Jean-Claude Van Damme was 'coked out of his mind' while shooting 'Street Fighter', reveals director Steven de Souza
Director Steven de Souza has recently revealed that the filming of the famous '90s action flick was a total shit show, especially because of Jean-Claude Van Damme's antics
Many would remember 'Street Fighter' as the cliched, cringeworthy masterpiece that came out in the 1990s. The live-action movie, which was based on the extremely popular video game, plays out solely on the basis of its fight sequences and one-liners. It is one of those movies which are so bad that they're actually good.
It's been almost more than a decade since the movie first came out but, now, in an interview with The Guardian, the film's director Steven de Souza revealed that the making of the movie was as chaotic as the finished product that we can see on the screen.
“Ed and another producer came to me and said: ‘Capcom is going around – can you come up with a take for a movie? They’ll be here the day after tomorrow,’” recalls De Souza. “I said: ‘Yeah, I’m very familiar with it – my son had just put his first year of college into that machine.’ I said I’d come up with a treatment, but I wanted to direct.”
“Unbeknownst to me, Capcom was thinking in this direction,” he says. “When they came to the meeting, they brought some artwork to help me, and one image had Bison as the most wanted criminal in the world in a James Bond-style underground lair. I could see they were energized during our meeting, and within a week they said: ‘You guys are doing it.’”
The director revealed in his interview that his star Jean-Claude Van Damme was pretty much always "coked out of his mind." Capcom decided it needed a big star for Guile and the producers went for Jean-Claude Van Damme, and the hugely respected character actor Raul Julia was approached to play Bison.
“Now we had a couple of big stars in the cast but less money to make the movie,” says De Souza. “It meant all the other actors had to be really new names. That was fine, but we no longer had the money to hire them in advance for fight training. I said: ‘OK, we’ll film all the ‘people talking in rooms’ scenes early on, and while we’re doing those, the other characters will be off training.’ I thought, we’ll be filming for 10 weeks, so everyone will have three to six weeks of choreography on these fights. That was the plan.”
“In the 100-odd minutes of the movie, there wasn’t a lot of screen time to go around – do the math,” he says. “Furthermore, the audience can barely keep track of seven characters, which is why it’s always been the magic number through history: seven sins, seven wonders, hell, Seven Samurai."
“[But] every time I turned in a draft, they kept pressing me to add just more character. I would slide somebody in with a couple of lines. Then they’d say: ‘Can’t so-and-so have another scene? He’s very popular in Japan. And by the way what about this character?’”
Meanwhile, Jean-Claude, who starred in the movie as the all-American Colonel Guile, even though he is of full Belgian origin, was at the time struggling from a serious cocaine addiction, so much as snorting an estimated $10,000 worth of coke a day. And, not surprisingly, as de Souza clearly pointed out, it allegedly made filming a lot more difficult on the set.
"I couldn’t talk about it at the time, but I can now: Jean-Claude was coked out of his mind," de Souza told the Guardian. "The studio had hired a wrangler to take care of him, but unfortunately the wrangler himself was a bad influence. Jean-Claude was calling in sick so much I had to keep looking through the script to find something else to film; I couldn’t just sit around for hours waiting for him. On two occasions, the producers allowed him to go to Hong Kong, and on both occasions he came back late. On Mondays, he just wasn’t there at all.”
According to de Souza, Jean-Claude's habit was not exactly the only thing that made the movie as much of a shit show as it is now. "I didn’t know the character; I didn’t know the video game; I didn’t know what the hell I was doing,” actor Roshan Seth told the Guardian. "I was supposed to be a mad scientist. I thought: What sort of science am I supposed to be doing? And what am I mad about?"
The famous director also revealed through the course of the interview that there was a point in the shooting schedule where Raul Julia became extremely unwell. And when he returned for his shooting schedule, the stomach cancer and the grueling treatment left him a shadow of his former self as he arrived in Bangkok.
“I got a phone call from our costume consultant,” recalls De Souza. “She’d gone ahead a day before us to meet Raul and she said: ‘We have a problem. He looks ghastly; he’s like a skeleton.’ We thought: ‘Oh god, what are we going to do? We can’t put him on camera.’ We decided to push all of Raul’s scenes to the end of the movie, so he could gain weight and we’d move other things up front. I was putting people on the camera who’d had virtually no fight practice.”
“We had our trainer, Benny, but he didn’t know what video game fighting actually was – it was all new to him,” he says. “We only found out midway through the shoot that different characters have different styles. Somebody said: ‘Wait a minute, why is everyone fighting in the same way?’”
de Souza also spoke about how shooting in an exotic locale as Bangkok was also a part and parcel of the numerous challenges that the crew faced while filming the movie. “There was extreme heat, extreme humidity. We were supposed to be looking buff, but we were all losing weight,” says Mann. “If you watch the movie, we all look a lot bigger in the scenes shot in Australia. The weather was fine, the food was nice – we had all recovered.”
And even Thailand came with its own unique challenges for the crew. “There was talk of a possible coup, so the military closed all the roads down,” remembers Keith Heygate, the first assistant director on the second unit. “We needed to get the cast, the crew, and all this equipment to different locations, so we had to travel by high-speed boats down the khlongs [canals] at 1 am in the morning. This went on for 10 days, and these boats kicked up a lot of water, so, by the time we got to the location, the cast and crew were all sodden. Van Damme hated that.”