Dolph Lundgren arrived on the scene in a big way, playing Ivan Drago in the Sylvester Stallone blockbuster Rocky IV. Since then, he has become a staple of action, sci-fi and comic book films alike: everything from the Punisher to He-Man to multiple entries in the Universal Soldier series. He has two films coming out in rapid success. First the small scale Legendary, and later this month The Expendables 3. In an exclusive interview with Mania, he talked about the two projects and a career of almost thirty years in show business.
Question: What was the appeal of this character in Legendary?
Dolph Lundgren: He was entertaining and comedic. A little full of himself. An inflated ego. It’s a little broader than I’m used to and I thought it would be a fun experiment. Let’s see if we can make this guy watchable and fun while still being pretty awful.
Q: Is that something you need to do for villainous characters? Some way of connecting them to the rest of us?
DL: Yeah, you need to find their motivation, what makes them tick. It’s the old cliché: no one thinks they’re a bad guy. But that’s internal. Externally, you need to figure out how to make the guy watchable and fun. Sometimes it’s the dialogue or the physical movements. Sometimes it’s the scenario. But you can’t just make people hate you. They have to enjoy hating you. They have to have fun hating you. This script found that tone, that sense of fun.
Q: You shot this in China. Does anything change about the approach to the scenario, with the effects shots and all?
DL: It definitely does. They have a different tradition there. A different cinematic history. Their movies tend to have more of a fantasy element, which is why they wanted these locations in China. They didn’t want it to be shot on a green screen. You can shoot green screen everywhere and they wanted to highlight these locations. You don’t say no to that as an actor. It’s always better to shoot on site than in a sound stage somewhere. Of course, you still got two Chinese guys running around with a pole and an X on it to be the monster, so there’s some imagination required. But the setting really helps. You go where the work is, as an actor, but this time, it was a real learning experience.
Q: Were there any unexpected challenges to that type of filming? The Chinese school of filming?
DL: Mainly a logistical issue. Figuring out where to go and how to get around, and how to ask for stuff, like where the bathroom is. Not high art. You also have to take care with some of the safety stuff. We have rigorous safety procedures in the West, but in China, they’re a little more rough and tumble. Not that it wasn’t safe, but they’re more inclined just to roll the camera and work with it. It’s probably very similar to what it was in Hollywood fifty years ago. It can make for a more energized film, but you need to watch your step a little more closely.
Q: You’ve been at this for three decades. Do things change about the sort of roles you look for, or is it more of a case of knowing what your strengths are?
DL: Both I think. Sometimes you do it just to stay in the game, to get paid for what you love. Then sometimes you have a baby, a special project that you want to do a certain way. I don’t think anything’s changed about what I look for, but I think I understand where that balance is between those two. Fatherhood changes that. I loved Hollywood and loved working on everything I could. Then I had kids, and went back to Europe to raise my kids. When you come back to Hollywood, it’s a little different. You start thinking about other things, things behind the camera. You think about producing or directing, trying to get momentum going on that. These are things I always wanted to do. If you can do that, you can start fighting harder for those projects you really want to do. If you can finance the movie you love, you can make the movie you love.
Q: How long did you think about producing and directing?
DL: For a while, for a while. I was in a situation about nine years ago where the director on a film had to step down. He got extremely ill and I had to step in and finish it. That was the start of it. Also, again, if you’re the producer on a film, you get the final cut, which lets you make the films you want to make the way you want to make it.
Q: You’ve got The Expendables 3 coming up, which is a lot bigger than this once. What’s the difference in approaching big movies vs. small movies?
DL: There’s not a whole lot of difference. You have a lot more pressure on a big picture. You’ve got Sly Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger watching you do your thing, so the pressure’s on! At the same time, you’ve got more people around you to help carry the load. You have more freedom in a small movie, but a big movie gives you more resources. So there’s more pressure in some ways and less pressure in others. Ultimately, it’s all about the same thing: getting a good performance that’s going to entertain people