Last year, when The Expendables 3 was filming in Bulgaria, I got to visit the set with a few other reporters. Usually during a break in filming I’ll do interviews with the cast. But due to how much was going on that day, interviews were tough to come by. Thankfully, Lionsgate recently got me on the phone with Kellan Lutz for an exclusive interview. He talked about how he got involved in the project, working with the the incredible cast, his character’s backstory, improvising one-liners, if it was a competitive set, director Patrick Hughes, his love of He-Man and desire to play the character in Masters of the Universe, and so much more. Hit the jump for what he had to say.
Before going any further, if you’re not familiar with the story, The Expendables 3 has Sylvester Stallone’s Barney Ross and his Expendables crew squaring off against Ross’ old partner Conrad Stonebanks, played by Mel Gibson. Returning for the sequel are Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Terry Crews and Arnold Schwarzenegger, with Wesley Snipes, Antonio Banderas, Kelsey Grammer and Harrison Ford joining the cast along with Glen Powell, Robert Davi, MMA star Ronda Rousey, and welterweight boxing champion Victor Ortiz.
Here’s the roll call followed by the interview:
KELLAN LUTZ: To me it was just another dream come true. Doing Hercules, just acting-wise bring forth that character to the big screen was such a dream. But working with all these legends and my childhood heroes from the films that I would watch, and especially for the genre that I love acting in, the action genre, seeing all these guys, acting with them and seeing who they were on and off camera and just how comedic some are like Wesley Snipes and Antonio Banderas. How badass Jason Statham is but then how cool he is when the camera’s off and just down to hang, Sly, Arnold, how smart Dolph is—I’ve always heard all these stories and it was really great connecting with him. I was going to college for Chemical Engineering and I believe he was as well. We had a lot of great conversations. Randy Couture, this badass UFC fighter is the kindest guy in the world. Everyone, there’s a strong household of A-type personalities and commanding presences but everyone’s just really cool. It was really fun for me, I wasn’t nervous at all. I was a bit—I wouldn’t use the word giddy because that’s not such a masculine word but just full-on enthusiastic and excited to be shooting guns and blowing stuff up and just playing pretend, playing action hero with all these legendary action heroes.
Talk a little bit about who you get to play in the movie. You’re part of a “younger” Expendables.
LUTZ: My character, John Smilee—we went back and forth with creating a bunch of backstory with our characters because introducing so many of us, it’s hard to capture who they are and what their essence is within a couple pages of dialogue and scene coverage. Going back and forth, it was really imperative to see where John Smilee and all the characters start from. So they have kind of this up and down roller coaster development of the character throughout the script and with the other characters, and with the older guys. You see them budding heads just as a young guy will come in the older guy don’t like it. The younger guys get a bit cocky and then you see towards the end of the movie—no one really likes each other at the beginning and they’re forced to. Then at the very end everyone’s saving everyone else’s ass. Everyone shows that respect. The young guy showing respect for the older guy, the older guy showing respect for these new cats.
My character doesn’t smile much, I really wanted to make sure he stayed kind of true to his last name—the Smilee. Where you would think, this character has come from the shit. He was overseas fighting for his country, some shit went down, he was like, “What’s the point of working for the government, working for anyone.” He probably was probably the head of some recon division team and got his team blown up. So really he has all this guilt on him, throughout the movie I never wanted to smile. It was kind of like our hook where they call me “Smilee” and nothing could get me to smile.
Toward the end you see him kind of come out of his shell because Sly’s character, Barney, sees a lot of younger Barney within Smilee. He’s able to break through Smilee’s walls and really gets Smilee to move forward with his life and not just search after pain and pain just to feel something but to actually do something good or make amends. He has all this talent that’s just going to waste because he’s so depressed and so hurt on the inside. It’s just nice to have that father figure who can speak his recon language or rebellious language as Barney does. You see a great transition with my character and Barney. Smilee is an essence of Barney’s character back in the day, so Smilee is kind of the leader of these young Expendables and he really just keeps them in mind and tries to keep all the guys in line and be that mediator between the two as Barney would be.
