Ivan Drago has been following Dolph Lundgren for decades.
The unstoppable Russian villain of Rocky iv He launched Lundgren's career, leading to a long series of tough-guy roles that played with the good looks of the actor and the physicist of the Norse god. Drago also gave people the idea that maybe all Lundgren was doing was playing physically dominant and emotionless men.
But with Credo II, Lundgren is showing that this is not the case. Lundgren offers the most nuanced performance of his career by accepting the physical and emotional damage with which the actor has lived for decades; He is an older and beaten Drago, one that has been rejected by his people after his defeat at the hands of Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) 33 years earlier.
"It was my big opportunity, but it also pigeonholed me," says Lundgren. The Hollywood Reporter Of his complicated relationship with Drago. "People think: 'It's a robot and it has no emotions.' Now I can do the opposite, and it's very, very satisfying."
When we get back together with Ivan Drago, he has spent years training his son, Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu), for a party he hopes redeems the family name: Viktor Drago against Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan), the son of Man that Ivan killed in the ring.
Maybe there have been times when Lundgren, 61, has wanted to leave behind Drago. But checking the character in Credo II He allowed the actor to solve problems in which he has been struggling most of his life: to have been mistreated by his father, the uncertainty of a faltering career, the way in which fighting can be an escape from that pain.
"That's what I'm using a lot for Drago," says Lundgren. "He is also a guy who has lost everything and suffered a lot, and I have suffered a lot in my life."
There is a mythology surrounding Lundgren that surpasses that of most of his 80s action contemporaries. Where was Bruce Willis at school? Who knows. Who did Wesley Snipes go with before he got big? No idea. Stallone gave up some other career to devote himself to acting? Not very sure
But almost everyone who cares about these things knows the basic history of Lundgren. He was an engineering genius who left MIT in the 1980s to follow the New York lifestyle he was enjoying with his girlfriend Grace Jones. At that time, he was just a 6-foot-5-foot-tall Swedish fighter that Jones, the famous model and singer, had picked up in Australia and brought to the set of the 1985 James Bond movie. A view to kill, where Lundgren won a supporting role as a bad guy.
"My father was very physically abusive to me and that's why I became a fighter," says Lundgren about his momentum in those early days. "That gave me a lot of energy to succeed and show him that I was not a failure and that I was strong."
In the same way that it was delivered to academics and physical activity had caused an escape from childhood trauma, the performance became another launch for Lundgren. While working as a doorman in New York, he took some acting classes and auditioned in a cattle call for a boxing movie. A casting agent dismissed him instantly for being too loud, but when Lundgren discovered that the movie was Rocky iv, he devised a plan to keep his hat in the ring. He took pictures of himself in boxing clothes and managed to take them to Stallone, who months later summoned him to the Paramount lot, a meeting that would change the course of both. Rocky The franchise and the life of Lundgren.
When Lundgren stopped in the Paramount parking lot in his rental car, he saw the Hollywood sign in the background and soon was in front of Stallone, with long, polished hair for a paper in the background. Rambo: First Blood Part II.
"The first time I met Dolph Lundgren, he changed the whole concept, I was seeing the Russian Dragon Tree as this Beastman, almost like an animal, unbeatable," says Stallone. THR. "Then this supernatural super viking came in. I said: This is what people can look like in 50,000 years, genetically perfect, designed to be the athlete of the future."
Lundgren was surprised by the actor, who in the eight years since he exploded with two Oscar nominations for RockyHe had become an A-lister; a macho man who also had a sensitive artist living inside him, the kind of person who writes a script about a boxer who loves turtles.
Stallone, who wrote and directed Rocky iv – as he had done for the second and third installment in the franchise – he showed Lundgren a folder full of photos of other applicants for the role. The two took shirtless pictures side by side in boxing trunks, and finally, Lundgren was forced to compete against two other blond men formed by the role by delivering a monologue that would be used in the trailer. While the other boys opted for an exaggerated shot of Drago ("I fight my whole life and I never lose!"), Lundgren took the advice of his acting coach, Warren Robertson, who told him to play cold, internal. .
"It's very difficult for actors to do less," says Lundgren. "It's an advanced performance, actually, to do less, to play internally, although I did not know what he was doing, it translated very well on the screen, especially with the close-ups of Stallone he uses."
The part landed. Lundgren lived with Jones in New York, so he rented a house in Coldwater Canyon during the five months of daily training with Stallone. Jones would enter the apartment with his entourage after a night out at approximately 4 a.m., and Lundgren would have to get up at five. Stallone was strict with his younger co-star during his training and noticed that he was tired. May God help you if you are ever late.
"I ended up staying at home for a while to get some sleep, Grace did not appreciate it," says Lundgren with a smile. "It was a 27-year-old Swedish boy who was stuck between Sylvester Stallone and Grace Jones, it's not that easy, Sly would basically fire me if I was in bad shape, and Grace would kill me or something worse."
