Dolph Lundgren on Ivan Drago

  • Dolph Lundgren
  • Ivan Drago
  • An Overnight Sensation
  • Advice: Get Therapy & Start Mediating
  • Physical Toll of the Industry
  • Being Happy with What You Have
  • Benefits of Challenging Yourself
  • Spending Time Behind the Camera
  • Finding a Connection to the Material
  • Conclusion & Goodbye

Dolph Lundgren

— Who is the most underrated actor of all time? It’s Dolph Lundgren – Correct. Why? – Well because of his spiky hair and his ice-cold demeanor and his big muscles. – Absolutely.

If you don’t want that fu manchu knocked back into the 60s you better keep your gum chewing trap shut and show some respect.

I’m gonna hit you very very hard.

Our only hope of defeating Skelletor is to find the cosmic key.

Are you out of your mind? – No, just out of bullets.–

Eric:  Hi and welcome to the Backlot. I’m Eric Conner senior instructor at New York Film Academy. And this episode we’ve got the man who killed Apollo Creed. Dolph Lundgren. Now if you couldn’t tell already I’m a bit of a geek. The kind of geek that would go to let’s say the new Beverley’s Dolph Lundgren Film Festival which was a glorious 10 hour road trip down 80s memory lane Red Scorpion, Rocky IV, The Punisher, Universal Soldier, Dolph Lundgren’s the rare action star who’s as comfortable throwing a punch as he is a joke. But before he burst on the scene Mr. Lundgren moved to America for his brains and not his brawn.

Dolph Lundgren: I studied chemical engineering and school my dad was an engineer and my older brother’s an engineer I came to America under various scholarships to study engineering and chemistry and I ended up getting a Fulbright scholarship to MIT which is a great school in Boston. I was fighting. I was a karate fighter as well an amateur fighter. So that was my goal to come here graduate from MIT get a business degree and be the president of Exxon you know and something like that. But things didn’t really turn out that way. Then I went back to Sweden studied there for a couple of years did my military service went to Australia on another scholarship in Australia I met this girl this singer Grace Jones who was like a big deal in those days. We kind of fell in love and I came over to hang with her in New York ran into a few characters like Andy Warhol and Michael Jackson a few guys like that and back in the 80s Studio 54 the back room studio. I’ve been there. Interesting for a young Swedish kid and somewhere along the way I decided to start doing modeling to get a visa and then somebody said hey man you know you can do movies you can fight. You know you’re a big guy. So I started studying acting and when I did my first scene I realized wow this is really cool. I like this there’s something here that I haven’t done before because I’d been intellectual and I’d been physical but I’ve never really been emotional.

Eric: After appearing in a few films Mr. Lundgren audition for the role that would change his career. Ivan Drago the seemingly invincible Russian boxer from Rocky IV the problem was he looked a little too invincible.

Ivan Drago

Dolph Lundgren: Within about nine months I was up for a bunch of different movies and some of them were kind of dramatic roles or small roles but more dramatic and then there was this boxing movie that I went up for I didn’t know what it was. And I came up to a woman who sat at the table and she says, “ok, next! How tall are you?” And I say, “6’4” – “too tall! Next!” And I was like, “wait a second!” And I saw the poster Rocky IV, and I thought, “I got to do something about this.” And I took some pictures in boxing gear and sent them to somebody who my acting coach told me he said he knew somebody. He knew Burt Young and Burt Young was going to give the pictures to Sly. Well, nothing happened. Six months later I gave up on the whole thing and I was in Europe. Grace was working on a picture – a Bond movie actually and I was hanging out with her, with Christopher Walken. He was, he was the bad guy and she was the bad girl. So I was a bit jealous because they had like a love scene or something. And anyway – so I got a call from somebody some PA you know, like, “thank god I’ve found you! I’ve been looking for you for months! You know, we couldn’t find you. Because we had this picture!” and turned out that finally, Stallone got the photos. And they flew me out here to California from New York and I hopped in a cab here and LAX.

And I remember driving to Paramount because that’s where Stallone had his offices and I came in there and met Sly Stallone he had long hair very tanned because he was doing one of the Rambo pictures and he was a little shorter than I thought you know I was like “hm, OK.”