Talk about off set hitting the gym. Did you guys all go together at any point? Is there like a competition between who can lift more?
LUTZ: No, there was never really competition on set. I’m a tall guy, but Terry Crews is a monster of a tall guy. He was doing his TV show, so when the young guns got to set, Terry had already shot out all his scenes. I really would’ve loved to have worked with him but hopefully there’s a next one, that’d be great. For me, working out with all the guys, we would work out on set. Sly has all these little gimmicky, really badass workout devices, like these long bars that are 8 pound bars, about 3 feet in length that he would use for his forearms. He would always had it on set and everyone loved it. So, he had the prop department build these forearm bars. Sly is awesome because he’s like, “Kellan, all you gotta worry about is your silhouette, how you look, how your silhouette looks. If you can get your traps big, your chest big, your back big, then you’ll look big.” He had all these cheats for looking big and he looks massive.
For us, working out together, we had Victor Ortiz, we had Ronda Rousey, who are professional fighters. We had Randy Couture and Jason Statham, everyone just wanted to workout with everyone. There was no competition. Ronda would invite us for running up the mountain because she was in training. Victor would go to the boxing gym, Randy would have us come to the gym and run with like 40 pound weights, like a weighted vest on. Jason would be doing his weights at the gym as well and we’d all spot each other. There was no competition at all, it was actually like the best frat party I could think of. I was never in a frat and having these guys who are just fun and funny and their own characters on and off screen but they’re all boys at the end of the day. We would all go out or we’d all go to dinner, everyone came along.
LUTZ: Victor Ortiz, he’s like a little pit bull. We would go out drinking, he’s the nicest man but that guy is quick. I watch him, I go to some of his training stuff and it’s even funny. Victor’s just a little puppy dog, it’s his first movie, watching him running to Statham’s trailer, open the door like, “Yo! Jason, what are you doing?” And Jason’s like, “You better fucking get out of here.” But then at the end of the day, he was never mad, he’s screw around with Victor. He’s like, “You’re the only guy who can bust in there that I wouldn’t do something to because I know you’d kick my ass.” And to hear Jason say that—I don’t know who would win that. I just know Victor’s a professional fighter and Jason, he’s a ninja. But yeah, never want to get hit by Victor. Randy Couture, as nice as he is, he would tear me down. And Ronda, I mean Ronda’s just—she’s a beast. She’s a strong cookie.
The stunt guys showed me some of the moves. It looked very cool and it looked like the action set pieces were going to be very well done. Talk a little bit about getting to be a part of these larger than life action set pieces and what kind of training you did or how many moves you had to learn.
LUTZ: I’d been wanting to work with Dan Bradly for a long time because he’s a genius with stunts and second unit. So, to actually work with him, we had so much fun on second unit with him. And that’s where all the action pretty much was shot. It sucks that the Bulgarian guys would create in our stunt guys on that movie with stuff I’ve never seen before, especially for some of the other actors to do. It was just fun though, I love doing action movies, I love pushing myself to the limit, and allowing the guy who entrust us to do our own stunts. I was really impressed every time they would have a storyboard out and show what they wanted to do, like with the motorcycle or with the tanks, or with the building blowing up.
Everything was just larger than life than anything I’ve ever seen, so to be a part of that, I was a kid at a candy store. I felt like I was at Disneyland just seeing how elaborate these stunts were and to be a part of it. My character rides the motorcycle, so I’m going over tanks and being shot at by motors and machine guns, and I’m doing cool things. And then my stunt double will hop in and do this crazy stunt that he hasn’t seen in a movie. He had to work on it for weeks just to get it done. The stuff that they create and the men that they have working on these movies, they’re topnotch. They’re the best.
A lot of the action set pieces were pre-vized, so they could really flesh it out. Did you ever look at the pre-viz?
