- Books & Biceps
- 💪Books & Biceps - Issue 254
💪Books & Biceps - Issue 254
Chuck Norris, Van Damme, Seagal & an Awesome Interview with The Last Action Heroes author Nick de Semlyen
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This may be the most “Books & Biceps” book I’ve ever recommended in Books & Biceps. It’s definitely a first ballot B&B Hall of Famer.
Not only do we have an in depth look at all of our favorite action heroes (Arnold, Sly, Norris, Willis, Seagal, Lee, Van Damme, Snipes, etc…) but we also have A+ writing and research by author Nick de Semlyen.
In short, he wrote this book for us.
From the personal paths to fame for all the stars mentioned above, to brilliant behind-the-scenes stories and hijinks and drama and ego clashes on the sets of Commando, Conan, Predator, Rocky, Rambo, Die Hard, Hard to Kill, Bloodsport, Delta Force and on and on, you’ll be saying “that’s awesome” to yourself 100 times while reading it.
I loved this book and when I reached out to Nick to tell him, I asked if he’d be up for an exclusive Books & Biceps interview for us because, as you can imagine, I had questions…
Being the gracious action aficionado that Nick is, he agreed. So please enjoy this week’s B&B Q&A with Nick de Semlyen:
Finkel: The beginning of the book tracks Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger as they rise from obscurity to Hollywood meathead mega stars. Most people know about Arnold’s dedication to fitness from his bodybuilding days, and Stallone certainly got beyond jacked for his films… BUT… I’m not sure people realize just how intense and insane about fitness and diet Sly was. You describe how he trained John Travolta while directing Staying Alive and how he made Dolph Lundgren go through marathon boxing sessions for Rocky IV while making him “eliminate dairy and beef and start every day eating huge spoonfuls of wild rice soaked in apple juice.” What was the wildest “Stallone is a weightlifting lunatic” story you uncovered?
De Semlyen: Stallone remains a fitness fanatic to this day: his daughters Sistine and Sophia recently revealed on their podcast that he used to make them get up every day at 6am and do push-ups, sit-ups, dead lifts and shotput throws. (Following all that, they’d wind down by reciting poetry with him.) But back in the 1980s his routines were truly wild. For a while he ate only burned toast, his body-fat percentage plummeting to a dangerous 2.9%. And on Rocky III, drinking 25 cups of coffee a day, he got so dizzy that he had to repeatedly do headstands to get the blood back into his head. “I honestly wouldn’t advise anybody to train the way I did,” he would later say. No kidding.
The section in the book where you discuss Jackie Chan’s movie beginnings and how he met Bruce Lee is phenomenal. In a way, Lee’s legacy is a shadow over several of the films you mentioned in terms of fight sequences… If Lee hadn’t died suddenly in 1973, who is the one actor you profile in this book you’d have loved to see him team with for a classic 80s action movie and why? I think a buddy/action movie with Bruce Lee and Arnold would have been incredible. Like Twins but with explosions and brawls.
Bruce Lee is definitely the spiritual forefather of a lot of these guys, and not just Chuck Norris and Jackie Chan, who both worked with him at the start of their movie careers. “I fell in love with his magic, his inside power,” said Jean-Claude Van Damme once, remembering seeing Enter The Dragon when he was 13 and how it inspired him to start doing martial arts. Steven Seagal even claimed to have met him (and accused him of “bad-mouthing” other martial artists), though the chronology there is highly suspect. Lee never did a true double-act movie, but long wanted to do a movie that was a hybrid Western/ kung fu movie: it’s fun to imagine the two Bruces, Lee and Willis, teaming up to clean up the Wild West — maybe a riff on the little-seen but brilliant 1971 film Red Sun, which starred Toshiro Mifune and Charles Bronson.
After Die Hard was a hit, you write about a classic moment where Arnold saw Bruce Willis at a restaurant and shouted so everyone can hear: “You know why you’ll never be an action star, Bruce? Toothpick arms.” I love everything about this. You discuss the rivalry between all the men in this book a lot (Stallone, Arnold, Willis, JVCD, Chuck Norris, etc…). What was your favorite moment/exchange that exemplified the competition between all these guys?
For drama, it’s hard to beat the moment when Stallone hurled a flower pot at Schwarzenegger’s head at the 1976 Golden Globes. But in terms of ridiculousness and sheer entertainment value, I love the whole Van Damme/ Seagal feud, which simmered throughout the 1990s before coming to a boil at, of all places, Stallone’s house in Miami in 1997. “When you’re sober, if that day ever comes, come and say shit to me. I don’t care how small you are or how girlie you are. It won’t matter,” Seagal later claimed to have told his nemesis. But according to Stallone, it was Seagal who ended up fleeing the premises before a fight could break out. The mind boggles in imagining how the surreal, testosterone-drenched scene unfolded — not least as eyewitnesses apparently included Shaquille O’Neal, Madonna and Don Johnson. Peak ’90s.
One of my absolute favorite parts of these movies has to do with the characters names. From Rocky’s foes (Clubber Lang, Apollo Creed) to Arnold’s roles (John Matrix, Dutch) to the champion, Steven Seagal (Mason Storm, Casey Ryback)… Since I consider you an expert now, what goes into making the perfect action hero movie name? And which is your favorite?
Weirdly, a LOT of these action heroes were called John — John Matrix, John Rambo, John McClane, John Spartan, et al. It probably has something to do with the clean, firm, one-syllable terseness of the name, so solid that you can pair it with any manner of ludicrous surname and it’ll still sound tough. But for me, a truly great action-hero name has to go for broke, swing for the fences, think big across the board. Gibson Rickenbacker, as played by Van Damme in Cyborg, is a great example of this (with a name like that, he was never going to become an accountant). Seagal’s Mason Storm scores highly (at one point Hard To Kill was actually titled The Seven-Year Storm). Also fun to say out loud: Marion ‘Cobra’ Cobretti (Stallone in Cobra), Jericho Cane (Schwarzenegger in End Of Days), and perhaps my favourite, Van Damme’s Chance Boudreaux in Hard Target. “What kind of a name is Chance?” someone asks him. “Well, my momma took one,” he replies. Indeed.
My heavy lifting days were starting to get a little stale so I flipped through a couple of my old issues of Muscle & Fitness and found one of my favorite mass routines… I’m not doing the whole routine (it’s got these marathon 2 hour lifting sessions I don’t have time for, ha) but I liked this shoulders/arms day:
Seated Dumbbell Press 4× 6-12 (increasing weight each set)
Superset: DB Flyes with Upright Rows (3×12 each near failure)
Barbell Curl 4×12
Weighted Dips 4 × 12 (or one below failure)
Seated DB curl 4 × 6-12 (hold at top for 2 seconds)
Seated Include DB Hammer Curl 4 × 6-12 (hold at top for 2 seconds)
This took me about an hour. Enjoy!
Story time, meatheads. One of my favorite dad moves of all time:
Let me tell you about the coolest dad move in the world.
Scratch that, the solar system.
This is the unbelievable true story of how a fighter pilot put a photo of his kids on the moon:
1/ It's 1957.
Charles Duke, a tall, wiry Midshipman learns two things at the Naval… twitter.com/i/web/status/1…
— Jon Finkel (@Jon_Finkel)
Jun 27, 2023
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Have a great weekend! - Jon