But you know he was really nice to me.

He had all these binders like everywhere black binders he’s all, “I got five thousand guys up for this role…” and says, “You gotta put on some weight.” Anyway we took some pictures and and you know I had to audition for it and six months later you know I had the part.

Eric: Mr. Lundgren nailed his audition mostly by doing the exact opposite of everyone else auditioning.

Dolph Lundgren: I was in great shape because I was I was European karate champion a heavyweight champion actually so I was pretty good fighter but I was quite thin. Here and had big legs from all those kicks. And then I had to get in shape for the screen test. They flew me to L.A. here. Some guy in a pickup truck picked me up and I had to audition. You know I was going deliver a monologue that I had practiced in New York. It was yeah they used it in one of the trailers it started –

— My name is Drago I’m a fighter for the Soviet Union. I’m a fighter from the Soviet Union. I fight all my life and I never lose. Soon I fight Rocky Balboa and the world will see his defeat. —

Dolph Lundgren: So I stay at the hotel you know and I was walking to the elevator to go back up. The doors open and there’s a 6 foot 5 blond guy looking at me. Excuse me some big Russian guy right. OK. Then I run into another big blonde guy I was like, “Oh s**t! OK.” Because I realized it wasn’t just me. It was three of us and I came to the studio and the sound stage empty sound stage just dolly tracked like this mark here we get changed into trunks, you know, bare-chested and there is about 50 people behind the camera: Sly, his bodyguards, guys in suits you know, a bunch of onlookers. And everybody’s looking at me and I’m like, “oh s**t here we go this is serious.” So I was last and the other two guys they kind of did a Russian Mr. T, “I’m gonna kill you,” you know. And I decided to play him very cool like it was all internal you know no movements and I’d seen the Soviet cadets they always kept their chin up like this. So I did my screen test and went back to New York and then the next day I got a phone call, “Hey kid you get the part you know.” So that was it man. And then I trained with Stallone for five months so at the end of that year of hard training I was in such good shape like sly said you know, “you’re in such good shape you’ll never be able to get out of shape after this.” And he was he was kind of right you know it was hard work.

Twice a day we did weights for an hour in the morning and then we did boxing for two hours every afternoon six days a week five months. And if I was five minutes late he went nuts and I was driving you know, through L.A. traffic going “f**k!”You know, I was going out with Grace and she would come home at 5:00 in the morning you know with her entourage you know and I had to get up at like 5:15 you know so it was it was a tough time.

Eric: Mr. Lundgren even found inspiration for Drago in the works of Mary Shelley.

Dolph Lundgren: Drago is like kind of the Frankenstein myth created by the system the bad guys Dr. Frankenstein really the monster is just a creation right. So that’s that’s why it sort of resonates I think on that level. And I had this guy who helped me with the Russian accent and everything who was a Russian director. He gave me a lot of suggestions that I took you know because I was quite inexperienced as an actor I didn’t really know about playing second level and all that. But he was Stanislavski trained director so he had me play a lot of second level stuff because he meant that the character is so stoic what’s going on? What are you thinking about? What is Drago worrying about? And some of that comes across quite well on screen that he is feeling bad about what he’s having to do, but he does it anyway and he’s kind of embarrassed about certain situations, but that wasn’t in the script. That was something that I ended up playing. And I think in the editing and Stallone when he cut the picture he saw some of that and he brought it out. So it’s a combination of both. I think.

Eric: When Mr. Lundgren watches himself in Rocky IV he doesn’t see an unstoppable wrecking machine. He’s a young actor that he was completely overwhelmed by the spectacle of it all.

Dolph Lundgren: One of the strongest things was shooting in Vegas. When we did the thing with Apollo Creed you know it was actually a real MGM show and there were the dancers were there and they had the ring come up and that was very interesting to me because when I see the movie the look of shock and confusion in Ivan Drago’s eyes is the look of shock and confusion in my eyes when I was there and when I saw that and there was no acting required you know. And it kind of makes me look at my own self at that age and it’s kind of nostalgic and kind of in a very nice way you know how I was such a kid. I was such a baby you know when I was there.

