‘Maybe I’m not so stupid after all’

AFTER A 15-YEAR hiatus from big Hollywood movies, Dolph Lundgren returns to the spotlight as one of The Expendables, but is still trying to shake his image — especially in his home country — as a “big, dumb, blond Swede.”



How do you feel about your movie being number one at the box office?

It feels a bit unreal. It’s interesting how it happened. I haven’t been on the big screen in 15 years, so to me, it’s a big deal. It was fun to do it with Sly.

Did you go to any theatres this weekend to see how it’s playing?

No. I heard from a friend of mine who went to one of the Hollywood theatres that it played well and the audience seemed to respond to my character, crazy Gunnar. That’s always fun.

What’s next for you?

I’m writing a fitness book for a Swedish publisher that will probably come out here as well. It’s about how I train and my life in sports. I’m in L.A. for some photography for that. Then I’m writing a couple of scripts. There’s one I’m trying to finish up called Skin Trade; it’s about human trafficking. Hopefully, I’ll try to get a more famous actor as the lead, and I’d direct it and play the co-lead. Hopefully, I can get a bigger budget.

Do you think that with The Expendables being a hit, it will be easier for you to get a bigger budget?

I hope so. I’ve learned the ropes on these smaller movies, but it’s tough on a 30-day schedule to make a decent feature. I need a better schedule. Also, I’m trying to do something in Sweden, maybe a period piece.

Why a period piece?

I think I belong in the past — onscreen, that is. I haven’t done a period piece, and I think it will be fun. I think as a director, what is difficult if you do action movies is to make the transition to dramas. One way to do it, which guys more accomplished than me like (Mel) Gibson and (Kevin) Costner have done, is to do a period piece. You have enough guys getting killed, so it’s easy enough to get financed, but you can make it upscale and a drama. They’re usually about real events.

Do you feel you get stereotyped as a dumb blond?

Yes. Big, dumb, blond Swede. That’s been the stigma I’ve had for 25 years, especially in Sweden. There, they are even more upset that I didn’t do any Bergman movies and just went to Hollywood and started killing people. But it’s turned a little bit now because I hosted this Eurovision Song Contest this year and I had to do a little singing and dancing. People saw me as who I am and realised that maybe I’m not so stupid after all.

Would you consider running for governor if you moved back to America?

You have to be a citizen here first. But funny enough, I was asked to run for office in Sweden this year. But I didn’t want do it. I spoke out about the environment, and the Green Party in Sweden came to me and asked. I didn’t want to do it, but it was interesting.

Why not do it?

I figure, if you’re a celebrity, it’s not good to work for one party. You can raise more awareness if people don’t look at you as working for one party only. But it would be fun to get involved in public service in some way because I’ve never done that. As you get older, you go from caring about yourself to caring about your family to caring about your community.

Are you better at maths or reading?

Probably reading now. I haven’t practised maths in a long time. Maths and physics used to be my strong suit. I like reading history, mostly nonfiction.

Did you read a lot of books on set?

Not really. The schedule was so crazy. It was night shoots for three months in New Orleans. I may have been finishing up a book called South Pole. I can’t remember.

Maybe your time was spent engaging in contests of champions?

(Laughs) No. My character is an outcast, and I worked with Sly quite a bit but not a lot with the other guys. I had weird hours. I did have a couple of karate guys, and we were talking about fighting. I’m trying to get my 4th dan — my 4th-degree black belt — and we were preparing for that.

So it wasn’t a scene on set where everyone was showing off how strong they were or how much they can bench press?

It’s not really my style. There were a lot of big guys around, so you do feel a little bit of a healthy competition to be in shape. I did work out quite a bit for the movie and tried to put on a little more muscle. I’m usually more lean. People were pretty quiet. We’re older now.

You have two girls. Are you teaching them to be karate or weightlifting champions?

I help them with their homework. I want them to go to school and not be actresses or models. Well, they can be later, but not until they’re 18. I’m the boss until they’re 18. I feel it’s really important to get an education. What’s important in life are good manners and education. That helped me in my life, so I want to give that to them too. That’s why I keep them away from Hollywood a little bit.

