completely different type of actor. But he pulled it off.

I hear that he steals the show....

Simon West: (Laughs) Yeah...

If you return for the next one, who would you like to see brought in for a third movie?

Simon West: Ooh, that is a good question. There is a part of me that would like to see Steven Seagal, but I'm not sure how big a part of me. (Laughs) When you do run down the list of who fits the criteria for that classic 80s or 90s action star...There are so few of them nowadays....I think Jason Statham is one of the few physical action guys out there now...I think we've pretty much exhausted the list with the second film. It's a list we went over many times. The only one we didn't get around to was Steven Seagal. I can't think of anyone else we missed that is still alive. If you can think of someone, that would be great. I can't think of anyone else...There are tons of other actors. There are a whole slew of guys from Asia. There are also those guys who did direct-to-video. It would be good to see who is around from that. Scott Adkins and Chuck Norris come from that world. They have a whole separate audience. There might be somebody in that world, who has yet to be brought to the theatrical screen.

What about new guys?

Simon West: Again, there are lots of fantastic actors out there. All the great ones are doing big Hollywood movies. I think they are different from the mold of the Sylvester Stallones and the Jean-Claude Van Dammes. These are real physical fighters who used to do the action movies. Even Bruce Willis was in that world, as well. Most actors now are serious actors who only dabble in action. I think in the next couple of years, someone will pop out in the vein of Jason Statham. Someone who is all about the physical, and less about the intellectual. I just don't think there is anyone out there at the moment like that. Its tough for the action guys, but there are a lot of great actor-actors who are willing to beef up and do the physical roles. I don't think there's the same type of 80s action stars around today.

Part 3 needs to be about the sidekicks, anyway, right? That's what Tom Arnold keeps saying...

Simon West: Yeah, yeah, yeah...Maybe!

B. Alan Orange at Movieweb
B. Alan Orange