Eric: Rocky IV came out in the middle of the Cold War and became the biggest hit of the franchise. Nobody was more surprised by the film success than Dolph Lundgren himself.

Dolph Lundgren: You know what was strange. There’s something called ADR you know you redo your dialogue because some of the lines aren’t clear or something. So I went in there and I expected to see some of the movie because I hadn’t seen anything. I mean there were no monitors in those days none of that. So I went in there and it was like a s**tty black and white copy and I saw some scenes and I was wow this is it. This is what I work my ass off for a year. Didn’t look very impressive. So I went home I was a little depressed you know then I went into the premiere I was with Grace and there was a marching bands and the whole thing you know and people were trying to get me out of the way to take pictures of her you know. “Could you please step out of the way ?”You know you’re in the way of my camera and then I went in there and I sat down and the screen came up and those boxing gloves. And then I sat there like this for an hour and a half lights came up everybody was applauding and everybody’s looking at me because I guess I was a new guy you know and they knew sly already and then it came out. Like you said and people are taking pictures of me instead of Grace. And it was a weird it took me years I mean at least a year to get over it that first initial kind of shock. But it was an interesting period for sure.

Eric: In one week Mr. Lundgren went from being Grace Jones’s boyfriend to a full-blown movie star but becoming an overnight sensation also had a downside.

An Overnight Sensation

Dolph Lundgren: You know I wish in one way OK I can’t go back and change history and I got famous overnight for something I didn’t exactly really know what I was getting into. And I wish that I would have had broader education and been little more aware of the business and the various opportunities and the various positions and perhaps you know things that took me 20 years to accomplish or longer. I could have done maybe a couple of years if I had that education and the understanding because once you become. Valuable in the industry like once you’re box office and to stay put asses on seats. Right. If you could do that then the audience if you play priest you’re going to play another twenty-five priests you know in the next 25 movies. Or that’s what they want you to do. But maybe when you have a broader education like some guys after a couple of movies some actors they direct something or produce it and they do their own thing you know that I wish I would’ve had that opportunity.

Eric: And when asked what advice he’d give his younger self to weather the storm of celebrity. His answer was rather simple.

Advice: Get Therapy & Start Mediating

Dolph Lundgren: I would say get some therapy. Get therapy start meditating.

Make sure you have the best advisers. Make sure that you have a lot of inner calm and that you’re very secure in your self.

So you can have some resistance to that crazy world out there.

And I had some of that from martial arts but you know I got pulled along in many crazy directions because I didn’t I didn’t really have people to support me to speak to. You know I only had one or two people but I never had that really somebody to bounce things off like that. You know I started therapy by the way about four or five years ago. And now we say, “well acting is like therapy I don’t need any that’s bulls**t and I don’t need that.” But I realized therapy is great you know Marlon Brando started it you know back in the 50s you know because as an actor you have a lot of usually some emotional complexity and things but then in the business there’s a lot of pressure and a lot of times you beat yourself up over things that you really shouldn’t beat yourself up over that’s completely natural and by talking to somebody you know who knows you and who can give you good advice and you can bounce things off them it’s really valuable. It’s been great for me you know. So I think that and meditation I started doing that as well about four-five years ago has also been great to keep some kind of time during the day just for yourself when it’s all about you. And it’s not about doing things it’s about being and in a crazy world you know that that’s a really valuable moment I think for anybody and that goes back to you in your acting as where.

You know when you’re facing the camera you don’t necessarily have to do so much all the time because you have the courage to be in just, just breathe and just look the other person in the eye and just be yourself you know.

Eric: When you watch Mr. Lundgren’s films you can see his years of martial arts training. However over 50 films later it has definitely taken a toll on his body.

Physical Toll of the Industry

Dolph Lundgren: It’s hard to do martial arts when you’re a big person because you have a lot of torque you know and you’re I mean I’m very supple anyway from it’s just natural but I’ve had some injuries lately that I have to do less training and as a matter of fact I’m having some stem cell injections now I’ve done you know 40 years of karate so and you know a lot of the crazy stuff in the movies no warm up three in the morning stretch stretch and then you know do something crazy well I don’t do that anymore but I think you have to be careful if you want to be in martial arts in the movies to take care of your body and not to get worn out. Jet Lee he has a lot of damage worse than me a lot of those guys you know they get a lot of injuries you know and I think the best thing is to do strength training and stretching and really be careful to you know do some any crazy kicks and stuff unless you warmed up you know because I did a lot of the crazy stuff and I am paying for it now a little bit so you know hopefully I’ll get through these stem cell injections and everything and I’ll be back in Expendables 4 I hope next year maybe 2018.