No matter how accomplished he becomes, Stallone will never utter more famous words than "Yo, Adrian!" Also, Lundgren has appeared in dozens and dozens of movies since Rocky iv, but will never pronounce more famous or more chilling words than "If he dies, he dies".
That line came after Drago dealt a fatal blow to Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) during an exhibition fight at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. For years, rumors have continued that Weathers threatened to resign while filming that scene because it was very difficult to be in the ring with Lundgren.
If Weathers was a little worried while filming the fight, who could blame him? While Stallone had five months to meet Lundgren, Weathers did not meet Swedish power until the day of filming. Lundgren had rehearsed the fight with someone else in Los Angeles, and most of it was improvised that day.
"When Carl Weathers gets in the ring and then all of a sudden, this 6-5 Swedish boy shows up and does not say a word and looks at him like he's going to kill him, I think he saw it like, what the hell? Who is this guy? "Remember Lundgren. "I was worried, I know I was, Stallone was telling me to go after him, I did not want to hit him, but obviously I hit him on the body a bit, because that's what you have to do to make him look good."
Then came the line "If he dies, he dies," which turned out to be a surprisingly emotional moment for Lundgren.
"When I had to say the sentence, my preparation was that I really felt bad about that, I did not like it if I died," says Lundgren. "I know that in the film the way he presents himself is emotionally very brutal, but the way he said it is not with a smile, he has some kind of remorse behind that, that's certainly how I felt. I felt it was a bad thing to see him with all the blood in Stallone's arms, at which point I realized that I was the villain of the image, it would be difficult when this comes to light "
Rocky iv Rocky is the best in terms of character training and physique, and Stallone urged Lundgren to be as imposing as possible when it came to Rocky's turn to face Drago.
"He was not against me getting bigger and stronger, and I used the elevators in some of the scenes to make myself even taller. I also stood in a box for a couple of shots, depending on where the camera was." says Lundgren. .
Stallone was working hard during the shoot: producing, directing and fighting Lundgren in the final fight, filmed in Vancouver, doubling for Russia. Lundgren was worried about Stallone, particularly when his boss asked him to really chase him during filming.
"I was tired, I was 10 years younger than him, I said I could not do it," recalls Lundgren. "I was throwing it around the ring, and I thought I was going to have some kind of collapse or something, physically, I was used to being around guys who were fighters and I could tell when they're tired."
One of Lundgren's punches landed on Stallone's chest, and Stallone ended up on an emergency plane back to Santa Monica, where he was put in intensive care with a swollen heart. Lundgren only found out after the fact, when a producer called him.
"I also felt bad about that," he says.
He still did not know, but Lundgren had made a performance that would follow him the rest of his life.
"Every time I see Dolph, I see Drago. That's how iconic is the character he played," he says. the Gastable supply objects co-star Steve Austin.
Lundgren returned to his life with Jones and waited Rocky iv go out. As he often remembers, he entered the premiere as Grace Jones' boyfriend, and the photographers shocked him to get a picture of Jones. It came out of the premiere as movie star Dolph Lundgren, Ivan Drago in Rocky iv, the image that persists today.
Rocky iv still remains the highest grossing film in the franchise, without accounting for inflation, with $ 300.5 million worldwide. But Lundgren's new stardom put a strain on his relationship with Jones.
"We loved each other." There was a boy he picked up in Australia, and he was an engineering student and a fighter and suddenly he had become, overnight, quite familiar, "says Lundgren.
The singer wrote in her autobiography 2015, I will never write my memoirs, that the beginning of the end of their relationship was when she showed up to her hotel room in Los Angeles with a gun, telling her manager that she needed to see him. Their relationship ended in 1986. Meanwhile, the new film star continued to work on the problems that arose from her childhood. its Rocky iv The success came 10 years after his abusive childhood was over, and Lundgren says he was not mature enough to confront his father about it.
"It's a complicated issue," says Lundgren. "Basically, he was very proud of me and I forgave him, but the underlying problems still bothered me about five years ago through therapy, meditation and those things, now he has come and gone."
After Rocky iv, Lundgren presented a series of big-budget genre films, including a leading role as He-Man in Masters of the Universe (1987), Frank Castle in Marvel & # 39; s The Punisher (1989) and a co-leader with Brandon Lee in Confrontation in Little Tokyo (1991). For a while, he seemed ready for a career like that of Jean-Claude Van Damme, a combat partner and his co-star in 1992 Universal Soldier. But Lundgren says that, at the time, he did not have the business knowledge to make that happen.
"I did not know who he really was," says Lundgren about the meeting with Van Damme. "He had made one or two movies, but he was very, very smart, I thought he was very smart with his image and very skilled in business, much more than I was at that time."
