Matthew Jenkin reports from The Expendables press conference, where stars Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren and Jason Statham discuss everything from Rocky to assembling possibly the greatest action cast ever.

WITH an almost unbelievable cast of old school action heroes, including Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren, Jet Li, Mickey Rourke and, erm, Jason Statham, there's more testosterone and sinewy muscle in The Expendables than in Madonna's latest work-out DVD.

Throw in cameos from Bruce Willis and Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger and what's not to get excited about?

Ahead of the film's premier in Leicester Square on Monday, Stallone, Lundgren and Statham held a press conference at the palatial Dorchester Hotel to talk about the highly anticipated blockbuster.

The trio of celluloid tough guys chatted about everything from Rocky, crazy stunts, violence in films and assembling possibly the greatest action cast ever.

News Shopper: INTERVIEW: Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren and Jason Statham discuss The Expendables

At the screening last week there was a massive round of applause before the film even started and as each star's name appeared there were whoops of joy. To what extent does that level of expectation bring extra challenges and responsibilities to do something really special with the film?

Stallone: Nah, it's commonplace around my house when I wake up, my daughters say yay, good morning. (Claps then laughs). No really, it's a lot of pressure because sometimes you come to do the film and you know you've got a major turkey and it's not even Thanksgiving.

But this time there's great expectancy. You go, jeez, I didn't expect this when we started making this and you begin to worry if it's going to live up to its ideals. So it's kind of complex. You're damned if you do and damned if you don't.

Dolph and Jason. What do you think about the level of expectation for you two?

Statham: Well, it's all on Sly I'm afraid. That's why you choose to work with people who know what they're doing. A lot of the time there's not such a luxury in that choice.

Stallone: So you better go with Christopher Nolan now (laughs). I'm just guessing my way through this.

Lundgren: I'm afraid of saying anything here. It's like fighting in the world championships instead of the regional championships in sports I guess and this movie is world class and you just feel like you want to live up to it.

Sylvester and Dolph, how would you compare your screen relationship now compared with 25 years ago in Rocky IV. Is there the same dynamic?

Stallone: I've never trained harder for Rocky IV than any other of the Rocky movies. Dolph's thing was brutal. He's a world class athlete ,so we got to know each other pretty well.

Then times changed with ups and downs, marriages. Then meeting this time was really a pleasure because with all the actors I've worked with, he's remained the most grounded and humble.

Plus, I'm dying to kick his brains in because he really beat me up badly in that movie. I look at the film now and I think, what were they thinking? That guy's a monster.

In the film I said to him, “It's really great. I just saw this fight with Marvin Hagler and he was fighting for the title and he went crazy in the first round.” I said to him, “I want you to try and knock me out. Just for the first 30 seconds and I'll do my best after that. I know I can slip it.”

He put me in the hospital for four days. You don't think I had a grudge? And it's still not over. (laughs).

Lundgren: He made me do it.

News Shopper: INTERVIEW: Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren and Jason Statham discuss The Expendables

Sly, how did you balance all the male testosterone on the set of The Expendables?

Stallone: You don't. The guys are very aggressive. I mean like Jason (Statham) does an action beat and he’s very physical and you will see in the documentary that his hands are in ice and he’s leaping onto baked ground over and over and he keeps wanting to do it.

And I said, “Stop, stop, stop,” and then the next fellow who has to do his stunt said, “Hey, Jason was rather good I am gonna kill this guy.”

So, in other words, it keeps building in competitiveness and that’s why you have such a physical testosterone on set because men are just naturally competitive and they want to keep upping the ante. You had to be tough to be on this show.

Are there any stunts you won't do or anything you're scared of?

Statham: I won't wear a flowery shirt, no. (laughs). It's all part of the cause. The good thing about the way movies get made when Sly's in control is he shoots a lot of the stunts in the camera and a lot of the action directors today tend to rely on the movie as a visual.

It becomes very boring because there's a lot of CG. So when you're doing an action movie which requires real men doing real action, it's an opportunity to do that and that's what we're looking for. We can't wait to get stuck in and do that sort of stuff.

Stallone: (Turns to Dolph) So what are you afraid of?

