Dolph Lundgren still has fight left in him
Dolph Lundgren’s publicist calls to let WE know his client is terribly sorry for running late: For the first time in almost two decades, the actor is a hot commodity, and everyone wants a piece of him.
Best known for his 1985 turn as Russian boxer Ivan Drago, who took on Sylvester Stallone’s American underdog at the height of the Cold War in Rocky IV, the all-but-forgotten brawny blond is back in the limelight with an upcoming guest role on TV’s spy series Chuck and shares top-tier billing in The Expendables (opening Aug. 13).
Written, directed by, and starring Stallone, the balls-out, testosterone-fueled flick features action heavyweights from the past three decades (plus cameos from Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis), countless explosions, and some of the bloodiest, most bad-ass brawls and stunts ever choreographed on celluloid. For Lundgren, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime career resuscitation. “I’ve not been in a big movie for 15 years, so... the audience is like, ‘Oh, there’s the Swedish guy — thought he was dead,’” Lundgren jokes.
Over the course of the conversation, the hulking 52-year-old proves witty, humble, and soft-spoken. It’s a marked contrast from his character, Gunner Jensen, the loose-cannon member of a gang of honourable mercenaries who call themselves the Expendables, a damaged collection of men scarred emotionally and physically by the carnage of their work. Lundgren culled from his own personal experience in the Swedish military to help bring authenticity to his role. “There’s a certain discipline, inner-strength, and perseverance that comes both from martial arts and from being a soldier,” he says. “It’s all about being a warrior, about putting your life on the line for something you believe in. Or, at least something you’re told you’re supposed to believe in, and to do it without fear, or to overcome your fear. Stallone knows a lot about that; overcoming fear is his whole life.”
Lundgren has plenty of admiration for his mentor and boss, calling The Expendables a welcome return to “square one.” But a 25-year friendship with Stallone didn’t spare him from the writer-director’s artistic temperament on the set. “Being directed by a friend is both good and bad,” he says. “If it doesn’t turn out after a few takes, he might blow his cool and start yelling at you. Like, ‘C’mon! You gotta get this right. I wrote this for you. We gotta move on.’ That’s what happened in one scene we did.”
A few bruises to the ego are nothing compared to the long tally of physical injuries incurred while filming. Lundgren admits the battle scars can be partly attributed to the macho posturing between the aging athletes, though he escaped relatively unscathed, having undergone only one surgery (on his elbow) during training. “I got clipped by Jet [Li] in the face a few times, but that didn’t hurt too much, and my face is one of my least vulnerable parts,” Lundgren says, laughing. “Stallone got his neck broken, and hurt his hand really bad, and I think he had surgery on his shoulder, and another surgery as well. The guy’s over 10 years older than me and did twice as much action as I did in the movie, and he was directing on top of it, so no wonder he got hurt. It’s amazing he pulled it off.”