Yesterday morning I had the honor of interviewing one of my childhood idols, Dolph Lundgren, the impossibly perfect example of male comic book physicality brought to life. I’d first noticed Mr. Lundgren as a kid when a friend played me his Rocky 4 video; the film ran in heavy rotation in my house from there out.
In Rocky 4, Dolph took on the role of Ivan Drago, the (implied) genetically engineered Russian fighter built to do battle with Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone). Of course Rocky won the fight in the film, but it’s the visage of Ivan (Dolph) that will always stay with me as this towering, sculpted man-god. In a way, what Lundgren was in that film (perhaps it was the confluence of his build, the immutable strength and resolve he imbued in the character… all of that) that transcended the fun but ultimately pulpy pleasures of an otherwise fun but silly film.
I was not alone in my fascination with Lundgren, post Rocky 4; who was this guy? As it turned out, he was way more than anyone expected. He was educated at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden, Washington State University and Clemson in South Carolina University of Sydney in Sydney, Australia. He majored in chemical engineering. And he attended Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, MA. on a Fulbright scholarship. And then became a model before trying his hand at acting.
Post Rocky, Dolph enjoyed steady work as an actor, including a perfect turn as He-Man in the otherwise lamentable Masters of the Universe movie.
In 2004 Dolph took a turn as director for the film The Defender. And this week his third outing as director gets released. The film is Missionary Man, a decidedly dark neo-western.
Collider: Good morning, Mr. Lundgren. I hope I didn’t wake you up.
Dolph Lundgren: Oh no. I was up around 5:30. Went to the gym. This is actually my 5th interview, so I’m wide-awake.
Collider: That’s good. You know, odd as this sounds, you inspired me to start working out as a kid.
Dolph: Oh, really?
Collider: Yeah. I saw Rocky 4 at a friend’s house and thought ‘wow, he’s as tall as me and he’s BUILT!’ I assumed people over 6 feet couldn’t get the kind of mass you have.
Dolph: Thanks (laughs)
Collider: So thank you for your time. Goodbye.
Collider: So Missionary Man. This is the third film you’ve directed.
Dolph: That’s right.
Collider: How did this film compare to the previous ones you directed? Did you feel more confident walking into the role of director?
Dolph: Well, yes. I’m… getting there. It takes a while to learn the ropes, having no formal education as a director. I mean, I’ve done a lot of movies as an actor, but there are a lot of aspects to directing. But I’m more comfortable now than I was on the first picture, certainly.
Collider: What was your inspiration to start directing?
Dolph: You know… I thought about it many, many years ago. I always had this ‘thing’ of wanting to tell stories as a kid… also through drawings and paintings… stuff like that. Then I got involved in chemical engineering, then acting in action movies and through that… I ended up working on a script with some producers in London a few years ago. And on this one picture the director got sick and the producers asked me if I wanted to direct the film.
Dolph: Yeah. (Laughs) So I said yes, then I didn’t sleep for a few weeks. You know, we only had 10 days of prep.
Collider: That’s tight.
Dolph: But it was a good choice. And now I see it as a way to revitalize my career and give my fans something new; perhaps a new take on some of these stories.
Collider: And a new take on you, right?
Dolph: You’re right. That’s right. And in some way impart some of your philosophy into these films, how you look at the world, people. Hopefully that seeps in there somehow. It’s… it’s interesting to share that with people.
Collider: So the style of Missionary Man is very gritty. It has a grainy, de-saturated look to it. Was that a style that came preordained to the film or did that evolve in the post-production process.
Dolph: Well, a few things happened that really informed the look of the film. For one thing, we shot it on Super 16, so right off the bat there was this grain inherent in the look. And in the post process, I though ‘lets go for this,’ and we de-saturated it. So it was a combination of things. The story is dark and foreboding, so there you have a good reason to go that route.
Dolph: We also shot Super 16 for budgetary reasons and we didn’t have a lot of step up time, so we didn’t do a lot of dolly or crane shots.
Collider: But throughout the film you do seem to be having a lot of fun with camera angles and such.
Dolph: Thanks. Yeah, we went a like more ‘documentary’ with the camera work and the overall tone of the film. I’ve gotten a little confident behind the camera and a little bit bolder with a style. I’m sure with the next film I’ll go a little further, be a little more inventive. That’s the joy of this for me. It… it’s for me the fun of doing this really. Of telling a story, right? But tell it with a budget and a schedule (laughs). But to impart a style, have your cake… and eat it too!
Collider: I just directed my first film.
Collider: Thanks. I was thinking, though, as hard as this is I can’t imagine acting and directing simultaneously. How easy or hard is that for you?
Dolph: Oh it’s difficult. I’m actually looking forward to the next one, just working as an actor.
Collider: I’d imagine.
Dolph: Yeah, it would be nice to just be an actor, sit in my trailer with my cell phone. (Laughs) Put on my makeup, read a book. So yeah, but you do learn how to make things less complicated, simplify things as a director, coming from being an actor. It’s interesting, because as an actor on something you’re directing you have an opportunity to see the larger picture, how the film is playing, how the overall story is playing out, how you look. It’s not an easy task being an actor. What you want to do is make it a positive environment for them, where they can try stuff and fail, where they can do their work.
Collider: Have you taken any lessons from director’s you’ve worked with in the past? Any tricks of the trade, so to speak, of guys you though really nailed it in terms of constructing a scene, perhaps gave you a chance to explore yourself as an artist?
Dolph: Oh yeah. I’d say, right off the bat, Stallone (Rocky 4). I mean, I didn’t know much about movies, that being my first starring role. But I did realize it was a tough job for him because people really wanted him to fail. It was his forth picture… he wrote it, directed it, starred in it… he was in the ring fighting. So the discipline and the preparation he came in with was inspiring. I always remember being impressed with the amount of dedication he had. So Stallone for sure. And then John Woo, of course, was great to work with, the way he moves the camera. Roland Emmerich. And certainly Sidney Furie. He’s been at it for a long time and he was the one who I found very gentle with the actors, very good with them. And that was great because he didn’t have to work as hard, you know?
Collider: Right. Which films did you work with him on?
Dolph: Sidney Furie directed Detention and Direct Action up in Canada.
Collider: So do you ever see yourself directing a film but not starring in it?
Dolph: Yeah! I thought about it. I have one project that IS like that, I really don’t fit into any of the characters but I really like the story. It’s actually a period piece. So yeah, if that were possible without me being it, I’d love to do it. I think I’m going to have to make a few more movies before then.
Collider: Well I want to thank you for your time, Mr. Lundgren.
Dolph: It was a pleasure. Good luck with your film!
Collider: You too. Thanks!