So do you need a woman to be your intellectual equal?

Not necessarily. I think it’s more emotional. You want someone to support you and make you relaxed. That’s the primary thinking. Intellectually equal? No. Maybe it’s better if they’re not.

‘Buckle up and enjoy a rocket ship ride down memory lane’

As The Expendables rakes in box office dollars, Sylvester Stallone says the action movie was a ‘gamble’ that should never have happened

AT THE CUSP of a fifth decade of action-movie mayhem, Sylvester Stallone says his number one opening with The Expendables ranks among his top career thrills. The mercenary thriller earned an estimated $35 million during its first three days of release in North America.

So The Expendables opened bigger than anything you’ve ever directed. It seems you’re still setting personal bests.

I didn’t do this all by myself. It was a movie about teamwork, and the team helped make it a success. I always say that if you are a star — even a faded star — the light never goes out. You just need to rekindle it.

Have you written a script for a sequel yet?

It’s plotted out in my mind’s eye. I believe this group has to continue to evolve; it just can’t become the same people. So how do you get new people introduced into the group, and how do you have some of the other people leaving? Those are the challenges.

Do you enjoy the challenges you face?

My proudest moment ever was not Rocky, it was the last Rocky picture, Rocky Balboa. To be able to meet the challenge of completing that series after all these years was great. But this tops that — not in an emotional way but for excitement. This should have never happened. (Producer) Avi Lerner really took a big gamble on me when nobody else would. I know because I heard about it every day! He kept worrying about the reviews.

The Expendables was never going to be a critical darling though...

Most action films tend to rub people the wrong way. This is not to disparage critics, but the more physical and brutal an action film is, the less well it is received. It’s actually a barometer I use. That, and how many times I hurt myself.

Things turned out well enough though, didn’t they?

I never thought we would win this weekend, as we were up against some tough competition. I told Lionsgate and (CEO) Jon Feltheimer and Avi that I’m so grateful how those guys just dug in. Lionsgate hung tough and opened the purses. The campaign worked because it was honest. What you saw in the campaign was what you got. This movie is pure escapism. You just buckle up and enjoy a rocket ship ride down memory lane.

‘It’s always good to surprise people’

Known to action fans as a hulking karate expert, Dolph Lundgren is also a multi-linguist with a master’s degree in chemical engineering – and he recently sang a spot of Elvis on live TV. The actor-director talks about stumbling into fame and reuniting with Sylvester Stallone for The Expendables

IT HAS BEEN 25 years since Dolph Lundgren, in only his second film, stepped into the ring to face Sylvester Stallone.

In the bone-crunching climax of Rocky IV (1985), the musclebound, six-foot-five-inch Swede played Ivan Drago, a Soviet boxer with superhuman strength. Clad in red-silk shorts with hammer-and-sickle yellow trim, he squared off against Rocky Balboa (Stallone), whose shorts were patriotically emblazoned with the stars and stripes.

That was a different age. Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev had completed a successful summit only days before the film opened, but the Cold War still simmered, and Rocky IV made its final match a symbol of the titanic struggle between the USA and the USSR.

Today the Cold War is history, Russia is no longer communist, America has new enemies and Stallone and Lundgren are back sharing the screen in The Expendables, directed by Stallone, which trounced opposition to become America’s number one movie at the weekend.

The film brings together a powerhouse cast of veteran action heroes, including Steve Austin, Jet Li, Mickey Rourke and Jason Statham. In a dream moment for 1980s action fans, Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis actually have a scene together.

Stallone plays Barney “The Schizo” Ross, who leads a band of hired guns on a covert, CIA-funded operation to take down a South American despot. Lundgren is Gunnar Jensen, a precision sniper who was ejected from the team after an earlier mission for reckless behaviour.

Fans will particularly enjoy a scene in which Li and Lundgren duke it out in a sequence that showcases the actors’ respective fighting skills.

