Whether you know him as beefy Soviet boxer Ivan Drago, Universal Solider Andrew Scott or the duplicitous drug addict Gunnar Jensen from The Expendables, there’s probably a few things you don’t realize about Dolph Lundgren.
After well over 40 films, the 53-year-old action star is still kicking in roles that range from heartless killer to slightly less heartless maimer, but off screen Lundgren plays things a little more humorous as he shows in an interview with Spinoff where he discusses his part in The Expendables (which lands on store shelves on DVD and Blu-ray on November 23 and SPOILERS for which lie ahead), reconnecting with Sylvester Stallone (who he does a mean interpretation of, trust us) and what today’s action stars are lacking. Oh yeah, and he explains that video where he sings like Elvis and plays the drums.
Spinoff Online: I wanted to jump right into talking about The Expendables and a spoilery bit from the film in that it really feels like right up until the very end, they were planning on killing your character off. Was that the original plan, and did Sly save you from the fire last minute?
Dolph Lundgren: Yes. That’s exactly what happened. In the original draft, the character died and was not brought back, but then we started shooting and things changed after a little bit. Actually, there was a bigger scene at the end where suddenly Gunnar came back in an even bigger moment, but then we changed it to a more subtle revival the way it is now where he shows up. That was more tasteful, I thought.
What was it as the story developed that made that happen? Did they just like your performance, or was it a bit much to kill you off in the end?
I’m not sure what it was. It was never explained to me. I didn’t write or direct the picture, but I supposed that since Sly is the boss, he must have made the decision that my character was interesting and he wanted to keep him around…possibly for a sequel? I never asked him, really. I’m Swedish, I don’t ask too many questions. [Laughs]
Well, when it came to working with Sly again after so many years, I’d heard at one point you were in talks to appear briefly in Rocky Balboa. Was it that movie that got the two of you talking again about teaming up on screen?
No. It wasn’t. I was never really a part of that last “Rocky” picture. I mean, there are some clips of me in a few of the movies, and I gave my approval for that. I never questioned giving him use of that footage. But he just out of nowhere asked me to do The Expendables or rather, he sent me the script and asked me to check out the character.
The premise of Expendables both on and off screen is the idea of a gathering of grizzled veterans. Did you ever feel while filming like “Oh God, we are getting too old to do this” or were you energized by the work?
I think a bit of both. Yes, certainly everybody was feeling like it does hurt more, and you have to work harder to stay in shape. It does feel that way, but at the same time it did feel nice to be back together in that people seem to appreciate what we do. We couldn’t have known that when we shot the picture, but I do realize that some of the younger action stars aren’t as perhaps physically able in real life as some of the guys in the movie where we have real athletic, physical skill.
I hadn’t thought of that. I was going to ask if you had any younger action stars you followed these days, but it does seem as thought less and less there are martial artists or body builders working their way into starring roles in movies like we saw 20 years ago. Why do you think that is?
I suppose one guy who was in the movie is Jason Statham, and Statham has that persona. He’s not really a champion athlete like Arnold or I guess myself or Segal. But he has that old school, kick ass persona and male, macho charisma that some of the younger guys…well, they have to work a little harder at it. In the old movies, the thing was “Walk softly and carry a big stick” because guys like Robert Mitchum and Charles Bronson, they looked dangerous and were tough guys. You didn’t have to build them up. In a lot of the new movies, most of the time and budget goes into building the guy up so you believe he is a tough guy. But if you are a tough guy, you’ve just got to show up. Not try so hard. But I think there is some turnaround in this. Everything comes full circle and soon there will be some young athletic actors coming into the fray. It’ll come back a little bit to what it used to be 20 years ago.
One of your biggest pieces in the movie is your fight with Jet Li towards the end. I heard you choreographed a lot of that sequence together. Did it get a little brutal as you went with some punches really connecting?
Yeah, there were. Actually, we have a small fight before that in the first scene where Gunnar goes a bit crazy and pulls a knife on Jet’s character. That’s the part where Jet really hit me a couple of times. It gets a little erratic on the set because you have Stallone, you have the stunt coordinator, you have a couple of Jet Li’s fight coordinators…and everybody’s trying to get in there and have their say. Obviously, everyone is a bit overworked, and there’s a lot of time pressure. So it’s easy for a real punch to slip in there, but I’m kind of used to that. I still spar in real life, so it doesn’t bother me very much. But there were an unusual number of cooks for that fight because, like I said, all of the coordinators, but Stallone came in – he had been shooting somewhere else, and it was a hot day…one of the hottest when we were filming in New Orleans – and he came in and was like [Puts on Stallone accepts] “Hey, yeah…we’re going to shoot like this…” [Laughs] So it was a tough fight, but I think it paid off.
People see you on screen and perhaps assume they know what you’re like in real life, but I had someone send me a video of you as I was preparing for this interview, and I’m not sure what the origin is, but you’re at an awards show where you sing an Elvis Presley song, play a drum solo and then break a bunch of boards. Is this what your average day is like? Just singing and punching?
[Laughs] I wish it was! No, that was just something I did for the Eurovision Song Contest. I was one of the hosts of that, and it was a way to kind of entertain the audience. The producers were very clever. They knew about some of my skills I have in real life, which includes playing the drums and doing karate, and they threw it into this live number. Obviously, when you do it live it’s a bit more powerful than when you do it on film. On film, nobody knows what’s real or what isn’t.
Moving forward, Expendables was a smash hit, and as soon as it was out, everyone started talking sequel. Is Gunnar a character you’d like to revisit and maybe to a redemption arc with?
Yeah! I like the character a lot. I think it suits me to play these, shall we say, colorful and – as Sly said when we were in Europe [Puts on Stallone accent] “You’re my Klaus Kinski…there’s an eccentricity behind you Dolph!” – eccentric characters. Any time I play an eccentric character, which even Drago was or in “Universal Soldier” which was somewhere between good guy and bad guy, it’s kind of interesting. It just suits me better than playing a straight good guy. I’d like to bring the character back, and I think he’s got a lot of problems that can be resolved. Or we can try to resolve them in the next movie.
The Expendables hits on DVD and Blu-ray on November 23.
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