Lundgren: (Laughs) Saying too much at a press conference?

Stallone: He's afraid of being short (laughs).

News Shopper: INTERVIEW: Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren and Jason Statham discuss The Expendables

Sylvester, you've got the best action line-up in the industry. Is there anyone you wanted to be involved who couldn't do it and how did you get so many names involved?

Stallone: At first it was just myself, Jason and Jet Li. Then it began to build with that and I started getting rid of other characters. One time I was thinking of Ben Kingsley as the bad guy and Forest Whittaker. Then I thought, no, it's not going to fly. Let me just try to go really old school.

So I called Dolph and of course he accepted immediately. He was very gracious and Jason was already on.

Now I said, there aren't a lot of bad asses out there today. So that's why I went to MMA who got us a five times world champion (Randy Couture) and Steve Austin, who's literally ferocious and at the top of his game. He's an incredibly powerful human being.

And we just kept building from there. I called Jean-Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal but they had different ideas for their career. So I did the best I could (smiles).

Sly and Dolph, with respect to how the industry has changed, do you think stars still matter as much? Few films have been flogged for their star potential as much as this film.

Stallone: (teasingly) Yeah, what do you think Jason? No, stars don't matter that much. Concept matters. In our day, when we started out, a little bit before your time Jason. You were, well, you were still a thought. You weren't born. You were a concept.

With Dolph and I they would put you in a film and you were just guys and they didn't need to develop characters. You can't do that today.

It's like, Rambo was a one man show. But those days are numbered. There is a lot at stake today and it's really science about what the studios make. There's no more gut feelings or chances. It's all science. It's like a math project. It really is.

News Shopper: Sylvester Stallone and Dolph Lundgren star in The Expendables. Photo: Lionsgate

Can you explain your career choices and how do you justify the violence in your films?

Stallone: I've made a lot of mistakes in my career. I never started out wanting to be an action actor. I was an ensemble actor.

Then along came First Blood and it was the beginning of something unusual. Once all the dialogue was cut out, it was a completely visual film.

I believe the violence is very justifiable. The one thing in my films is that I only kill the people who need to be killed. The ones who deserve it get it and they get it good. And the ones who go after women, really get it. Now if you did it in every film, it's a horror film. But I don't feel guilty about it at all.

Jason, what was it like working with the heroes you grew up watching?

Statham: (joking) Well, he's a bit of a bully actually. He carries a big stick around, ordering tea and coffee.

It's a situation where you get to know the real man behind the camera. It's not the film maker any more, it's a regular guy. To me, that was the best part of working with Sly. It was about getting to know him as a person and there's no substitute for that.

It's an old fashioned film in many ways where men are men and women are victims. You could argue that it's slightly prehistoric.

Stallone: No. Well, us? Yeah, definitely. We were like head waiters at the Last Supper. We had a dinosaur as a house pet. As for women being the victims, again the film is a throwback to the 80s so I wanted to use that kind of set up.

(Talking about Giselle Itie's character Sandra) You've got this woman who's got a passion and was a patriot. I didn't want to do something too complex, controversial or politically correct, so I said, lets just go back to old school.

In the end, that girl in the film was water-boarded for real. If you're talking about tough, she did her own stunts. She was right there with all the guys. Believe me, that woman was tough.

News Shopper: INTERVIEW: Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren and Jason Statham discuss The Expendables

Sly, how did you juggle acting and directing in the film? Jason, what was it like acting with Sly behind the camera?

Stallone: It’s complex because my method is to learn everyone’s line. Then I don’t have to think any more and I can concentrate on them and when I am in a scene, well Jason will tell you, Jason had been given different lines at the spur of the moment.

Statham: Yeah, I mean that’s the great thing about having a guy who is a writer and a director and happens to star in the movie as well, because you have full liberty to change and improvise and you don’t normally get that.

You normally get restrictions with some guy who wrote the script and he doesn’t want anyone to mess with that and the director doesn’t allow it. So it’s the best situation you can get and also a lot of humour arises from it.

