Action star Dolph Lundgren: ‘I do martial arts because I enjoy it ... the movies are just a job’
It’s probably fair to assume that most people associate Dolph Lundgren with much the same things – muscles, martial arts, Rocky, action movies.
Few people would add chemical engineer to that list – so I was surprised to learn that the Swedish actor has a master’s degree in chemistry and chemical engineering. This career path from scientific research to Rocky Balboa’s opponent seems a little odd.
“That’s what my parents said too,” he says. “I’ve always been into artistic things since I was a kid – I used to paint and play the drums. My dad was an engineer, and I wanted to please him so I studied engineering – but when I got to the finish line I realised I didn’t really want to be a chemical engineer.
“I was in New York and met [singer and actress] Grace Jones. Through her I met people such as Andy Warhol and Michael Jackson, and started seeing another side of life. I did some modelling, then moved into acting and very quickly I landed the role in Rocky IV and took it from there.”
Given his educational background, I ask whether Lundgren ever despairs about the more ludicrous aspects of the scripts to some of the 60-plus movies he has appeared in.
For example, Riot, which is in cinemas from Thursday (July 21), features a scene in which Lundgren’s friends create a knockout spray from cleaning products in a cupboard, which miraculously disables their foes while leaving our heroes unaffected.
“It is a bit silly – and that’s definitely not the first time,” says Lundgren. “If I was directing, I’d try to make sure it was authentic, but it’s different when you’re hired to do a job. You can only do so much – and, let’s face it, there are not too many movies about chemical engineering.”
Lundgren’s 1980s and 1990s heyday included his breakthrough as Russian boxer Ivan Drago in Rocky IV, along with Universal Soldier, Masters of the Universe, Red Scorpion and The Punisher.
More recently, he has been a mainstay of the popular action-movie nostalgia franchise The Expendables, alongside fellow 1980s stars Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce —Willis. Does its success suggest that audiences miss the purity of that golden age of action-movie heroes?
“We live in a changing world,” he says. “There are always going to be action movies, that’s how the human mind works – we love a hero myth. Right back through The Iliad to Alexandre Dumas, those stories have always been there, just told in a different way.
“When I got into the business, we told the stories with the technology we had. Now there’s a lot of CGI, which means the actor doesn’t necessarily have to have all the skills. It’d be fun to be in one of those CGI-driven pictures, but I don’t mind doing the old-school stuff.
“I do martial arts because I enjoy it and it keeps me in shape, and that’s real – but the movies are just a job.”
There must be some fond memories of that job, though.
“Rocky IV is always gonna be a memory because it was my first starring role and it totally changed my life,” he says.
“It was weird – I went to the premiere of Creed [last year’s spin-off movie in which Rocky trains the son of his late friend Apollo Creed] and I’m sitting in the audience and I suddenly realised I’m the guy that killed this kid’s dad in the other movie. I was worried everyone might go: ‘Hey, there’s that Russian dude that killed Apollo Creed’.”
• Riot will be in cinemas from Thursday, July 21
Updated: July 19, 2016 04:00 AM