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THE EXPENDABLES 2

About The Production
In a 2012 article, the New York Times Magazine declared the American action hero an endangered species. With the second installment of The Expendables adventure, co-screenwriter and star Sylvester Stallone gives audiences an opportunity to appreciate this now rare breed like never before- assembling a group of the biggest, bravest and most bad-ass action stars of all time. Stallone's aim with The Expendables 2 was to bring thrill-seeking audiences exactly what they've been missing: that all-American, combustible combo of high-velocity adventure and rollicking, relatable heroes who, no matter the costs, are always ready to throw down for what really matters.

To accomplish this, he wanted to expand the already unprecedented team of blockbuster icons whose rapport formed the heart of the first film. It was a chance to bring together every single one of the larger-than-life personalities who built the great American action film as its own massive genre - who forged an indelible cinematic image, in the words of New York Times journalist Adam Sternbergh, of an America that is "strong, tough, independent and perpetually kicking much butt." And it was a chance to give these quintessential rough-hewn renegades a mission that would become a breakneck, personal quest for justice.

Some might not lament that the lone-wolf daredevils, hard-boiled justice-seekers and dogged defenders of such classics as Die Hard, Rambo and Predator have been replaced by caped superheroes and surreal special effects, but Stallone knows audiences are still very hungry for the genuine article. "For The Expendables 2, we've pulled together the most phenomenal action-adventure cast that I've ever been involved with," he says. "We are bringing back that old time rock 'n roll, and giving audiences what that they haven't seen for a while: visceral, true-to-life action."

Stallone was thrilled to reteam with Lionsgate and Millennium Films, who were so instrumental in turning his original concept of creating the first "All-Star team" of action heroes into a global hit that left audiences wanting more. The first Expendables chapter had recruited the best of the best and the coolest of the cool from classic action genres ranging from martial arts epics to gritty crime thrillers. With Lionsgate and Millennium's continued support, Stallone was ready to reunite this team, then expand its diverse membership and push them even further into the kind of human jeopardy that requires extraordinary measures.

One thing about the sequel was always for sure - it would be done true to the trademark style of the original, serving as an equally fresh take on vintage American badass action as it was in the days before rampant CGI pushed fight choreography into something more fantastical.

"The Expendables are about classic, straight-up action," sums up producer Kevin King-Templeton. "It goes back to a day when everything was done right in front of the camera. There are real car crashes, real fight scenes and real mayhem. No phony muscle suits or body enhancements needed. This is the real deal. I think the audience appreciates that it's all done without CGI tricks. To have Stallone, Bruce, Arnold, Van Damme, Norris and more all fighting, shooting and bringing their own spin to this highly choreographed action - it's really an action lover's dream come true."

For Stallone, the inspiration for writing these real-deal characters came from the unforgettably rebellious yet heroically loyal compadres he cut his own teeth on in such action classics as The Dirty Dozen, The Wild Bunch and Dogs of War. "Our characters harken back to a time when our heroes were flesh and blood," Stallone summarizes. "What I like about the Expendables, especially in this story, is that these guys put their lives on the line for a cause."

Having shepherded the first film to success as director, this time Stallone happily handed off his director's chair to director Simon West (Con Air, The General's Daughter, The Mechanic, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider) so that he could focus more on the writing and on Barney Ross as the film's lead character. "Simon is a wonderful shooter and he brought a lot to the heart and the action of the story," comments Stallone. "With the scope of this production, I couldn't have done all these jobs."

West liked that The Expendables 2 was inspired by the simple but undeniable power of the original action formula -real people with lethal expertise pushed into situations where they have to use it. He was especially compelled by the characters in the script for The Expendables 2 -- intriguingly flawed, relatable men and women who might take on the most impossible odds in the course of the story, but know they are in no way invincible. Rather than magic, they have to rely on sheer guts, skill and a refusal to quit.

"I wanted to direct this film because I know how much people love these characters and now they are going to get to see more of them in even higher adrenaline situations," says West. "I think audiences love this group because they're funny, they're tough, they're very good at what they do - and yet they aren't super-human. They aren't bulletproof. They have their flaws and each character is screwed up in their own little way. People root for them because they're underdogs and we can all relate to that. I find a lot more color in how Stallone wrote these very human action characters than in a man who is indestructible."

Stallone and West soon developed a close creative camaraderie. Recalls West: "On the first day of shooting, I said to Sly, 'It's very unusual for me to direct another director, especially one of this caliber who's had so many big hits and has created so many iconic characters.' I said, 'I really want to take care of your franchise because it's your baby.' I thought of that every day, and it became my inspiration. I really wanted to protect and expand on what Sly had brought to life."