LUTZ: They would show us what they wanted to do, they well, well prepared on this movie. I think they need to do that. You really have to do all the safety precautions. We are dealing with explosions, tons of fire, tons of stuff blowing up, motors, just stuff in your face, so safety first. These guys, they prepped, they prepped, and they re-prepped. The scenes they pre-vized and what they wanted to do, a lot of the money goes into the stunt work because we want to make a big action-packed movie where every scene has some sort of explosion in it pretty much. That’s what these movies are known for, that’s why people go see them, that’s why I love them and wanted to be a part of it.
Seeing the pre-vizes, seeing the storyboard, seeing some of the videos that they had—and Patrick Hughes, the best action director. I just loved to work with him and seeing how he would handle all these A-type personalities. He really led the ship, he wasn’t scared, he was just having a great time and I think that really shows his leadership ability. For me, working with them and seeing the storyboards, and seeing the dailies that they had, really lights a fire within all of us to seeing how big and grandiose these movies are on the action side.
Patrick Hughes made Red Hill for not much money and it really looked good and it’s really good action. This was obviously a much bigger budget. What was he like on set and what was it like to collaborate with him?
LUTZ: I’ve never worked with a director who had as much energy as Patrick had. He didn’t have time to speak, he was always behind set but he always had a smile on his face. I remember watching a scene where we were all in this firefight and we went back to watch the playback, and his sitting on his chair with his hat on. Watching playback and seeing how badass this scene was, with Wesley Snipes and some of the other guys, but seeing the director get out of his chair, move closer and closer to the screen, and then as the firefight’s going on get so excited that his hat flies off, he’s like, “Oh my God! Did you guys see that?”
It was really awesome to see the director so impressed with what he’s doing, what every else is doing, that’s it’s just fun. Patrick, again, is a great leader but he leads in a way that I’ve never experienced. He’s just one of the boys and he wanted to be a part of the gang and he allowed himself to do that. He’d hang out with us, talked to us as equals, and really was a hands-on director and an actor-friendly director. Hats off to him, literally, he was just as excited for this magnitude of opportunity. Sly loved him from Red Hill. It was a great opportunity for Patrick and he nailed it. He really has a unique eye for doing these sorts of movies.
One of the things I’ve learned about Stallone is that he always looks at playback, everyone always involves him in everything. He likes to get in there and watch everything. What was it like working with him and did you learn anything from watching him?
LUTZ: I heard stories from the previous Expendables that he’s a director. It doesn’t matter who the director is on paper, it’s his way or the highway. You hear stuff like that and you’re like, “Whatever. I’ll still try to bring my character to life in a way that—he hired me so it’s what he liked that I did. And if he has ideas, I will respect them, of course. This is his baby and he’s Sly.” But being on set, working with him, every day the script changed in the best way. He has so much love for this franchise that if he can make the script better in any way—if he falls asleep and knows what we’re shooting tomorrow, and wakes up with a line change or a scene change. Our script was always changing, every day we had new edits and revisits. He always made the scripts better and the coolest thing about Sly is, it’s a group effort and there was no ego, there was no control.
He came to set and he would be like, “Hey, this is what I think. What do you guys think?” He’s very open to collaboration. There was many days where him and I, even at his house, before I started shooting, we went up there and we talked about my character. Because my character, as the leader of these young guns I really wanted to capture the essence of his character, what he did. He was so collaborative with that. And then on set stuff would change. There was one time when I was like, “Hey Sly, I like what you’re doing and that’s awesome. This is just what the scene meant to me and this is why I think it might not work better but translate more for us young guns to have a bigger impact, so the story kind of sums it up better.” I just spoke with my mind and he was really receptive of it. He’s like, “Alright, cool that makes sense.” You know, “I didn’t see it that way but let’s try it.” We tried it his way, we tried it our way and he’s like, “Let’s do it your way.”
It was just really cool that he was so open to it and he’s freaking Sylvester Stallone. I wasn’t afraid of it, I just wanted to make a good movie, but to see how open he was—and then when we would riff, we had so many improved lines and I think that’s one of the brilliant things about these movies, all the one-liners. Even having Arnold say, “Get to the chopper,” in one of these badass chopper scenes that we have, that wasn’t planned. It was just all of us guys being our characters, having a great time, and capturing that magic.