“Jet is a wu-shu champion and I do karate,” Lundgren says, speaking by telephone from Los Angeles. “Wu-shu is more balletic and softer, and karate is straighter and uses more power. I think that Stallone did a good job in getting some entertainment out of it.

“The film has a bit of a tongue-in-cheek feel, he adds.”

OVERNIGHT FAME

Lundgren’s ascent to movie stardom was not predestined. As a former weightlifting and karate champion, he might have pursued professional sports. Lundgren also speaks at least five languages and was once a promising science scholar: having obtained a master’s degree in chemical engineering from the University of Sydney, he was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, but in 1983 he abruptly quit to pursue acting.

“There was something in my soul that attracted me to the creative arts and to show business,” he says.

“When I was a kid, I had a lot of problems at home and with my parents. I think it was David Mamet who said that ‘Nobody with a happy childhood ever went into show business.’ It certainly applies to met.”

He made his acting debut in a small role as a KGB agent in the James Bond movie A View to a Kill (1985), which co-starred his then-girlfriend, singer/actress Grace Jones, who suggested Lundgren to the film’s producers.

It was Rocky IV, however, that cemented Lundgren’s future in moviemaking. He beat out thousands of other actors for the role of Drago, and became a recognisable face almost overnight.

“It was a good and a bad thing,” he recalls, “because I got very famous quickly. It was very hard for me to deal with fame, coming from a small town in Sweden. It shook up my whole existence.”

Lundgren next landed the lead as He-Man in Masters of the Universe (1987), and went on to a series of action films with some of Hollywood’s most respected filmmakers, including Roland Emmerich and John Woo.

He didn’t really find a new balance, however, until he was given the chance to direct.

That happened when director Sidney J. Furie fell ill during pre-production of The Defender (2004), in which Lundgren was to star. The producers asked him to take the directorial reins, to his own surprise.

“I was a bit shocked,” Lundgren recalls, “and I was flattered. But I hesitated. I became an actor by fluke, and it was the same with directing. But once I started directing, I realised that it was something more challenging and I felt more satisfied. It reminded me of engineering in college, where you are multitasking and doing more intellectual things.”

Lundgren’s latest movie, the straight-to-DVD Icarus (2010), is his sixth as director – and draws inspiration from David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence (2005) and by Alain Delon’s 1960s output.

“I don’t have any formal training – you have to learn on the job. I suppose I am a student,” he concedes.

Stallone has directed many of his own films since 1978, and Lundgren professes to admire his work.

“I also try to learn from him,” the Swede says. “He has been around for a long time. There aren’t too many people who have been in more action movies than he has, except probably Clint Eastwood.”

DIRTY DOLPH-Y

Eastwood’s name comes up several times in conversation with Lundgren. He is particularly struck that Eastwood, who became a star playing laconic action heroes in films that were usually panned by the critics, reinvented his career at 61 when he directed Unforgiven (1992). Today he is a multiple Oscar-winner and one of Hollywood’s most esteemed filmmakers.

“He is a role model of mine,” the 52-year-old says. “I think that today you can keep working for a long time in Hollywood. Whether you’re a man or a woman, you can have a career well into your 60s, and still be desirable.”

Lundgren, who lives with his wife and two daughters in Spain, recently co-hosted the selection show for the Eurovision Song Contest in his home country, performing an Elvis Presley song live. He also played the drums and demonstrated karate.

“There are a lot of guys who are better at singing and dancing than me,” he says, laughing. “I suppose, in my case, what’s interesting is that it is unexpected from a guy like me. I think the Swedes loved it, and that really warmed my heart. It gave me a lot of inner strength and was really special to me.”

Lundgren hopes one day to make a film in Sweden, perhaps a drama set during either the First or Second World War.

“The sky is the limit,” Lundgren says. “I will always make action movies, because I like it and people want to see me do it. But why not do other things? It’s always good to surprise people.”

Last year, thieves broke into Lundgren’s home in Marbella, Spain, while he was away and tied up his wife Anetta. However, after threatening her with knives and demanding cash, they noticed a picture of Dolph. Having realised who they were messing with, the men fled empty-handed.


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