Dolph Lundgren talks career revival, old-school action, ‘Avengers’

Feb. 26, 2013 | 2:08 p.m.
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Jet Li, left, Dolph Lundgren and Sylvester Stallone in a scene from the 2010 film "The Expendables." (Karen Ballard / Lionsgate)

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Toll Road (Randy Couture, left), Gunner Jensen (Dolph Lundgren) and Hale Caesar (Terry Crews) in a scene from 2012's "The Expendables 2." (Frank Masi / Lionsgate)

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Yu Nan, left, Terry Crews, Sylvester Stallone, Randy Couture and Dolph Lundgren in a scene from 2012's "The Expendables 2." (Frank Masi / Lionsgate)

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Andrei Arlovski, left, and Dolph Lundgren in the 2012 film "Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning." (Magnet Releasing)

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Dolph Lundgren attends a party July 12, 2012, during Comic-Con International in San Diego. (Patrick T. Fallon / Los Angeles Times)

A former engineering student and recipient of a Fulbright scholarship to MIT, the Swedish-born Dolph Lundgren first burst on the scene as the Russian boxing machine Ivan Drago in 1985’s “Rocky IV.” Since then he has had a journeyman actor’s career, even directing a handful of films himself.

But in the last few years Lundgren has turned from a where-are-they-now trivia question to a retro action antihero, with his roles in both “The Expendables” and “The Expendables 2,” the recent “Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning” and now “The Package.”

“Day of Reckoning” was recently declared “the best film of last year” by no less an august publication than the Paris Review.

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For the recent home video release of “The Package,” in which Lundgren plays a ruthless mob boss, Hero Complex was able to talk with the 55-year-old Lundgren for a few minutes to ask him how he felt about his recent career revival.

HC: You seem to have such a renewed sense of confidence on screen and an admirable level of suave-itude off screen. Did you figure something out? Do you feel like you’ve turned a corner?

Dolph Lundgren as Drago in the 1985 film "Rocky IV." (MGM)

Dolph Lundgren as Drago in the 1985 film “Rocky IV.” (MGM)

DL: I think so. I’m pretty conscious of it. Around ’99 or 2000 I moved back to Europe, around when my second daughter was born, and I lived in London for a while and then in Spain because my ex-wife hated L.A. and didn’t want to be here. It didn’t really help my career, and I didn’t really focus on my career. I just did a few movies here and there to pay the bills. And in 2009 I decided to come back here, moved back, wound up getting divorced, and then “The Expendables” happened. I also went back to Sweden and did a couple things talking about my childhood and problems I had with my dad and stuff like that. The Swedes kind of took me in a little bit like they never had before. I’d always been the dumb blond who went to Hollywood, and then I just refocused on my career. I decided I wanted to give it another shot. I want to see what can happen, to have another adventure like I did when I first came.

HC: What are you doing differently this time around?

DL: I wanted to work on myself. I wanted to study acting and pick roles with some challenge, where it’s not just an easy payday. If it’s good for me, it may be fun for the audience, too, and what showed me that was “Expendables.” It wasn’t the lead guy or the second lead, but it was a really interesting character. I worked on that quite a bit. And then I said, “This is cool, I can pick interesting stuff and not necessarily play the lead. It doesn’t matter.”

HC: Unlike some action stars, you always show up for media appearances in a suit. It sets you apart.

DL: That’s how I dress normally, and if I go out or something, I think it’s nice to dress up. There’s something about that old movie star presence, like the way those guys used to dress, the John Waynes and Gary Coopers, Robert Mitchum or Sean Connery, even Clint. There’s something about it that really works.

HC: You have a fantastic scene in “The Package” where you’re in a kitchen making a smoothie while also preparing to kill a guy. It’s pretty nuts. Was it as intense and kind of crazy in the script?

DL: It was like that on the page. That scene was one of the reasons I decided to do it. I liked that. It was a bit like Tarantino, where he will do these long speeches and you know some guy is going to get shot but he just delays it and delays it and gives the actor a chance to have some fun and not just pull the trigger straight away.

HC: “Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning” was just plain weird, a kind of  inside-out sequel to the previous films. Did it seem strange to you?

DL: There was another script I didn’t like and didn’t want to do it. And [screenwriter] John Hyams was really being squeezed by the producers to do another “Universal Soldier,” same story, military guys on a mission, and he did not want to do that. So when I turned it down and Van Damme didn’t like it either, it gave him a chance to rewrite it. He sent me the new script and it was really cool, like a horror movie. And you wanted to keep ready because it was like “What the hell is going on here?” I didn’t over-analyze the scenes I wasn’t in, so I was surprised when I saw the picture.

Dolph Lundgren in the 2012 film "Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning." (Magnet Releasing

Dolph Lundgren in the 2012 film “Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning.” (Magnet Releasing)

HC: Do you feel like in the last few years there’s been a resurgence in old-school action cinema?

DL: There will always be an exploration of new technology in things like “The Avengers” — that was a great movie, by the way — but I think certainly for part of the audience, if you fire a thousand bullets and there’s not a drop of blood, there’s something wrong with that. Part of the audience wants to see real explosions and real fights and that kind of real machismo.

HC: I have to confess I did not realize you got your start as a nightclub bouncer and then through your relationship with Grace Jones you started acting. If you can think back, would you ever have imagined when you were standing outside of some club that you’d be here all these years later?

DL: I had no clue. I came over here to study engineering and ended up in New York because I was in love with this girl. That took me off-track from MIT where I was supposed to go to school. To make some money I did modeling, bounced at a nightclub and somebody suggested, “You look good, you do karate, you can fight, and you should be in movies.” So I took a few acting classes and before I knew it I was cast in that “Rocky” picture. And I wasn’t ready at all, as a human being, as a man, for big roles. But I did good in that picture. It was a supporting role and it was perfect for me, I didn’t say too much. I didn’t know the bouncing would get me out here. It’s still a strange journey.

— Mark Olsen

Follow us on Twitter: @LATHeroComplex


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3 Responses to Dolph Lundgren talks career revival, old-school action, ‘Avengers’

  1. Fortyseven says:

    Holy crap, he almost looks like an elderly Malcolm Reynolds in that first pic.

  2. Christina says:

    He seems a nice guy and a very simple person with a light speech. I'ts the kind of people I deal with everyday. Pretty cool!

  3. Cristina W. Watson says:

    Wow! He has really interesting story to tell! I never knew that girl he's in love with will be his stepping stone to become on what he is right now. And another great thing about Dolph Lundgren this year is that he's working a great movie to release this year the "Shark Lake". And as what I read here casting directors are looking for actors, models and other talents to audition for various speaking roles in this new feature film. The locals will surely be thrilled about this for that will get a chance to work with Dolph Lundgren. He's such a brilliant actor!

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