With Sly, sometimes he’d just be like, “Alright. Look, in this scene let’s just screw the lines. Just repeat whatever I say. So he’d say ‘You think it’s gonna work?’” After the plan that us young expendables kind of stir up and bring down. And we’re like, “It’s gonna works.” He’s like, “It better work. It will work.” Just ping-ponging dialogue off each other and making it full of improv and real. You know, just organic which I think works brilliantly in movies like this.
LUTZ: I’m a huge fan of his and I just love Mel, watching Braveheart, it’s my favorite movie. When I heard that he was gonna be the bad guy, I quickly went through my script. I was like, “Alright, do I have a scene, do I have a scene? I have that scene, I have that scene, I have that scene.” We have some really meaty scenes. I do, especially with Mel. And even off camera, this movie I got to work with so many actors who I’ve been a huge fan of and Mel’s at the top of that list. To sit with him, he’s just one of the guys.
He would just sit with us in our chairs and I’d ask him question because he’s an intellectual and I love having deep conversations. He was just so open with sharing his feelings on life in general. I’d just talk to him. He’d have so much knowledge and understanding of everything that my brain would hurt from trying to perceive everything that he was saying because it was just so full-on of knowledge. He just loved sharing, he’s a people person and if you ask him he’ll talk. Really respectful guy and just an honor to work with him. It’s just really cool to see him humble and just cool. He’s one of the guys.
From the pictures I’ve seen, he was pretty jacked up.
LUTZ: He got big, I was impressed.
When you first saw him like that, did you have any idea that he was gonna get jacked up?
LUTZ: No. I first saw pictures before he got to set of him in some tabloid. I think of the the makeup girls showed us. His arms were the size of my head. I was like, “Holy crap.” He looked big and I remember Sly came to set. He was like, “Man, now I gotta double days or two-a-days hitting the gym because I can’t have Mel be bigger than me.” It was really good, they weren’t competitive and I know Sly was just, you know, there’s some humor there. Sly got big and Mel was big. Everyone just wanted to look top of their game. It was just really great seeing Mel. Mel and Sly have that epic fight towards the end and it’s epic. When will we ever seen those guys ever fight in a movie like that? It’s just so special to be part of this. When will we ever see all these action heroes in another franchise again? Never. To be a part of it, is history in the making.
With the release date in August, it adds up to maybe doing something cool at Comic Con this year. Has Lionsgate said anything about maybe going there with the film?
LUTZ: Oh yeah. We’re gonna go big. We’re already going big a Cannes, that’s right around the corner. Just wait until you see what we’re gonna be doing at Cannes this year and all the other press. The platform that we’re doing and pushing for this movie—Twilight was big for me, this is bigger than that. Just everything, how they’re marketing it, having all the cast and what angles they’re hitting, especially with the media platform and social aspect. It’s big and it deserves to be big because the movie’s big and it’s done amazingly. The script is the best one out of all three. It just has debt, it has heart, it has character relationships, it has humor and tons of action. They really went above and beyond just doing that with the press in the other side of the equation. I know some stuff at Comic-Con, I know more about—I already have a press junket on the 3rd of April. When do you have a pre-press junket three months before your movie comes out?
LUTZ: Yeah, it’s long-lead press but it’s still just cool seeing them fall in love with it. I mean, Transformers is Transformers, that’s an obvious there, and I’m not sure if they’ve done it with Expendables, like the first two. Maybe they did, I don’t know.
I don’t think they did.
LUTZ: I don’t think they really cared to, needed to, I think they knew that the movie would do well without having it but now, the gem that they have with this third one, especially having such a big cast that we can hit tons of markets. I think they’re just going full-on with this and it deserves to go that way.
I heard the movie turned out real good and that everyone is very happy with it.
