When director Simon West was asked to helm The Expendables 2, he was a little hesitant. Given the fact that Sylvester Stallone wrote, directed and starred in the 2010 smash, West wondered what kind of creative power he’d have on the sequel’s set.
“I was very skeptical to start with because Sly’s a director and writer. I didn’t want to take a job where you’ve got someone breathing down your neck because it wouldn’t be good for the film,” West told Movie Fanatic in our exclusive interview.
“I was going, ‘How does a director go in and take over something like that? What’s Sly’s attitude going to be? Surely, he will just want to do it himself.’ I met Sly and he reassured me and said, ‘I’m just going to act in this one.’ He said, ‘You’re the director.’”
Proof of that creative control came when West had problems with the draft of the script he was given. “I wanted to change things and so I got a writer in Richard Wenk, who’d worked with me on The Mechanic, and we worked on the script together and did a lot of work on the plot and the action particularly,” West admitted.
“Then I showed it to Sly. He said, ‘Oh, this is great.’ He was very supportive and said, ‘I’ll see you on the shoot in three months.’”
Yet, having Stallone right there with the director proved priceless. After all, he created these characters and knows them better than anyone.
“As we go on, he starts helping out with the dialogue of the characters. Not only does he know the characters, he knows those guys that were playing those characters and knows what their strengths were and their weaknesses. So I would use him a lot,” West said.
“I used him as a free resource for great movie one-liners which is something he has a huge talent for. All those lines in the trailer and everything, they’re pure Sly!”
West reported that Stallone even said something on the set that made him giddy. “He would look around at the sets we would build and say, ‘This is fantastic. This is so much better than the first one.’ That would pump me up,” West said. “He was a great cheerleader and he’s a good team player.”
One of the biggest challenges for West was getting all the superstars and their characters adequate screen time, as well as introducing new action stars (like Chuck Norris and Jean-Claude Van Damme) without sacrificing the plot.
“It is tough. I didn’t want to spread it around more with the supporting Expendables. We wanted to keep the laughs of the Sly and Jason Statham sort of relationship in it. I think the supporting guys needed more than from the first one, because people said they loved them but wanted more,” West said. He gave the ensemble their individual moments in the sun. “They had action sequences that were just on their own. That was fun to give these people that you had a glimpse of in the first one like Terry (Crews) and Randy (Couture) and Dolph (Lundgren), and give more to them.”
He also sought to ensure that although he had Van Damme and Norris plus pumped-up roles for Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger, that each character served a purpose.
“We tried to make sure anybody that came in had something specific to do and specific to say so it wasn’t just random action and random violence. They had a plot purpose and they had something tangible to say and hopefully it was entertaining, witty and moved the plot along,” West said.
“It was a giant jigsaw puzzle. You’ve got 12 big names there and everybody’s got to do and say something worthwhile.”
The success of The Expendables surprised many, but not West. “You can see why people loved it and you could see what worked,” he said.
Knowing it had a built-in fan base, West wanted to put his stamp on it, but keep the elements that made the first a smash. “I suppose you could use it as the rehearsal for the second one and try and filter down the essence of what really worked in the first one and filter out what may have worked less well,” he said. Looking at The Expendables 2 trailer, it appears he has succeeded.
“I tried to constantly retain the spirit of the first one. I just wanted to improve the franchise. I’m not going to completely reinvent it. The last thing I wanted to do was alienate anybody that liked the first one, but try to give them something more because I think there was a novelty value with the first one.”
“With the sequel, there’s no novelty value anymore,” he said.
“Now you’ve got to deliver a working movie that has a story and people like the characters for their own sake, not because they’ve never seen that group of people put together like that. That’s the tough thing, to deliver a movie that works without the novelty of the first one.”