The actor: Dolph Lundgren made an indelible impression on moviegoers as Sylvester Stallone's genetically engineered Russian nemesis in the 1985 blockbuster Rocky IV. He went on to play iconic roles in action thrillers like 1987's Masters Of The Universe and 1989's The Punisher before finding a niche starring in low-budget direct-to-DVD action movies. His most recent film is Missionary Man, which he also co-wrote and directed.
Rocky IV (1985)—"Ivan Drago"
Dolph Lundgren: That's a very memorable role—that's my first film role. I had just started studying acting. I used to be a chemical-engineering student, but I started studying acting, and I went for a cattle call, up against hundreds of people. They tore me down because I was too tall. They said "How tall are you?" "6'5"." "Next." But then I realized that it was for a Rocky movie, and I was a martial-arts student and a big fan of Rocky. So I took a bunch of photos of me in boxing gear, and I got them to a friend who said he knew a guy who knew a guy who knew Stallone. A few months later, they tracked me down in Europe, and flew me into L.A. to see Sly. We got along pretty well. And then I had to go through another audition process for another six months. I had to put on some weight, learn to speak in Russian. I did a screen test at the end of that year, and then I got the role.
The A.V. Club: Was there originally a problem with the height difference between you and Stallone?
DL: I think it was the height difference. I think when he saw me, he realized it was an advantage. They put me on a box instead of him a few times. He's a clever guy. It worked really well for the invincibility of this Russian fighter.
AVC: That was one of the quintessential Cold War movies. You're from Sweden—what was your take on the Cold War?
DL: When I was a kid, I was like everyone else: afraid of getting nuked. We had drills in school—Sweden was very close to the Soviet Union. There was definitely a lot of tension. My dad was in the Swedish armed forces, he was always reading up on different weapons from the Americans and Soviets. When I was a kid, I was in bed looking at his books, reading about the Red Army. So I was very aware of it. I had an interest in military matters ever since. Playing a Russian officer/boxer was cool as a first role.
AVC: Were you at all worried that because it was such a high-profile role, you would get typecast as a bad guy, as a glowering inhuman hulk?
DL: I was too busy dealing with the situation. First the movie, the actual playing of the role and trying to deliver what everybody wanted. Then, when the film came out, there was instant fame. I was just a kid from Sweden, I didn't know what was going on. I was too busy with that stuff; I didn't worry about being typecast. Looking back, yes, a different way would have been to study acting and take small roles. I had other offers to play a European playboy, or romantic roles, stuff like that. But I think that basically, the confusion of coming from total obscurity—well I was a champion in karate, so I had a little bit of the limelight—to fame worldwide was a strange experience. It was a typical Hollywood experience.
Masters Of The Universe (1987)—"He-Man"
DL: I was just this kid who played this one role, this Rocky role, and was going to follow it up by playing an American hero. It was tough—the opportunity, the expectations. I had fun working on the actual movie. It was very physical, and I was just getting used to being another person, where what people perceive you as being is different than what you actually are. That's what stands out when I think of those years, and when I think of those roles.
The Punisher (1989)—Frank Castle/The Punisher
DL: That was fun. We shot that in Australia—there was a lot of fight training, and they brought in fighters from a dojo in Japan. Since I used to train, talking to those guys was a lot of fun. They didn't really understand about cameras, that it wasn't real, that you didn't need to hit the guy for real. There were two young Japanese fighters, and we had to teach them that you shouldn't kick the other guy in the face with any force. That was also an over-the-top role.
It's interesting, both those movies were made, but I guess they are coming back to a lot of the comic books. They're making a third version of The Punisher, and Masters is also being redone.
AVC: Everything gets recycled. Have you seen the other Punisher?
DL: I didn't see the second one. But there's a third one coming out. It's interesting—when I'm directing now, I'm moving more toward realism. I'm really not that into comic books. Now, of course, the Hollywood machine keeps churning them out. There's so many of them. It's hard to keep track.
A View To A Kill (1985)—"Venz"
DL: It was a "right place at the right time" kind of thing. I was there with my girlfriend at the time, Grace Jones. She was in the movie. I was just on the set. I was auditioning for Rocky IV at the time. But I was hanging out, and someone was missing who hadn't shown up, and the director pointed at me and said "Hey, would you like to be in the movie?" And I said "Yeah. What do I do?" And he said "You have to stand there and point a gun at Chris Walken. When I tell you to, point the gun and stand there." I guess I hit my mark and didn't screw it up too bad, and the director said "Hey, kid, you have a future in the movies."
I didn't know the extent of it then. It was fun. It was great to watch Chris Walken working—I didn't know anything about acting at the time, but it was interesting to watch him work. It was very unpredictable. I remember during rehearsal, he would not do anything, just mumble. And people were just looking at him like "Jesus, this guy is awful." But when the camera rolled, it was night and day. I remember the actor he was playing opposite being so shocked—just standing there, not knowing what to do. Walken would come at him from every angle: with rage, with this, with that. He was just in shock, like "Wow, what a great actor." That was a great experience. Grace was there too, of course. She beat up a few people, I remember. In front of the camera, anyway.
AVC: That's an auspicious way to begin your career, with a James Bond movie and a Rocky movie.
DL: I was caught between Sly Stallone and Grace Jones for the better part of the year. Which was tough, to switch characters, but very exciting.
Johnny Mnemonic (1995)—"Street Preacher"
DL: I enjoyed designing a character which was very different from me. He walked different and talked different, and used body language like a street preacher, and had a wig and a long beard. I remember my agent showing up on set, and he walked up to me and said "Hey, have you seen Dolph Lundgren?" I guess my outfit worked. It was fun. Keanu Reeves was in it, and we had a little fight scene. It was before Speed came out, so he was only sort-of well known. But I enjoyed that experience. It was also fun to play a smaller role. It was the first time I played a supporting role and didn't have to carry the movie. It wasn't heavy, I didn't have to work almost every day, and then I was done with my part.
AVC: Do you find character roles and supporting parts appealing?
DL: Yeah. I used to think that because of the way I look, it's hard for me to land those roles. I'm in an Italian movie, a biblical epic that Fox is opening this February, where I play a smaller role—a bodyguard. That was kind of fun. But I tend to play the lead or maybe the heavy, or otherwise I'm not in the picture. It's weird. It's just my destiny, I guess. But yeah, I'd do more supporting roles if I had a chance.
Fat Slags (2004)—"Randy"
AVC: I guess one film that stands out in your filmography more than any other is Fat Slags.
DL: [Laughs.] Why did I make it? I don't know. It was spur of the moment, through a friend of mine. It was a friend of a producer. They were doing a comedy in the UK, and I had an apartment there at the time, and I was spending some time there a couple of years ago. I ended up doing a small role. I think it was a half day's work. What can I say? I don't know if anyone has ever seen it. I have never seen it. But some people who have seen it say that it's funny.
AVC: What character did you play?
DL: A physical trainer. The female leads, who are, well, two fat chicks—fat slags, basically—go to the gym to get in shape with a trainer that they have the hots for, in tight shorts. That was me. It was fun. It was a slapstick comedy, and I hadn't done one before.