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Producers Kevin King Templeton and Les Weldon talk EXPEND4BLES

6 min read

This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labour of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn't exist.

Beefcakes of the world rejoice! is back with another team-up extravaganza in Expend4bles, the fourth instalment in the long-running franchise, this time directed by Acts of Valour and 5 Below director Scott Waugh. This time, Stallone's Barney Ross and 's Lee Christmas are up against a baddie played by The Raid's Iko Uwais. FILMHOUNDS sat down with franchise producers and to discuss the incoming fourquel and what goes into a good action blockbuster.

With this film, was there a worry that after COVID there might not be an audience for a franchise that isn't superheroes? 

Kevin King Templeton: No, I think there's still an appetite for non-superhero action-type movies. I think there are a lot of superhero movies and I think that's what distinguishes us from that. I think there is definitely a place for us in that world. I have two twenty-year-olds and they love seeing these superhero movies but they also love seeing hard R-action pictures as well. I think there's an appetite for it, otherwise we wouldn't have made it. It's all based on fan demand.

Les Weldon: I think for the industry there was a fear that COVID would mean the death knell for the industry, for theatres, but slowly it's coming back. At the end of the day, superhero movies you can watch a ton of, but you can't eat steak every night. You need a bit of variety. I think Expendables is a perfect action-type film that lets you break away from this other, heavier CG action, that the Marvel films give you — which isn't bad. But this is a more realistic, a more hardcore R-action thing, which there's an audience for.

The previous film was rated PG-13 in the States — this has gone back to the R rating. Was this an intentional desire to get back to, as you say, hardcore, 80s bloodletting feel?

KKT: Well we definitely knew going in that it was going to be R-rated. The PG-13 wasn't true to the first and second films, whether that was a miscalculation I don't know. Before we started we knew this was going to be R, even as the script was being developed. I guess it was subconscious or conscious to go that way, you know the first and second worked really well, and the fans also spoke that they wanted to go back to the hard R which is what we did.

Just looking at the cast, it's stacked with A-list action talent. Over the four films, you've had legends. Are there any people you wanted to get but couldn't… or if there's a part five?

LW: I think we got everyone wanted to, right Kev?

KKT: I think in the ones we have done, yeah, we've never had any problems. The actors know what they're signing up for. We're a fun action, adventure, escapism. We're not taking ourselves seriously, we're not Saving Private Ryan. When the actors come to the set it's kind of a collegial atmosphere. You're right, we've had a lot of huge names and even with this one with Megan [Fox], and 50 [Cent], Andy [Garcia] and Iko and Tony Jaa, you know everyone knew what they were going into. It's fun.

When you say is there an Expendables 5, I don't like putting the cart before the horse. I'd love for there to be a 5 but let's get this one out and then worry about what's next. But there are a ton of actors I'd love to work with, one hundred percent.

LW: And two, it's a factor of availability. We might have missed out on an actor for Expendables 2, but we can get them for , so it all seems to work out, generally speaking. But in terms of missing out on actors, in every movie the actors we've had generally have worked out very well. On this one we got a couple of new actors we really wanted, that were our first choices — like 50 Cent, like Iko Uwais — we knew they would fit in so well with our core group and breathe new life into our characters, push the characters a little further. The whole relationship between Jason Statham and Megan Fox is a great example. It helped the Lee Christmas character, helped push him to the forefront of the story. Sometimes you think of an actor  and go “Oh we have to get him in an Expendables!” But if he doesn't fit with what you're writing, then it becomes like a third wheel. A lot of what we do is based on the story we have and how well they will fit in.

As you say about pushing forward and story, this seems to be passing the torch from Stallone as the main character to Statham. Is there a desire from that the reinvent the series, keep it fresh?

KKT: There's a desire to reinvent the franchise, but I don't think Jason being the centre on this one is so much passing the torch. It was story-driven. Each Expendables is a module of film, they don't start off in the bar and end up in the bar. So, maybe in the next one, it's more Sly-driven or it's more Randy [Couture, who plays Toll Road]. How the franchise evolves, it's hard to say. You can only work on one at a time, if you start thinking about five and six you get into trouble. You just have to focus on what you have in front of you.

There's a lot of talent in front of the cameras, but there's also a lot behind. How do you decide who is going to direct each film — is it about the story and which director will bring the best personality?

KKT: Yeah, and it's in consultation with the actors. Sly directed the first one. He wrote, starred and directed the first one which, I don't know how he did it… just to direct is hard enough but to star in it is a herculean effort. So he started the franchise off, and then we had Simon West who was very capable and did a great job on two. Patrick [Hughes] on three. There's a lot of development that goes into the script and you speak to a lot of director's agents, and they put you in contact with a lot of directors, you definitely get a feel for who could elevate the franchise. That's the key, who can elevate, and whoever has the best take is the one who gets the job.

LW: And Scott [Waugh] was a great choice for this one, he is very action-driven as a director and he knew we wanted to get back to the hard-R roots, and he's done this kind of thing. He's done these action-military type films, he embraced the whole concept of what we were trying to do, to get back into the fan's hands and not thinking “Well maybe they'd like a PG-13 thing or whatever else.” We really wanted to take this forward, and Scott was a great choice for that as a director.

One thing I love about the series in particular is the villains. One problem with modern action films is that they have weak villains, but here you have great villains. What do you think goes into a good action villain?

KKT: If you don't have a good villain, you don't have a movie. Full stop. Heroes are heroes, but without a villain, you've got no arc, you've got nowhere to go. The villain in Expendables 4 — without giving the plot away — we ruminated a lot on this because the villain dictated whether the story worked a lot. You needed someone who could stand up to all these marquee names (the Slys and the Jasons). They've got to have some gravity, some weight, some presence. So, with the Die Hards, the Alan Rickmans, he was perfect. The movie didn't work without him. So a lot of work went into who's going to be the villain. From Jean-Claud van Damme to Eric Roberts, they've all got to be significant.

LW: Also being big personalities so our heroes who are kick-ass anyway aren't just going to be beating up somebody who's not that strong. We need big personalities who can, in a sense, put in danger.

I know you don't plan ahead, but there's been rumblings for a very long time of a female-lead spin-off, is that likely to happen? Could we see Angelina Jolie or Michelle Yeah leading an all-woman team? 

KKT: I don't know, I wish I could answer!

Expend4bles is in cinemas on 22nd September.