Anticipation was at a high as production got under way - and everyone knew that fists, kicks, weaponry and witty humor would soon be flying from every direction on the set. Given the incredible combined skills of the cast, the bar was easy to raise on a daily basis.

Sums up producer Avi Lerner: "With the returning cast headed by Sly plus the greatly expanded roles for Arnold and Bruce, plus the new additions of Chuck Norris, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Scott Adkins and Yu Nan, we knew we were in for more adventure, more action and more excitement."

Action Stars of The World Unite

The Expendables 2 not only brings back the star-studded action hero cast of the original, but also expands upon it, adding both more beloved icons and some fresh faces from a new generation of rising stars. Each arrived on set highly trained and ready for anything.

Sylvester Stallone once again takes the lead as Barney Ross, the team's strong-willed leader who now must grapple with the sudden loss of one of his own. Stallone reveals, "The whole movie sets off on a course of, you might say... revenge . . . as our team sets out to get the people who have done one of us a great disservice. There's this turn of events that you don't expect. It's a tough thing for Barney. At one point, Barney asks 'Why is it the ones who deserve to live, that want to live the most, die -- and the ones that don't deserve to live, keep on going?'"

Jason Statham also reprises his role of Lee Christmas, the knife-wielding killing machine who wears his heart on his sleeve and struggles in his personal relationships. Statham says of his character: "He's kind of a workingman's hero... a guy you'd want to go out and have a beer with."

In The Expendables 2, Stallone and Statham had a chance to further hone their irreverent, back-and-forth repartee as relentlessly competitive buddies. Stallone explains: "The relationship between Christmas and Barney was so good in the first movie that we've enhanced it with more humor and action. They're a great team together... like the Odd Couple, really. They're constantly fighting but have a great affection for each other."

Producer King-Templeton adds, "Jason and Sly are very good friends themselves so when they're in character as Barney and Christmas, their banter really comes alive."

The Expendables 2 also gives audiences another chance to see box-office behemoths Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger together with Stallone - after The Expendables became the first time in film history that the three biggest action stars of the last three decades were seen as a trio on screen. Willis and Schwarzenegger return in the roles of the mysterious Mr. Church and the devastating Trench.

"I'm so glad we got Bruce as Mr. Church, because he's the key to the beginning of the adventure. Mr. Church is an enigma. We don't really know exactly what he does, but he's in the thick of things and he's extremely powerful and devious," explains Stallone.

Stallone says of Schwarzenegger: "Though our two characters are somewhat archenemies, we're also compatriots when the stakes are high enough. Trench comes through for us this time! Last time was just a cameo. Here, Arnold's role is more fleshed out and this will be the first time that we really join together, which we haven't done in our entire careers. It'll be well worth the wait when people see it. Our styles are vastly different, which makes for a great contrast. Arnold has a different way of approaching a role. It's certainly different than mine, but we arrive at the same destination, which is to entertain the audience."

This time around, another inimitable pioneer of the action genre- the American martial arts legend Chuck Norris -- joins The Expendables 2 as Booker, whose name is a nod to the influential 1978 actioner Good Guys Wear Black in which Norris portrayed a character named John T. Booker. In that film and in The Expendables 2, Norris plays a retired military operative trying to rescue his old comrades.

It was a rare opportunity to pay tribute to Norris' unending appeal. Stallone explains, "Chuck basically retired from films but he agreed to join our movie. He plays a character who mysteriously comes out of nowhere to save our butts. We call him Lone Wolf. He's there when you need him, and gone when you don't."

Norris is the pop culture subject of countless Paul Bunyan-type larger than life "Chuck Norris' facts" created by fans - such as "Chuck Norris counted to infinity - twice" -- with more than half-million of these "facts" circulating on the Internet. The film's multinational cast and crew affectionately jumped on the bandwagon almost as soon as Norris disembarked from the airplane to the film's primary location in Bulgaria, coining a new one: "Chuck Norris doesn't visit Bulgaria... Bulgaria visits Chuck Norris."

Former NFL football player turned actor, Terry Crews echoes the feeling of many on set when it came to working alongside Norris, "You're talking about one of the icons of action... I mean, in one of first martial arts films, this guy fought Bruce Lee!"

Every great action-adventure demands a ruthless and memorable villain - and in The Expendables 2, the blockbuster kickboxing star Jean-Claude Van Damme adds his instantly recognizable persona and skills to the film's superstar roster in the nefarious role of Jean Vilain.

Stallone says of Van Damme taking on the bad guy role: "People have never seen him like this before. Usually he plays heroes and I think people will be quite surprised by Vilain - who is fearlessly hell-bent on destroying us despite the risk of self-destruction. He's willing to die and eventually when Vilain and Barney meet one-on-one, it ends up being a hellacious battle until the very end. It's kind of like a heavyweight championship fight that you never thought would happen."