Eric: One of Mr. Lundgren’s more recent endeavors was the Expendables franchise a veritable who’s who of our favorite action stars Stallone Schwarzenegger Willis Statham Van Damme even Harrison Ford showed up in the third one. Yet despite all the wattage of star power Mr. Lundgren explained that the egos were checked at the door.

Being Happy with What You Have

Dolph Lundgren: Well there is a little bit of that in the air. When you show up I mean you can’t help it these guys are athletes and a lot of them have their own franchises their own movies you know on The Expendables 2 I remember. I came with a few friends and then I’m in there. They’re putting all the gear on you and then you know Chuck Norris comes in and then you know Van Damme shows up and Jet Lee is over in the corner and Jason Statham. Wait a second, Stallone, Arnold, Bruce Willis was in that scene too. Yeah, it’s a bit surreal but I think what happens is the real athletes in there like I guess I count myself as such. To some extent and you know like Randy Couture and Terry Crews and Van Damme too. I think they’re not as competitive as maybe some of the other guys because to them the real competition is when it’s real and you getting your ass kicked for real that’s just bad. That’s painful. You know this is just a movie. You know there’s a little bit of competition but I think the bottom line is we’re all in the same picture and we want it to be a good movie. So you’re going to help if anybody asked me to help them. You know I’m not jealous of Van Damme or Stallone or any.

I know that there’s always somebody who’s bigger than you richer than you. Better actor than you got a better looking girlfriend than. You know they got bigger biceps. You know there’s. You know you just got to be happy for what you got you know. And that you’re in the movie.

Eric: As fun as it is seeing all these titans in one film. One of them almost didn’t make it out in one piece.

Dolph Lundgren: Yeah I had a few crazy experiences. I mean. There’s been a few lately on Expendables 3 there was some near misses. I mean there is a truck that we were supposed to all be on and we were practicing early in the morning Jason Statham’s driving and you know there’s some cameras set up he’s just doing like a little test run. And for some reason the brakes aren’t working so here’s the water we’re in the port and he comes driving and the truck doesn’t stop it just keeps going and takes out the cameras and he goes in the water and he disappears with the truck you know. So we’re all there going. What the hell is Jason in there and then someone’s like f**k send in the divers. But the guy was a diver you know so he pulled himself out. But you know I’ve been in a similar situation where I was in Masters of the universe. This is back in the 80s where things weren’t quite as you know organized as now late night shoot and I had to jump out of a window through the candy glass with my sword and then onto this on the set there’s just like a platform. And I get up there and I decide to do it I’m going to do it myself. And as I’m jumping you know I look and there’s no there’s just concrete and you know Time Stands Still it’s a short jump from here to there but for a moment I’m like oh s**t this is it I managed to somehow make it. If that was now you know a lot of people have done in serious trouble. But it was just ok he survived.

That’s good. That’s what happened.

Eric: Mr. Lundgren’s work in 2015. Indie horror film don’t kill it shows that even after decades in the industry he is still challenging himself.

Benefits of Challenging Yourself

Dolph Lundgren: I’ve done a few. You know I did do a little movie lately about two years ago called Don’t kill it just a little horror movie and this guy Mike Mendez who’s like weird far out director and it’s very bloody you know. But when I read the script it started out with this five page monologue you know and I was like OK how do I cut this down. But then immediately I realized no wait a second this is a great monologue. And I got to do this you know and I had to work on it. And because the film was postponed twice I really knew everything quite well. I knew all my speeches and all of that that was a very challenging role for me because I’m not used to doing that. But it was also I got some good reviews and it was really a bit of a breakthrough for me as an actor. And it was just recently actually it’s tough you know. I mean I think you go for those independent movies you know and that was just luck of the draw. That I found that role I had about 10 years or so after that rocky picture where I just I did a couple of movies where I really worked hard and then I did a bunch of movies were kind of didn’t care so much because I was having fun you know I was the young man you know and I was getting famous and you know I wasn’t married and had a lot of you know kind of late nights and things like that.