LUTZ: I haven’t seen anything so I’m looking forward to just being in the new trailer on the 3rd. The first one got me so excited going (whistles), “I did it.” The teaser trailer’s amazing. I haven’t seen the movie, I’m looking forward to seeing it.
You’ve been to Comic-Con a few times, what is that experience like for you? And it’s probably going to be a real thrill to go down this year with all these guys.
LUTZ: Yeah, my first experience with Comic-Con was for Twilight so that was another fun beast in its own making. The fans welcomed us openly with open arms and I just had the time of my life. I’m a comic geek, I love playing video games and I love reading comics. So, for me to be down there for work and then still enjoying all the festivities was a no-brainer to be a part of it. I just really embraced it all. To go to Comic-Con, not many actors get to do it, you have to do a specific sort of movie to do it. I got to do it for four years straight with Twilight, I got to do it with Immortals, and now I get to do it with Expendables. It’s just something I always look forward to doing. Fans are great, the experience is great, the city comes alive, and just a world that I enjoy. So, I’m looking forward to it.
LUTZ: I had such a large comic book card collection and comic books. I got in trouble for something growing up and my mom confiscated those, so that was a hard one for me. Now, as funny as it is, I collect dice and I collect coins. I travel the world so I love dice, I always have dice on me. I collect magnets as well. But dice and coins, I’ve just always been a coin collector, ever since my grandfather had some ancient coins that he passed down to me, it’s just always been something. I love collecting coins from around the world in my travels but I they don’t really do anything useful anymore, I guess.
One of the roles that I know they’ll eventually gonna make a live action movie is He-Man, Masters of the Universe. I’ve heard your name involved with that. Is that a role that you’ve gone after or has anyone ever talked to you about it?
LUTZ: Someone asked if I got offered the role He-Man because they saw something online. I don’t know where they make up all these stories that I said that I got offered or whatever, this is bullshit. For me, I love He-Man, growing up that was my world—playing pretend outside on the farm with the animals. So, I was obsessed with The Jungle Book and Tarzan and He-Man, and Hercules. Those guys were iconic to me and it’s been a blessing and I’ve been so grateful to make goals as an actor. I think it’s very important to know what you want to do next versus just leave it up to chance, really position yourself in the right footings to get to where you want to be. That’s what we did in these last couple years with Tarzan and doing the motion-capture one for Constantin [Film Produktion] which it was such a dream to be a part of that—in an animated movie. Also Hercules, and I really positioned myself with—I’m obsessed with mythology and Hercules, then that one came around. For me, it would be a dream. It would be that trifecta for myself to get He-Man, which is like top dog for me. “The Power of Grayskull,” that would be a childhood dream come true again and of course I am doing what I need to do and not to do. You have to say no to some projects that might compete with your chances of working and doing that movie. I would definitely love to throw my hat in that ring, there’s a lot of actors who could definitely portray and bring He-Man to the big screen. It’d be cool but I think they’re still working on the script and it’s early stages.
I can definitely see you playing that role and you’re in the right age-range to do it.
LUTZ: Thank you, I’d love to do it. It’s actually kind of funny working with Dolph Lundgren, who played him, and I chatted with him. He hated the skirt that he had to wear, little underwear piece, he’s like, “Just get ready. That was the worst part, standing there in the snow wearing close to nothing and freezing your balls off.” I’m like, “Duly noted. Good to know.”
For more on The Expendables 3 from my set visit:
- 35 Things to Know about THE EXPENDABLES 3 from Our Set Visit
- Sylvester Stallone Talks Topping THE AVENGERS, the Cast, Using Actors’ “Baggage” as an Advantage, and More on the Set of THE EXPENDABLES 3
- Director Patrick Hughes Talks THE EXPENDABLES 3, How He Landed the Job, the Action Sequences, Putting the Cast Together, THE RAID Remake, and More
- Antonio Banderas Talks THE EXPENDABLES 3, the Changes He Made to His Character, PUSS IN BOOTS 2, Working with Terrence Malick, and More