King-Templeton muses, "Jean-Claude Van Damme and Sly Stallone in the same fight scene? I think audiences have been waiting for that for 30 years. This movie has almost every gun ever made in it and every explosion you could imagine. But at the end we wanted to have Sly and Jean-Claude get together for a classic hand-to-hand battle. All the technology is gone. All the hardware is gone. It's just the two guys going at it."

Producer Les Weldon sums up: "Jean-Claude plays Vilain so menacing and so crazy that it sends chills up your spine. He is evil incarnate but in a very good way for the film."

Fresh blood is also added to the action mix of The Expendables 2 in the person of Liam Hemsworth, fresh off the mega hit of Lionsgate's The Hunger Games, as the world-class sniper Billy The Kid.

Stallone explains, "Billy the Kid is a hero out of Afghanistan but he's disenchanted after being on the verge of winning the Medal of Honor. He joins our team but soon realizes that it's really not for him. He agrees to go along for one last mission - but what he really wants is to go home, be with his girlfriend and start a normal life. The rest of us are a little jealous of The Kid because we never really got to have normal lives. I think my character, Barney understands him. At one point Barney tells him, 'If you have a choice, I wouldn't grow up to be us, either.'"

Billy the Kid represents the next generation of the Expendables. Stallone explains, "He's the new young guy, full of hope and aspiration. He has a future ahead of him and he's not as cynical as the other team members. He regards Barney Ross as a father figure, and Barney regards him as the new generation that he's got to look after and train and they have a great affection for each other."

On this mission, the Expendables get another addition with a whole different style-their first female heroine, Maggie, played by rising Chinese actress Yu Nan. Stallone explains, "Maggie is a Chinese agent who's very mysterious. Nobody quite knows what her role is to start with. But as the story unfolds, you realize how important she is to the story. Yu Nan is a wonderful actress and she adds a lot of mystery and intrigue to the story. Maggie challenges Barney all the time because Barney's not very good with women; he's got this wall up he tries to keep her at a distance. And she's constantly trying to penetrate his outer shell."

King-Templeton adds, "Yu Nan is a very accomplished actress in China. She's perfect for this role because you also really believe that she can fight and you believe she can get involved in these kind of dangerous situations. She holds her own with all the boys. Maggie challenges Barney's emotional side. Barney as the leader of the Expendables is always looking out for the guys. He's never really had time for any kind of female relationship. She makes him look at another side of life he could have possibly had."

Over twenty-five years ago, Dolph Lundgren went head-to-head against Stallone as Russian fighter Ivan Drago in Rocky IV. Now he returns in The Expendables 2 in the role of volatile Gunner Jensen, who has nearly been undone by too much adrenaline, drinking and combat stress. Lundgren says, "Gunner is still crazy but the main thing now is that he's with the team all the way through. In the first picture he was kind of on his own journey."

Former NFL football player turned actor, Terry Crews -- known for his comedic roles in television shows like Everybody Hates Chris as well as in a memorable series of Old Spice commercials -- makes his return as street-smart barrel weapons specialist Hale Caesar. During production, Crews became reacquainted with Hale Caesar's weapon of choice in the film: the AA-12 auto assault 12-gauge shotgun, capable of delivering 300 rounds per minute and is considered the most powerful weapon in the world by enthusiasts.

More drawn to hand-to-hand combat, Mixed Martial Arts superstar Randy Couture returns as Toll Road, the brawny intellect of the group. "Toll Road is the glue that holds all of these dysfunctional guys together," says Couture.

Like the rest of the cast, Couture was ready for non-stop action but even more excited about the characters and their friendships. "For me the physical part of making movies is the easy part," he explains. "I just retired from Mixed Martial Arts, and I'm still in the best shape of my life, right now, at age 48. But finding the emotions and finding my way inside my character is really the more challenging, and the most interesting, part for me."

What Makes an Action Hero?

With this unparalleled collection of some of the hardest-hitting, highest-kicking, down-and-dirtiest stars ever seen on screen all gathered to tell the story of The Expendables 2, it had everyone on set thinking about just what these remarkably diverse stars share in common - what makes for an action hero?

Certainly they each possess their own version of mad skills, tough-talking attitudes, savvy senses of humor and drive for one kind of glory or another, but it seems something more ties them together under the skin - perhaps it's an ability to make audiences believe they will stand up for basic justice and righteousness no matter what mayhem comes their way.

Sylvester Stallone says of an action hero's essence: "It's not muscles. It's not incredible athletic ability. I think it has to be something that the audience can relate to - someone touchable, approachable and real. Maybe even somewhat flawed. The hero has to be part of the audience. I really think what makes an action star is the audience's desire to mentally shove the character forward."