And you know I went astray you know I went I mean I always worked hard but I didn’t really focus on oh let me let me do this and then we get my career over here. But lately I’ve done a little more of that. And the thing is it doesn’t take much for people to see it. And then they realize oh he can do this. OK great then we can give him that. And you know happens quickly. The business responds quickly to to anything that you do as an artist which is cool.

Eric: He’s also spending more time behind the camera as a director and he’s welcoming the extra responsibility that comes with the role.

Spending Time Behind the Camera

Dolph Lundgren: Directing is more fun to me in one way kind of more challenging. Acting is playing playing and being childish childlike whereas directing you are a little more responsible. Now I’ve done the acting stuff a lot. So for me directing is is more of a challenge in one way especially now when I have a lot of experience and what I’ve realized as a director a lot of my experience can be to calm people down you know and like the producers you know like the actors hey guys you know don’t worry. Don’t worry it’ll be fine. Just have fun you know like that kind of kind of a calming influence instead of running around then you know. Once you have a good script and you cast the right people you don’t need to do that much. You don’t need to try to push people around too much it’s just it’s there already in the story and they just need to speak the line you know and to have fun with it. It’s an entertaining kind of a job and you know you’re supposed to have fun being an actor and being a director and you’re supposed to be laughing and goofing off a little bit too.

Stallone has a lot of fun and a lot of the Expendables guys like Arnold you know he’s makes jokes all the time with the cigar you know it’s all everything is you know the people love the guy. So you know you will crash the chopper you know don’t let them fly it you know.

Eric: Mr. Lundgren stressed that even after three decades as a performer it is crucial to find your own connection to the material.

Finding a Connection to the Material

Dolph Lundgren: I think the challenge is that you want to make it fresh for yourself all the time like you have to find something fresh in the material for you to be excited about what you’re going to do about the role. I mean I always try to find something if it’s a secret of mine or something I don’t tell anybody I don’t tell the director I don’t tell anybody you know some secret about the character and the way I approach it. Something maybe in the character’s backstory or something in the mannerisms or the way he talks or whatever. You know something that makes you want to come to the set every day and that is challenging because it takes a little bit of work to figure that out. And usually I sit with a script and I sit with the lines and I try this and I try that and I try to. Think of it and. Sometimes I’m watching another movie or I see some program about nature and I see a lion or something.

Wow that’s kind of interesting maybe I’ll use that. So that’s how I look at it. That is the challenge to make it fresh and fun for yourself.

Eric: Before he left Mr. Lundgren was kind enough to share a potential spoiler about the fate of Ivan Drago.

Dolph Lundgren: You know I said I’ve said many times I would not play Ivan Drago again because I thought you know the reason he’s such an icon in one way is because he’s only you can only see him up here you know but then.

Well I can tell you anyway because it’s probably gonna you know be public but anyway Stallone contacted me about six months ago and asked me you know what do you think what about playing Ivan Drago again. You know I got this idea you know. You know basically, he’s thinking of Ivan Drago coaching his young Russian son who’s a fighter. So then I would play a trainer like Sly did in Creed but sly would train the African-American kid and I would train the Russian kid you see. So I don’t know if it will happen but if it does you know you know you heard it here first.

Conclusion & Goodbye

Eric: The return of Ivan Drago. Sign me up. Thanks to Mr. Lundgren for sharing his stories with our students and thanks to all of you for listening. This episode was written by me Eric Conner based on the Q&A moderated by Chris Devane. The episode was edited and mixed by Kristian Hayden produced by David Andrew Nelson Kristian Hayden and myself executive produced by Jean Sherlock. Dan Mackler and Tova Laiter a special thanks to Chris Devane Aerial Segard Sajja Johnson and the staff and crew who made this possible. To learn more about our programs check us out at Be sure to subscribe and leave us a review on Apple podcasts. See you next time.


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