On Sept. 2, UFC legend Georges St-Pierre will make his long-awaited return to face-smashing in "Kickboxer: Vengeance," a remake of the 1989 B-plus-movie classic starring Jean-Claude Van Damme.
This time around, Van Damme plays Master Durand, a charismatic trainer who helps Kurt Sloane (newcomer Alain Moussi) avenge his brother's death at the hands of Tong Po, a merciless, undefeated fighter played by former WWE star turned actor Dave Bautista.
MMA pros Gina Carano, Cain Velasquez and Fabricio Werdum also feature prominently in the film, which already has a sequel in the can, due next year, with a cast that includes UFC's Paige VanZant, Brazilian soccer star Ronaldinho and boxing legend Mike Tyson.
We caught up with GSP to chat about his role in the film, his budding acting career and the sport that continues to call his name.
You play Sloane's hard-drinking pal Kavi, a comedic role that requires some acting chops. What was the experience like?
It was a great experience. I take acting classes to be more well-prepared because acting is like fighting. When I'm fighting, I train and spar with guys that are like my opponents. When I'm acting, I have sparring partners, so to speak, that help me prepare for the scene. There are a lot of similarities between acting and fighting. Acting is a new thing for me, so I have a white-belt mentality and I think I have a lot to learn. I try to sponge as much as I can when I'm on the set.
Are you a fan of the original "Kickboxer"?
Absolutely, I'm a huge fan, and I'm also a huge fan of Jean-Claude. He's one of the reasons why I do what a do for a living. He's a hero of mine. I'm from Quebec, where we speak French, and Jean-Claude is a Belgian guy, "The Muscles from Brussels," and at the time he was the biggest movie star where I'm from. To have a fight scene with him is a dream come true.
That's right, you got to fight Van Damme, who holds a second-degree black belt in Shotokan and had a pretty solid fighting career before becoming an action star. What was it like to fight your hero in a movie?
It was a dream come true to fight my idol. It was just amazing. I couldn't believe it. And Jean-Claude was very nice; he helped me to do great things to make the fight scene memorable. I remember he told me, "A fight scene is great and will be remembered not only because of the action, but because of the special moments, like wearing a hat." [Van Damme dons a fedora in their fight scene.] I thought that was very interesting. He's a very charismatic man.
At his peak, how do you think Van Damme would've faired in UFC?
Look, the truth is, to be an actor or fighter, it takes a lot of work. If he would have put his effort and energy into being a fighter, I think he could have done well. But he chose the route of being an actor, and it paid off very well; he's a Hollywood superstar.
If you and Van Damme were to have squared off in the octagon while in your primes, who'd come out on top?
[Laughs] I don't know. That's a lot of "ifs." Who knows, if I was born at the same time as him, when UFC didn't exist, I might've been an actor. It's hard to say.
Did you ask him to do his famed leg-splits-over-chairs thing?
[Laughs] I didn't ask him to do that, but he still has very good legs. They're very flexible. I asked him for some advice on how to stretch, to get a little bit of his dexterity. He has amazing legs.
You had a whole bunch of colorful characters in Thailand -- Bautista, Carano, Velasquez, Fabricio. What's your best story from the production?
The highlight for me was getting my butt kicked by Jean-Claude. But one night, Jean-Claude took me out to eat, and I ate like a pig -- full, full, full. Afterwards, we went to a foot-massage place. We sat down in chairs -- me, Jean-Claude and his friend, the gentleman who played Tong Po in the first Kickboxer -- and a masseuse comes with a stick to massage our feet. And we were supposed to have a 30-minute massage, but we ended up passing out in our chairs for two hours! When we finally woke up, we were so relaxed. But then we took a tuk-tuk back to the hotel, and we almost got hit by a car five different times. That tuk-tuk stressed me out so bad, I wanted another massage.
This is your second sizeable role in a legit movie, following "Captain America: The Winter Soldier." Is acting your next career?
