When I exclusively reported earlier this month that Millennium Films was planning a massive stunt with the cast of The Expendables 3 storming the Croisette today, I had a feeling it would be rather extraordinary — but I didn’t know it would end up to be one of the most entertaining events I’ve attended in 17 years in Cannes. The action brigade rolled into town this morning – on tanks no less – giving throngs of onlookers something to gawk at, and journalists inside a packed press conference the hourlong thrill of seeing mega-franchise stars riffing on everything from their advancing age to the state of today’s action films, how their competitiveness has waned from the ’80s and why this movie will be PG-13. “We are children with arthritis, we are young forever,” said writer- star Sylvester Stallone to great applause when he was asked how he and his cronies will know when it’s time to hang it up on actioners. He added, “I think if you wake up in the morning and your ass falls off, it’s time to retire.”
For now, the franchise isn’t eyeing retirement. It has made about $580M at the global box office so far. But both of the first films were rated R. This one is going out PG-13. Stallone explained, “We want to reach as many people as possible. It’s very close to an R, believe me, it’s right there. But I think we owe it to the next generation. We thought we’d join that club for a while.”
Stallone was surrounded by co-stars Mel Gibson, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Harrison Ford, Jason Statham, Antonio Banderas, Wesley Snipes, Dolph Lundgren, Kelsey Grammer, Randy Couture, Kellan Lutz, Ronda Rousey, Glen Powell and Victor Ortiz. Also there were director Patrick Hughes and producer Avi Lerner. Hughes, who starts shooting The Raid for Screen Gems in September, kicked off the proceedings earlier in the morning at a screening of footage from the film which included behind-the-scenes interviews. From the stage at the Olympia theater he said the movie was a “big fat piece of popcorn.” The footage included a take of Statham driving a truck whose brakes failed leading he and a camera crew to drive off a wharf and into the sea in Bulgaria where the film was shot. The accident, which occurred on Day 3 of the shoot, fortunately resulted in no injuries, Hughes told me later. Statham was pulled from the water, dried off and returned to do redo the scene, with brakes.
After the screening, folks trundled to the Carlton Hotel to await the gang who rode in on tanks shipped over from the UK and made their way into the press conference. Stallone was asked what will be different about this film and he said, “With the first one, I didn’t know which direction to go. It was experimental, more dramatic and heavier. In the second one, I think we went too far in the comedy and one liners. (For the third film) I realized we should get back to being more dramatic. When men and women know each other, there’s a kind of human comedy, not jokes, but when the action starts I don’t like to do jokes. So, I believe we finally got it right on the third one. It’s kind of like marriage.”
Stallone and Schwarzenegger talked about how action films have changed. “Directors and actors are giving audiences what they want,” Stallone said of today’s movies. “I think we are exactly where we should be. Arnold, Mel and I, we belong to a different generation so we do what we understand… I believe it’s all a matter of evolution and eventually it will revert back.”
The former Governor of California added, “I’ve always been a big fan of action, and great story. That’s what makes The Expendables such a great franchise. I’m happy to be involved in all three, and even happier to be in the next three.”
The assembled press directed most of the questions to the older action stars, but Rousey, who is new to the franchise and one of the only women in the film, said “I’ve been in a lot of crazy situations in my life — the Olympics, UFC title fights… I didn’t know how I would deal, but it felt strangely comfortable confusingly fast.”
Hughes, who is graduating to a big Hollywood production with The Expendables 3, recalled that when he was a kid he had saved up his paper route money to get a camera. His first film was 23 seconds long and pitted his “Rambo action figure setting fire to my Han Solo figurine.” So working with the actors behind those roles was surreal.
Ford, a newcomer to the franchise, said he had a lot of fun making the movie “It’s a great bunch of guys – and lady – to work with.” Unsurprisingly, he was also asked about revisiting Star Wars. “I’m delighted to be involved. We’ve got a great script and director JJ Abrams is at the top of his game.” Then he added, “You know, the dirty little secret of this is that making movies and being an actor is great fun. It’s a great job.” And the audience roared with applause.
With all of these franchise heroes who were atop the box office in the 1980s, is there any lingering competition amongst them? Gibson joked, “Sure, I had my resentments. I wanted to smack down with Sly.” Stallone noted that he and Schwarzenegger “are almost like Ali and Frazier. Thank God for Arnold because he made me work harder.” Schwarzenegger chimed in, “Sly was one of my heroes. Even though we were very competitive, they were inspirations for me.” Not content to leave it so serious, he said that back in the Terminator and Rambo days, they used to check each other out to see who had the bigger muscles and who was using the bigger guns. “We would call each other and say, ‘I just killed this many people, how about you?’”
Then Gibson got his line in, “Competition was stiff in the 80s. I think we can all agree in 2014, it’s not so stiff now.”