Simon West agrees, "I think a great action hero needs to be vulnerable. If they're unbeatable, they're hard to relate to - and that's what is so great about all the Expendables. They're always just on the ragged edge and they could fail at any time. I think the audience likes that and that's key to why they root for them."

As the cast came together for The Expendables 2, the atmosphere on set was truly one-of-a-kind. "Pulling together this high-octane mix of alpha-dogs on the same set has never been done before," admits Stallone. "Nobody on set wanted to be outdone. So, when we were in our 12th hour of shooting for the day, and the time came, they were all bringing their A-games. It was pretty remarkable."

King-Templeton adds, "All these guys that we have in the film have done some of the best action movies ever made, and are masters of their own arts, so you get them all together in one room and obviously they're going to be competitive. It was fun to watch - and see who was going to outdo the other."

Dolph Lundgren says of the good-natured but gung-ho competitive spirit on set, "There was definitely some competitiveness, not just physically but also to do good work. It raises the quality. When you see that list of names on the call sheet it's almost like you want to frame it and stick it on the wall someplace. I'm sure a lot of the cast and crew will, because I don't think this will ever happen again."

Jason Statham, too, was awed by the chance to work daily with a veritable Mount Rushmore of action legends at his side. He sums up the experience with three words. "Stallone, Bruce, Arnold," he quips. "There it was. They were there along with the rest of this massive line-up and it was a great feeling to see my name with theirs. It's an amazing privilege."

Bulgarian Rhapsody

With much of the film's intricately choreographed action unfolding in urban spaces or out in the elements, The Expendables 2 filmed for 14 intense weeks, mostly in the spectacular and rarely seen Eastern European nation of Bulgaria, as well as in Hong Kong and New Orleans.

Situated in southeast Europe, bordering Romania, Serbia, the Republic of Macedonia, Greece, Turkey and the Black Sea, Bulgaria offered the filmmakers a wide variety of practical film locations - from lush, densely-forested mountain ranges to picturesque Balkan villages untouched by time.

Notes Simon West: "Bulgaria is a country that hasn't really been shot very much so most of our locations will have never been seen before. As a result, I think the movie will have an incredible look. There are so many different types of landscape and locations we were able to use. I think people will be surprised by what they see."

"The scope of some of these locations just took my breath away," muses Stallone. "It was massive and the way that Simon shot it... it's going to have extraordinary appeal."

One of the film's biggest set pieces took place at Plovdiv Airport, Bulgaria's second largest, near the famed Bulgarian ski resorts of Bansko and Pamporovo, much to the delight of local residents and airport employees. The filmmakers loved the idea of choreographing chaotic, large-scale action in a place where no one is expecting it- a familiar, urban environment rather than a jungle or desert or someplace audiences would normally associate with mercenaries.

The location brought numerous challenges, but the team relished them. "We were very lucky to get permission to use a real airport. I never thought we'd actually be able to pull this off," King-Templeton confesses. "We ran a huge action sequence, actually firing hundreds of guns and letting explosions off and having car chases inside a real airport. I don't think that has ever been done before."

Sets were constructed throughout the region. In fact, when the production built a real bridge over the river Osam for the film, they made it a lasting gift to the local residents.

In addition to shooting across the Bulgarian landscape, the production also utilized the stages and massive outdoor sets at the versatile Nu Boyana Film Studios near Bulgaria's capitol city Sofia. (Here during a brief break, the former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger presented the current Prime Minister of Bulgaria with the sword of Conan the Barbarian.)

Launched in September 1962, when Bulgaria was a socialist state, the studio known then as Boyana Film soon became one of the largest film producers in Europe. By the early 1980's the studios were churning out some 50 feature films every year. After political change came to the former Eastern Bloc in 1989, the studios were ultimately privatized - and in 2006, Nu Image/Millennium Films became Boyana Film's new owner. After extensively refurbishing and modernizing the sprawling studios to leading-edge standards, Nu Image/Millennium renamed them Nu Boyana. Today Nu Boyana offers a lavishly detailed "New York Street" that can replicate Manhattan, a Roman Coliseum, an extensive armory, a leading-edge visual effects facility and a modern Kodak film lab. With a total of 13 soundstages, state-of-the-art production support, all situated against a wooded mountainside on over 75 scenic acres, it had everything needed for the soundstage work on The Expendables 2.

As creative as the production was, for Stallone the most special visual of all was seeing this group of high-flying film legends all joining forces for one movie.

"Maybe this is the beginning of a revival. Or, maybe it's the end of an era. But one thing is for sure; it's never happened before and we'll never see it happen quite like this again," Stallone summarizes. "Everyone in this movie has had a stellar career and to get all of us together at one time is a minor miracle. This is going to be quite an experience for the audience and one that took years in the making. We finally got it on film and it's something that hopefully people are going to appreciate for years to come."

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