Yeah, I really love it. It's very fun for me. And I want to learn. I'm not the kind of guy who goes on set and says, "You know who I am? Let me show you how it's done." No, this is something that is completely different. I'm ready to learn and sponge as much as I can when I'm on the set to increase my acting skill.
Unlike fighters, actors have a union, or Screen Actors Guild, to protect them. But recently, an effort to unionize fighters was announced by an organization called Professional Fighters Association. What do you think of that effort and of fighters unionizing in general?
Yeah, I heard that. In every sport, they have a union -- baseball, hockey. And it's the next step in MMA. I don't think it's an "if" -- it will happen. It's just a matter of time. That's what I believe.
The UFC recently came under new ownership. I know you're enjoying acting, but have you been in contact with any members of WME-IMG in regards to a potential comeback?
Yeah, I texted Dana White when the sale got announced, and I told him, congratulations. A lot of guys are angry or jealous. But Dana White, what he did for the sport is amazing. He's the best promoter in the world. Love him, hate him, but don't ignore him. This guy is amazing, the best pound-for-pound promoter of all time.
We had some problems -- he says stuff, and I don't always agree with him, he doesn't always agree with me. But I would not have my quality of life and wealth if it were not for Dana White and the job he's done to promote the industry. Of course, he works for his interests, and as fighters we have to work for our interests, but I congratulate him because it was a masterful business move for him. That's the goal -- when you buy something, you want to raise the bar and sell it. I'm very happy for him and Lorenzo [Fertitta].
Right, but everybody wants to know about your comeback. Where are you with that?
Mentally, I'm ready to go. I have my agents. I put my cards on the table; now they're going to talk to the new owner pretty soon. So we'll have some news pretty soon. I know there are a lot of rumors, but we're waiting to see what will happen.
Tyron Woodley has been vocal in wanting to fight you. He says you've expressed interest in that as well, via text. Do you want to fight Woodley?
Yeah, I'll fight him, no problem. I want to fight him, no problem. There are a lot of guys calling me out.
Look, I'm not chickening out. The problem is this: There are fights that I believe are good for me, that can elevate me, and there are fights that cannot elevate me. Some guys are like, "You're ducking." I'm not ducking nobody. I'm taking a fight that is good for me. There are fights that are good, fights that are not good. Tyron Woodley is a very good fight for me. Nick Diaz is a very good fight for me. Some guys call me out -- a lot of guys call me out.
For example, BJ Penn, when he called me out. I'm not really interested in fighting BJ Penn because I fought him two times, and he's a very dangerous fighter. He's incredibly dangerous and incredibly skilled. And for me, I think it's an unnecessary risk to take because if I win, I win nothing much -- it doesn't really elevate me more than I am now. Fighting is not about who's got the biggest balls. You fight to elevate yourself. What will a win bring you? And what will be the consequence of a loss? That's my manager's job to [figure out]. And I trust them very well.
Could you be ready to fight by UFC 205 on Nov. 12 in New York?
Well, I'm doing the USADA testing process now. I think I do have a four-month mandatory testing to do before I'm eligible to fight. And because I've been very vocal about performance-enhancing drugs, I don't want a free pass. The last thing I want is to have an exemption, so people will say, "Oh, he talks about PEDs, but he has an exemption himself." It makes me look bad, for my brand, for the person I am. So, I'm in the program right now, but it's four months. So I have to wait four months, unfortunately.
The UFC's anti-doping program has now been in effect for more than one full year. What are your thoughts on the effectiveness of the program?
It's good. A lot of guys got caught. It's not perfect, but it's a lot better than it was.
Are you in fighting shape now, or is Hollywood shape different than fighting shape?
I'm in fighting shape when I have a fight, but I'm always in shape. I'm just not in perfect, exact fighting shape as I would be for a fight. But I'm in good shape. I'm always in good shape. I'm training, so to be in fighting shape won't take that long. In the snap of a finger, I'll be there.