An Interview with Dolph Lundgren
Who doesn't remember Dolph Lundgren's turn as Ivan Drago, the mountainous steroid-fueled Soviet killing machine that killed Rocky Balboa's best friend in "Rocky IV"?
What you may not know is that the Sweden-born Lundgren has more than 30 films to his credit, including one, "Missionary Man," that he wrote, directed, produced, AND starred in. You also may not know that he holds a degree in chemical engineering and was awarded a Fullbright scholarship to MIT.
Lundgren's latest film, the straight-to-video "The Final Inquiry," (hitting stores Feb. 19) is a period piece chronicling the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. I caught up with Dolph just long enough to talk about his new movie, playing He-Man, and giving Sylvester Stallone a beating that culminated in two weeks in the hospital.
JS: So your new movie is "The Final Inquiry?"
JS: I have to tell you I haven't had a chance to see it…
DL: (laughs) Don't worry about it.
JS: Can you tell me a little bit about it and your character?
DL: Well, the film takes place three years after crucifixion of this rabblerouser down in Palestine named Jesus of Nazareth. The Roman Emperor Tiberius, who is sick and dying, has heard something about the resurrection of this man, so he dispatches one of his tribunes to investigate what's going on down there. And Pontius Pilate, who is running that part of the world for the Romans, he's involved in covering up that there are these believers, these followers of this man. On his journey comes his trusted bodyguard, who's this barbarian warrior who's been captured in this battle in the beginning of the picture. He's kind of a quiet guy, doesn't say much, he's there he's there to serve his master, but he's also being transformed by this somehow by seeing all of this activity and people being reborn and turning the other cheek and non-violent protests. This guy, Brixos is his name, he's granted his freedom by the Roman tribune who is falling in love with this local girl and is about to give up his Roman faith and stay there. At that point Brixos defends his master and dies in a Christlike fashion. It's a way for the main character to move on in his life.
JS: So he's kind of a lynchpin in the overall story.
DL: Yes, it's a smaller role than I'm used to playing, but it's a good role and it's a pivotal role in the story, because he's a childlike big man who sacrifices himself.
JS: Can you tell me a little about what drew you to the project, being a little different than what you usually do?
DL: Yeah. I love history. I've never been in a historical picture before, and this role was great. Perfect casting. The other people involved--F. Murray Abraham, Max Von Sydow, Monica Cruz--were all interesting actors, and it was a European project, and I thought people might enjoy seeing me in this type of different role.
JS: You mentioned the actors you worked with. Can you tell me a little about your interaction with them? Are they people you particularly wanted to work with?
DL: I've seen them in movies, especially Max Von Sydow, since I was a kid, so of course I wanted to work with them. Also, this film has a family-oriented feel to it, and it's not excessively violent, and it has the message about the birth of a religion, and they were such good actors to tell the story, that I thought it would be something to be a part of.
JS: Your typical experience is in action films, so can you talk about how this was different either thematically or logistically, especially in the physicality.
DL: It is dramatically different. There is a bigger cast, and the thrust of the story is the narrative, and not so much the action. In an action movie it usually comes down to physical confrontation between the protagonist and the antagonist, whether it's "Rocky IV" between the American or Russian fighters, or "Universal Soldier," between good and evil, or whatever. But this is more about the narrative, and changing the arc of the main character. The physical transformation for me, having long hair and a beard and wearing barbarian clothing and carrying an ax, it's kind of cool. It transforms you when you put the gear on.
JS: The film from what I read was filmed mostly in Bulgaria and Tunisia. Can you tell me about the challenges or experiences you had there?
DL: We had a crew mixed with Italian and Tunisian. They were definitely different than working with an American or a British crew, which is what I'm used to working with. It's different. Italians care very much about the visuals, and the appearance of things, and it has almost an operatic quality to it. Everything has too look good, and it has to be (in an Italian accent) bella (?), you know, and wonderful, beautiful. And that's great. Italians are passionate people, and fun to work with. And Tunisia is an old Roman colony, so there are interesting things to see other than the movie sets. They have a huge coliseum there, the third biggest in the world.
JS: You've dabbled in pretty much every aspect of filmmaking. You wrote, directed, and produced "Missionary Man," and you starred in it, too.
DL: Yes, thank you. That was a pretty tall order. You know, I didn't do the craft service. That's for the next picture (laughs). Yes, and it actually has a biblical motif to an extent. It's set in a small town out west, and a stranger on a bike rolls in. He has a bible in his hand and has a gun too. He's there to sort out some old scores from the past. It was fun to try a little bit of everything.
JS: I would be remiss if I didn't ask you about those roles you're more well-known for. I've been dying to ask about "Rocky IV," and there's kind of a legend that you put Sylvester Stallone in the hospital for several days while filming that last fight scene. How much truth is there to that, and what were the circumstances behind it?
DL: Well, (laughs) I'm not really sure what happened, but he did go to the hospital for two weeks. We shot that in Vancouver…I think he was overworked from acting, directing, boxing, and they say he got hurt from the punches. But I got hit too. I don't know, but that's what happened.
JS: (laughs) How taxing was that shoot? It seems like as big a piece as that was, and even the whole movie, it would be brutal.
DL: Well, it was very tough. I was in good shape then. I'm in pretty good shape now, but I was in much better shape then, because I was a fighter, I was a European champion kickboxer, and I ended up training with Stallone for five months, four hours a day. We became very good friends, and that was a tremendous scene. I remember Sly said (in Stallone accent), "Look, Dolph, we're gonna be the s* together.' And I think he was right. I think of all the Rocky movies, the first one had the strongest narrative, but maybe the best fighting was in the fourth one. And the last one was also good.
JS: I want to mention finally "Masters of the Universe." Can you tell me why that wasn't a bigger hit than it was?
DL: I'm not sure, really. It was a combination of things. A lot of people like it now. It's more of a cult classic. It was a Canon picture, and they were in trouble those days I believe. I'm not sure though. I know they're doing a remake right now. It was a good time in my career. I really enjoyed it, it was fun. It's fun to look back at that kind of stuff. People ask if I want to be part of the new one and tell them I don't know if I want to pull the tights back on, and say "I'm the strongest man in the world," and…what is it? "By the Power of Greyskull!" I want to be something more real. I like shooting people and kicking ass, but not wearing tights.