Stallone: Yeah, well there’s the scene for example where we have all the Somalian pirates and it's, “guns are faster than blades” etc. and then he gets a beep and he said, “Excuse me,” and he said, “I am getting a text,” and then when I said to Jason, “Say I am getting a text.” He said, “What?”

Then I said, “Say you’re getting a text,” and he said, “I am not saying that,” and I said, “Say it.” And you know the camera is rolling and I will say, “Beep, I am getting a text,” and he says, “What you say, beep I am getting a text?”

Then I say to Terry (Crews) to say, “It better not be from my wife,” and he says “What?” And so the confusion continues (laughter).

So you have the formula then sometimes we just ad lib and that was an example.

Jason, what about your collaboration with Jet Li?

Statham: Actually, most of the films I have done with Jet apart from this one have been no good. (laughs). No, it's difficult because my first movie with Jet (The One) wasn’t what it was supposed to be but it gave me the opportunity to work with Corey Yuen (co-director), which was instrumental for me playing in The Transporter films so it was a great relationship we had there.

It was coincidental that we were doing this film together. I mean it’s not that we were trying to beat Sly up and hold him down and say, “You know we wanna do another film together, make sure we’re in it.”

The films I have gone together with Jet have been, like, very science based and this is why this one works especially for me because it harks back to the old school action movies that basically are the ones I am interested in doing.

News Shopper: Jason Statham stars in The Expendables. Photo: Lionsgate

Were there any 'old style' running themes present in The Expendables?

Stallone: “I try to always deal with redemption and I think that everyone in this room and in this world has regret and in one moment they made the wrong decision, which is sometimes something that never gets your life back on course. And that theme from Rocky Balboa to Rambo it just haunts me.

Now, this thing with Mickey Rourke (who plays tattooist Tool in the film), where he goes, “we used to be something and now we are nothing. We are crap because we gave up redemption.”

Giving something for nothing and that’s the gift and that became the theme. Little bits here and there without giving it a talk-fest. Well, you can’t understand a thing I say anyway so why bother? (laughs).

There was a sense of closure with the last Rocky and Rambo films but there wasn’t that same feeling in The Expendables. Are we going to get more action films from you Sylvester or more mind over muscle?

Stallone: I don’t know, I have kind of done my mind movies and probably I think people are not really that interested in seeing me do that any more.

I think I am past my prime in doing (dramatic films). I think maybe it becomes a kind of pathetic cry out to be recognised as a serious dramatist.

I did my little moment, I mean I am very proud of my drama in Rocky Balboa, which is about as deep as I can go and also (James Mangold’s) Cop Land, so I would very much like to just direct dramas.

But I would like The Expendables to go on.

Dolph, similar to Stallone, would he give up working in front of the camera to direct?

Lundgren: No, I think both are cool. They're different and one's easier than the other. In front of the camera is easier and behind is more challenging but it works. It's fun to do both.

Stallone: You know, contrary to the way he looks, he’s (Lundgren) really smart. I mean seriously, of the whole group, he is like this beautiful guy, 6ft 5in tall, Viking guy, 29in waist and I am going, he’s gotta be a moron.

Then you find out he’s a {PhD} graduate in chemical engineering and various other things and you think, are you serious? Him? I mean, can you imagine him in a lab with test tubes going, “yes, I will cure this rat of something” The transformation is amazing from scientist to savage (audience laughs).

What about the affordability of action actors now, compared to 25 years ago?

Stallone: I could never have afforded Bruce (Willis) and Arnold (Schwarzenegger) before. That would have been the whole budget of this movie.

Jason, well, he’s a lot of money, but well worth it. I mean, seriously £100 a week – it’s unbelievable. No, that’s absolutely right, it would have been totally impossible before, but that’s one of the reasons they didn’t do it (back then).

But things have changed now. I mean, pricings are dropping rapidly. You are lucky to get work, so people who were getting 10 million are now down to two.

This (referring to the cast of The Expendables) was all favours. This was done really low budget. Some of these guys almost worked for nothing. It’s just the way it is. It never could have been done back then. I certainly couldn’t have gotten Arnold and Bruce back then. Not a chance, ever. Just too expensive and too busy.

The Expendables (15) is released in cinemas next Thursday.