There’s no doubt that Dolph Lundgren is a bad ass. He’s made a career of kicking people’s asses and not caring if they die, and somehow he’s still able to make action film after action film without losing much spring in his step. The man turns 52 this year and has four films either in post production or coming out – including Direct Contact (which is out on DVD and Blu-ray today), Command Performance, Icarus, and The Expendables.
We were able to get Lundgren on the phone while he was on set shooting scenes for The Expendables, and he had a lot to say about the challenges of action, working with old friends, and where he’s headed next.
You’ve got Direct Contact coming out soon, a movie with a lot of explosions and a budget of only $6 million. How did the production make the budget stretch?
We shot in Bulgaria, and the producers own the studio there. They also produced other movies I made like the next one – Command Performance – and some other ones so I know how they operate. They own the camera packages, they own pretty much all the equipment so they get more mileage out of it that way.
Was there anything specific to the role in Direct Contact that drew you to it?
There was a twist that was a bit interesting, a bit fresh. It creates this second-level plot. Plus, I love working in Europe, and I have a deal with those guys – with Nu Image – this is the first of two movies.
What do you love about doing action movies?
Well, you know, it’s a living. It beats pumping gas, as they say. I think it was my destiny a little bit to end up in action with my physicality and doing sports and all. I think it’s a great platform to branch out from…and doing action movies is fun. You get to stay in shape as part of your job. You get to see locations and drive machinery and cars and fire weapons. It’s just a fun way to spend the day.
Rocky IV was a breakout role for you. Did you realize at the time that you were making such an important movie?
No, I didn’t. I had a clue that the Rocky movies were important, but I was quite young, and I didn’t realize that my character was going to be such an iconic character. But Stallone has that sort of knack for creating colorful, memorable characters – just like with [The Expendables], he’s created another interesting character for me. I don’t know if this one is going to be as iconic as that one, but it surely feels different.
And you’ve made a lot of iconic characters – you were the Punisher, Frank Castle. You played He-Man.
Yeah, and they’re remaking all of those. They remake them a couple of times and it makes you feel old. You’re the one that was in it three remakes back. [Laughs]
How do you feel about them doing another Masters of the Universe movie?
I haven’t read that much about it. I heard for a while that it was going to be Brad Pitt or someone playing it. I don’t know. They are bound to be remade, these things, because the marketplace changes. Back in those days, the whole franchise operation hadn’t started yet. I suppose the media wasn’t as intricate, because now you can penetrate every market in the world and every age-group in a different way. If you have some sort of built-in value like He-Man, it’s an added plus when in those days it really wasn’t. I understand that they’re remaking these films, and it doesn’t really bother me.
If they called you to do a cameo, would you be interested?
Possibly. Yeah, if it’s interesting, why not? It’s always fun to do cameos now. Since I’ve directed and written and starred in movies for a while now, that’s so much work – whether it’s $5 million or $5o million movies – you’re working your ass off. Like Stallone’s doing, like I’ve done on my last few movies. So yeah, a cameo, a fun role. Why not?
You’ve made a ton a films, specifically a lot of action films. Were there any new challenges with doing The Expendables?
Well, it’s a bigger movie. A bigger budget than I’ve done. Bigger than Rocky IV. Bigger than Universal Soldier. I think it might be Stallone’s biggest movie, too. That’s the first thing that strikes you when you walk on the set. Like a car scene, and there’s 5, 6, 7 vehicles crossing in and out of your close-up, and in the background with stunt drivers and several guys in each car. It’s different. It just throws you a little bit in the beginning. You’ve got every stunt man – and most stunt men in those vehicles are stunt coordinators who would normally just coordinate, but now they want to be in the movie, so they play a stunt guy – there’s certainly a wealth of world-class talent around. I haven’t done that for a while. So that’s probably the biggest change.
Were you excited about working with Stallone again?
Very. I never thought we’d do anything, but I always thought it’d be a good thing. When I did my first scene which is a more intimate scene – this dramatic scene where there’s this betrayal, this love/hate relationship between our characters, it was cool because I was squaring off up against him. I could hear the crew kind of gasp, and go ‘Oh shit. Here we go again,’ and it was kinda neat. I do think we have a lot of chemistry on screen. It’s just something that’s strong, and I’m excited about it.
Some of that chemistry is left over from Rocky IV. The two of you together creates a certain dynamic.
Yeah, there’s definitely a built-in value.
Were you happy to work with Jean-Claude Van Damme again for Universal Soldiers: The Next Generation?
Yeah, I shot that already. Did my little bit there, and it was fun. Another sort of bizarre – you’re in there in your uniform, tossing each other around, and you think ‘what’s it been? Seventeen years? Shit, man.’ But it was cool. Actually kind of nice, even with Stallone, they are both still in shape. You don’t feel like you’re just scratching together people that can’t get another job. That’s what’s cool about it. It’s a bit special.
Did you guys joke around about that on set?
A little bit. Stallone I’ve seen more than Jean-Claude, and we’ve joked about it before. You know, and he’s directing so he doesn’t have much time to sit around and bullshit.
You’ve felt the pressure of directing yourself. And writing. You’ve gotten some ideas from strange places. I heard you got the idea for Command Performance from a concert that Madonna did for Vladimir Putin.
Yeah, that one I got when I was in Moscow doing some promotion, and I read about that. It just clicked. So later I was thinking about, ‘what if someone took over that arena?’ And then they could grab a rock star hostage and then the president. So who would the good guy be? Well, maybe he’s this drummer. I was thinking about musicians, and I used to play the drums, so I threw that together that way. I’m working on some other scripts. And, you know, I may watch an old movie and get inspiration for something. It sits in the back of your head. By the time you do it, you might not even be sure where it came from.
You know, these are all mythical stories that have been told down the generations in various shapes and forms. There might be some old Viking myth or Greek myth about a group of condemned men going on some mission – and The Expendables is a bit like that. Guys who are drop-outs, good at what they do, but they all have their problems.
Do you ever get to go to events or concerts without thinking about people getting taken hostage?
[Laughs] Yeah, yeah, yeah. I don’t always think about stuff like that. It comes in spurts.
Is there anything that’s happened recently that has given you some ideas?
No, no. Not really. I do have a story that’s set on the Mexican border. I was just there vacationing, and I was thinking about it. It’s colorful. It’s south of the border. It always seems to work. You see in Westerns, any time they go down to Mexico it’s interesting. I’m excited about that story. It’s going to be next year I think.
Like a modern day story or a classic western?
It’s a modern day story about a man who has to take a prisoner back. It’s an extradited prisoner, but everything goes wrong so they have to make it across the border.
Well, we’re out of time. But I definitely appreciate you taking your time. Thanks a lot.
Thank you, hope to talk to you on the next one.