‘Expendables’ Producer Avi Lerner On Lining Up an Action Movie Dream Team

Millennium Films chief talks sequel and why Jean-Claude Van Damme passed on being part of Sly’s gang

“Expendables” producer Avi Lerner spoke to TheWrap from the Paris premiere of his upcoming action movie. Lerner, who runs Nu Image and Millennium Films, previously worked with star Sylvester Stallone on “Rambo,” but he thinks that by teaming Sly with a dream team of action greats the two are poised to have their biggest hit yet.

(Also read: Lionsgate Hopes Stallone Can Still Taste First Blood)

Here he spills the beans on plans for a sequel, how they lined up the cast of high octane heavy weights, and the action icon that got away.

How were you able to get this cast together?

It started with Sly. He had the idea of wanting to get together with younger people like Jason Statham and Jet Li, and they all wanted to work with him. He got most of the people to join the cast, people from the world of sports and action, personally. He got Dolph [Lundgren] and Randy Couture and Eric Roberts. He’s also friendly with Governor Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis so he was able to get them to come in for that special scene.

Was there anybody that you wanted to join the film that you couldn't get?

We wanted Jean-Claude Van Damme. I’d made seven pictures with him, but it didn’t work. Aside from that we got everyone we wanted. I can’t go into much detail, because it wouldn’t be nice.

Was it about ego in Van Damme’s case?

A little bit of ego, a little bit that he doesn’t recognize his place in the film business.

How were you able to afford this cast?

A lot of them were ready to work in and be part of an ensemble, so they cut their price to be in the movie. It was a combination of Sly’s creativity and Nu Image writing checks.

This movie seems like a throw back. Do people still want to see hard R action films?

That was the idea, to go back to the type of films from the eighties. We’re trying to make it real. People are tired to of seeing movies where people fly and jump and do all kinds of things with CGI.

This is a movie like “Seven Samurai” and “The Magnificent Seven” with mercenaries on a mission. We didn’t want to make them too nice. We wanted them to have problems, but they’ve still got a job to do. They’ve got to save the world or in this case the island.

Is Sly in the twilight of his career?

No. This has been getting great buzz. When we made this movie, we put Sly in his real place. We didn't try to make him 25 years old or even 40 years old. We tried to put him as the leader of a group. He’s a guy who is 63, but can do extraordinary things. He plays his age though. In this movie, Sly even gets his ass kicked.

Will there be a sequel?

We’re definitely thinking about a sequel. It’s not easy to get everyone to agree. It not about egos, it’s about writing the right script, but we’re looking to starting shooting in 2011. We have an idea, but we’ll decide after the opening.