Dolph Lundgren goes another round as Rocky’s old nemesis Ivan Drago
We talk to the Swede about reviving his Rocky IV role for Creed II
The Rocky franchise returns to the ring, and the screen, this weekend for an eighth outing with Creed II. Ryan Coogler breathed life back into the story last time around by shifting the focus from a now-septuagenarian Rocky Balboa to Adonis Creed, son of Rocky’s one-time rival and lifelong friend Apollo Creed. Now Steven Caple Jr (Coogler executive produces this time around) hopes to repeat the trick. Creed II will introduce us to not just the son of a favourite from the past, but his father, too – perhaps Rocky’s best-known nemesis – the evil, Russian, man-mountain boxer Ivan Drago. Played once again by Dolph Lundgren, Drago is the boxer who killed Rocky’s friend, and Adonis’s father, Apollo, in the ring back in 1985’s Rocky IV.
This time around, the veteran boxers will be training their respective proteges for the grudge match to end all grudge matches. Lundgren is clearly looking forward to getting back into one of the best-known roles of his long career, though it sounds like Drago has never really been away. “I’m currently directing a small movie in Rome, where I had to visit a doctor – who called me ‘Ivan’! What could I say to that?” Lundgren laughs.
The Swede has played plenty of memorable roles since his breakthrough in the Rocky movies, from Masters of the Universe to The Punisher and Universal Soldier, but still it seems that when fans want to shout a quote from a movie when they spot the star on the street, Drago’s menacing “I must break you” is the line of choice. I ask Lundgren what makes the character so memorable for fans.
“Drago was a new type of an athlete, trained with high-tech equipment that audiences hadn’t seen before, and I worked hard to embody that kind of ‘perfect’ athlete,” he says. “He was a supervillain and almost a Frankenstein’s monster. In other ways, he was a reluctant warrior because he was coerced by the Soviets. Rocky IV was the right film at the right time – a cold war between Russian leader Gorbachev and the American president, Reagan. All that, combined with Sylvester Stallone’s direction made for a powerful film that doesn’t get old. Even today – maybe, especially today – it feels fresh.”
That film was over 30 years ago and Lundgren, now in his sixties, could be forgiven for no longer quite being the “perfect athlete.” Nonetheless, the star says he took the training for the new film seriously: “I always try and stay in pretty good shape, but when I was cast in this film I started working out with weights, to get more muscular,” he says. “I saw Florian [Munteanu, who plays Viktor Drago] and I wanted to look strong next to him – and be the kind of father you don’t want to mess with. So, I trained for about three or four months, five days a week, twice a day, doing cardio in the morning and weights in the afternoon.”
As it transpired, Lundgren reveals that he could perhaps have gone a little easier on the training: “When we got closer to filming and locking in the character with Steven Caple, we thought Ivan should look older, paler and maybe not as healthy looking.
“Then, Steven took it even further by giving me costumes that were two sizes too large, so Ivan looked like he’s lost weight. It took me a while to get used to that, but then I realised that Ivan is no longer about looking tough. This is more about his internal journey.”
Perhaps even more challenging than Lundgren’s physical training was the task of learning Russian for the film. Drago uttered a few words of Russian in the first movie, but they were the stock, token utterances of Russian movie baddies. This time around, Stallone’s script required the actor to shoot whole scenes in the language with his on-screen son: “It was really tough. I know a little Russian, but in this film, there are dramatic scenes, mostly between Ivan and Viktor, where we speak just Russian,” he says. “It was quite difficult to carry the scene’s emotions, like pain or anger, when I was speaking another language. Fortunately, I had almost three months to work on it. I hope it’s going to make the character more authentic.”
In fact, it sounds like Lundgren’s language coaches may have set him a more gruelling regime than his own daunting physical schedule over four decades as one of Hollywood’s leading action stars.
“I had a Russian coach, who was so tough. I’d do what I thought was a great take of a scene where I was speaking Russian, but they’d ask me to do another one because she had a problem with the language,” he recalls. “I wasn’t happy about that because it would be four in the morning, and I’d already done a lot of takes. But I was pleased that we had a lot of Russian extras, some of whom told me that my Russian sounded pretty good.”
Although Lundgren is returning to one of his most-loved (or hated) characters, he admits that when writer and producer Stallone initially approached him about reprising his role three decades on, he had some doubts. His interest piqued, however, when Stallone showed him the script. “[The film] sounded interesting, but I had some initial reservations because I didn’t want to do just another version of the Drago we saw in Rocky IV,” he says. “But my fears were put to rest when I read the script, which presented a very different Drago, who was three-dimensional and not a political symbol. The sins-of-the-father theme, focusing on the relationship Drago has with his son Viktor, as well as Rocky’s with Adonis, was really interesting. I thought: ‘Wow, I need to do this.’”
Creed II is in UAE cinemas on November 29
Updated: November 28, 2018 06:11 PM