Hollywood can be a tough place for young actors and actresses, and the seeming benefit or advantage of nepotism isn’t always what outsiders might make it out to be. Such is the case for Kristopher Van Varenberg, the 24-year-old son of notoriously limber action star Jean-Claude Van Damme and Gladys Portugues, an ex-bodybuilder and fitness competitor. Mixing action roles and bit parts in movies alongside his dad with character work in other films — including two new After Dark Films releases, “Dragon Eyes” and “Philly Kid,” debuting this week — the friendly and candid Van Varenberg is out to leave his own mark in the entertainment business. ShockYa recently had a chance to speak one-on-one to Van Varenberg, about his two new movies, mixed martial arts and the workout routine he’s perfected with his father. The conversation is excerpted below:
ShockYa: Both of your parents are very active, and have been into body-building. Was fitness always a big part of your life from a young age?
Kristopher Van Varenberg: Oh yeah. When I was born my mother and father were training more than they do now since of course they were younger, and they were focused on having one child instead of two, [before] my sister came along. But I was raised with martial arts, from about five years old up to the present day. It was great, being athletic throughout my life, because with the traveling and with work and just everyday life, it’s more important than anything else — it’s important to take care of yourself and be healthy. They’re very disciplined with that, which is a great example.
ShockYa: Your two new films, “Dragon Eyes” and “Philly Kid,” feature plenty of fisticuffs, and the latter is about an ex-wrestler and fighter who gets out of prison and transitions to mixed martial arts. What’s your take on MMA, and did you ever see it becoming quite as hugely popular as it has over the last six to eight years?
KVV: Oh man, it’s a fresh sport, and when it came out with the K1 stuff it was a huge hit. I’m a huge fan. I enjoy it, and watch them (frequently). I usually go to my agent’s house for fight night, with a bunch of good friends and other actors. It’s great to watch. I mean, I’m not professional at knowing some things, but I just love to watch the techniques, and I love to see the art form of it rather than the blood on the mat. I’ve done a few tournaments myself, but after like two or three I said that’s enough. I don’t like hurting people, I don’t like kicking people, that’s not my forte. But the art of the fighting is amazing — how the body and the mind can do all this. It’s beautiful. But when I worked on “Philly Kid” I didn’t do any fighting at all, nor in “Dragon Eyes.” It was more character acting, which was great. For me, a good movie example of action movies with character work that I would like to pursue as well is “The Crow,” with Brandon Lee.
ShockYa: Well, action is definitely a universal language. But when you talk about juggling those opportunities with character roles, it sounds like you have a really proactive desire to branch out into different things.
KVV: I would be absolutely happy to pursue it all, because people understand a kick more than an American-style joke. You hurt somebody, [and they] say, “Oh, good for him,” or, “Oh, I feel bad.” It’s universal, like you said. But there’s no limit for me, I’d jump into anything.
ShockYa: Given your father’s career, was acting and show business something you were always drawn to? I know you have several movies coming out later this year that you did with him.
KVV: Oh, yes, for sure. “The Eagle Path” is now called “Soldiers,” actually; they’re re-shooting some stuff and editing it. And I just finished a movie called “Welcome to the Jungle” with (director) Rob Meltzer. Doing all that with my father, acting with him, is one of the greatest gifts I could have right now, because the audition process is so hard. And so to at least have an ankle — not a foot, but an ankle or a toe — in the door is something, rather than just going around with your bike, going to auditions and trying to make yourself a movie star with the proper confidence. It’s very hard, the competition is massive. But it’s so easy working with him, and for him to give me advice because I catch on right away. It’s very funny because there’s a saying that sticks in my head. My father told me he was going to say the entire sentence that somehow I finished for him. He said, “Kris you have the same DNA,” and I said, “But in a different way,” because it rhymes. And he said, “That’s what I was going to say!” So it really helped, that little comment. It’s really cool to know that he would understand. And when you get on set, whether you’re in a movie with your father or not — or your mother, whoever is the actor in your family — it’s about you, and your talent and perseverance and how you approach things. People will see that differently when you shine. They won’t see a guy who’s tagging along, they’ll see a guy who’s got style and a person who is loving acting. And right now, that’s my mission.
ShockYa: So do you live in L.A. now?
KVV: I do, I just moved back from Belgium in the last year, and got my own little place in Marina del Rey. It’s way relaxed, way down to Earth. And my agent actually just moved into the same building complex as me. I grew up in the (San Fernando) Valley with my father and mother, in Chatsworth — we had our house out there. It was awesome, but I prefer the weather in Marina del Rey by far.
ShockYa: What kind of other stuff do you enjoy, in your free time?
KVV: Well, I’m a 2-D animator as well, I studied for six to seven years and worked in Hong Kong for a year on some projects. I studied in Vancouver at the Vancouver Film School, so I love to do that every night, and on Sunday and the weekends when I don’t go out. I usually don’t party, I just relax with my friends on the weekend, shoot some pool and hang out. The week is work, work, work, though. But it’s just very, very, very cool to draw some pictures and make them move. I appreciate and admire that. It’s an art form and a sport, and very time-consuming. But I studied it for six years and I still love it. And of course I go to the gym every day, or five times a week, usually, and practice my martial arts there. And when my father’s in town or when I’m with him we practice together. It’s discipline, and that becomes a true, proper muscle memory.
ShockYa: So do you have a set routine every day, or do you focus on the same type of things but change it up?
KVV: Well, the thing is I studied two different kinds of style — taekwondo to begin and Kodokan to end with, and I’ve just kind of continued them both. We usually start with lots of stretching, some light weight lifting and then from there we get into slow, slow-motion kicks we call them, where we hold on to a ballet bar and lift our legs from the side, keeping the back straight and in line with your hips. What that does is strengthen all the muscles in your leg so that when you kick the impact is two times harder than just doing a lot of heavy weight training and snapping kicks on bags every day. It’s the secret way of training, it’s like training with isometric cable work rather than pumping weights. You kind of vibrate your muscles, and so they become more lean.
Written by: Brent Simon