Things became difficult for Lundgren in later years. Universal Soldier. He acted in a handful of big-screen movies, but his role in 1995 Johnny mnemonic It would be the last in a broad-cast film for 15 years. Lundgren lived in direct exile to DVD, and his marriage to ex-wife Anette Qviberg fell apart. He has taken the blame for that, alluding in interviews over the years to bad behavior and infidelities on his part.
"I made smaller indie movies, my career was not going so well," says Lundgren of that era. "I moved to Spain with my ex-wife, I had two children there and I was not doing very well, I started drinking too much, I was depressed."
Then, in 2009, a miracle. Stallone called to say he was putting together a movie: who is who of the movie types of the last 25 years.
the Expendables changed Lundgren's career again, allowing him to return to the big screen in a property whose premise was irresistible to action fans, in the same way that the idea of watching The Avengers on the big screen went to Marvel fans 2012. Stallone brought together guys like Jason Statham Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jet Li and Bruce Willis. He wrote a character for Lundgren named Gunnar Jensen, a chemical engineer and deserter at MIT. (Does it sound familiar to you?) Two sequels followed, with the series winning $ 804.1 million worldwide and a fourth in discussion.
"I went through many difficulties before that, where I did not know what was going to happen to me in my career and how I was going to support my family and things like that," says Lundgren.
After years of embracing Drago alternately as part of him and wanting to show what else he could do as an actor, Credo II he has shown Lundgren that he and the Russian boxer were more closely intertwined than he knew. Like Drago, he knows what it is to compete at the top of his field and then disappear. He knows what it means to lose the family. And in the sequel, he experiences the other side of the father-son equation that shaped his life, and hinted that if Ivan is not abusive and abusive to his son Viktor, at least he is inflicting emotional damage by pushing your son. very difficult.
After reading the Credo II In the script, Lundgren imagined instantly playing Drago as old and exhausted. (It is still in an incredible way, for the record). He presented that vision to director Steven Caple Jr.
"At first I was not sure about that, but then he agreed," says Lundgren. "So he made my clothes two sizes too big, so I always look like I've lost some weight or something."
There is a surprising scene in Credo II In which Rocky and Drago meet for the first time in decades. Drago explains how his life has been after losing that fight in 1985. It's a subtle and affective moment that is crucial to what follows, and presented lines that Lundgren struggled to keep in the script.
"That scene was rewritten a couple of times, some things that I thought were wonderful were eliminated and I struggled to put them back on," says Lundgren. "Things got back on because I said, 'I'm not going to shoot otherwise.' People have to understand where I come from, and that's one of the few scenes where we understand what the hell this is. And it was an important scene and I'm very happy that it's in the picture, more or less in the scene … Original version, there were about five versions of it. "
Caple chose to open his film with Ivan as a man who lives for the training of his son, and said: "You felt that the dynamics of Dolph's character was like this contest dad".
"I just really wanted people to feel for both characters at the end of the movie," adds Caple. "I did not want to have the typical villain, I did not want him to come out as a caricature, I wanted everything to stay in this place."
While some viewers are surprised at how good the dramatic actor Lundgren is in the movie, Stallone is not among them.
"Dolph is a very deep and extremely sensitive person that people have never given him credit for, because he came into this business as such a remarkable physical specimen," says Stallone. "It was a book judged by its cover, but I always knew how intense it was and what it is."
Lundgren has always kindly rejected comparisons with the other action stars of his generation, pointing out that someone will always be richer than you or have bigger biceps than you. But he is in the midst of a career moment that could make his contemporaries jealous. One month after Credo II It opens, it will have a role in James Wan. Aquaman for Warner Bros. and DC as King Nereus. When was the last time an 80s action star appeared in two films prepared for such a critical and financial success in just one year, let alone in just a few weeks?
In the next month Aquaman, Lundgren shares the screen with the action hero of the next generation: Jason Momoa. He and Momoa spent a few days training together, and they even talked about showing up together in something else, but their first meeting was not what Lundgren expected.
"He was in his trailer and he came out, I had never seen him, so I said," Hi, Jason. "And he looks at me, nods and does not say anything," says Lundgren. "And then he came running towards me," Oh, I'm sorry, man, I did not recognize you. " He did not know it was me because I looked so different [in costume and makeup]. "
Although Lundgren recognizes that it is a special moment in his career, he feels more proud of how those roles have allowed him to deepen more than any attention he may receive due to that.
"I was never in this business to impress people with my physique and try to be rude, because I already was, I was in the army, I was a fighter, I was a champion, I got involved originally because I like to be creative," he says. lundgren "I had to solve some of my traumas from my childhood, but I did not know how to do it, it took me years to do it on the big screen, but with good directors, not with a movie." one will see. Sometimes it's hard to dig and really strip your soul in a movie instead of just taking the easy way out. "
– Mia Galuppo contributed with the report.