In the first two installments of Sylvester Stallone's Expendables franchise, the cast of faded 80s action heroes looked more like a porch full of collapsing Jack-Lanterns in late November than a bunch of movies stars. That changes slightly this week thanks to a crop of wrinkle-free faces injecting youth into the series like a syringe of HGH.
Victor Ortiz is one of those faces. The 27-year-old boxer, a one-time WBC welterweight champion, was forced into a boxing hiatus after suffering a broken jaw in 2012. Sidelined, Ortiz did what any celebrity who wants to remain relevant does and went on Dancing with the Stars. Ortiz's skills in the ring didn't precisely translate to the dance floor, but his eighth place finish on the reality show (one spot behind Andy Dick) wasn't completely for naught. Along with the six-figure paycheck, his agent got a call from Sly himself. We caught up with Ortiz before his big screen debut to talk about meeting his childhood hero, working out with Arnold, and his future in the ring.
Take me through how this career transition happened.
It's my way of staying relevant. I kept myself in the limelight by doing “Dancing With the Stars” and when my agent asked how I felt about acting, I was like, why not. I was in theater in high school.
And then one day Sylvester Stallone calls?
He called my agency. I just got an email saying, “You’re going to meet with Sly.” I didn’t even put it together. Then I get to Beverly Hills and Stallone’s there.
What’d he say?
He was like, “Tell me why you think you deserve to be in this movie.” And I say, “To be quite honest, I don’t deserve much of anything, but I’m a workhorse.” So he tosses me a script, tells me to come back next Tuesday and we’ll pick up from there. I was like, “Oh my god. That was insane.”
What happened when you went back?
He had me stand against a wall with cameras on me. I was completely nervous. He helped me loosen up though, told me to get into game mode. After I just thank him and say, “Even if I don’t get this part it was so great to meet you,” he’s walking out the door and I’m thinking I butchered it. He turns around, shakes my hand and says, “Congratulations, you got the part.” I was just like, “Uhhhh. Wow.” And he says, “Now get out of my face before I change my mind.” I say, “Easy now, those are sparing words,” and he starts telling me all about his boxing days.
Did the Rocky movies speak to you growing up?
Absolutely. We loved Rocky movies. I could relate to those films because Rocky Balboa was a kid with nothing. Those movies were kind of a blueprint for what I became.
Let’s talk about that. You’ve lost your last three fights and IMDB says you’ve got another film role coming up. Where’s the boxing career stand?
I'm not going to stop until I do what I set out to do. I have 147 pounds to clean up. After that, I'll get 154 as well. Then I'll think about calling it quits. Right now I have too much going on. I'm one of the biggest boxers of the era.
But a part of you must be thinking about the end. You can’t box forever.
I have my plan b and plan c. Finishing my major at the University of Kansas in business management was part of that. The whole acting thing, that just came into my life. I know I'm not going the able to box when I'm 45, 50 years old. But, as of now, I’m 27. I just hit my prime in boxing. After this movie is out, I’m excited to get back in the ring and capture some titles.
You’ve taken some criticism for your transition to acting.
It’s the perception that I’m not dedicated. People have been saying I need to retire. But that’s not what I want. I want to be world champion again.
Randy Couture and Ronda Rousey have also been world champs. Did you guys talk fighting at all on the set?
Not really. As fighters, we don’t really talk about fighting to one another. But we did work out a lot. Every time someone hit the gym we would go together.
Even the old dudes?
Yeah, I hung out with Mel Gibson. I hung out with Arnold. Arnold worked out quite a bit.
How jacked were those guys?
It was amazing. They’re in great shape. Geez. When I’m there, I want to look like that.
Did you train any differently for the movie than you do for fights?
I work out every day. I love the gym. So, nothing different. I had to get some gun training though. We had to learn how to walk with guns. How to load them and unload them and clean them and check them for bullets. That was probably the most interesting thing for me.
That’s a pretty masculine atmosphere. Did you take any shit for “Dancing with the Stars”?
Yeah, they’d be like, “Watch out for Vic, he’s going to dance you to death. Just don’t hit me with the rhumba.” It felt like we were on a college campus. Between Kellen Lutz, Ronda, and Glen Powell, we were the kids. We had a great time.
Did you get acting tips from them?
I just asked questions. Kellen and Glen and I would read together and they would tell me to try lines different ways. Randy Couture would walk me through some stuff. Jason Statham would help me and I'd pick their brains. They're some of the bigger cinema stars of history, so who better to ask? It's like having your pro debut in boxing and fighting for the world championship in your very first fight.
Photos by Jeff Gross / Getty Images for Golden Boy Promotions