Regenerating a Career: An Interview with Dolph Lundgrenby Judge Mike Rubino
In an age where shaky cameras, CGI, and choppy editing do most of the heavy lifting in action films, Dolph Lundgren is an icon of old school filmmaking. His prolific career includes over 40 films, although he's probably best known for killing Apollo Creed, mastering the universe, and hanging with Lou Gossett Jr. as The Punisher. Most recently, he reunited with another great action star, Jean-Claude Van Damme, for his very first sequel: Universal Soldier: Regeneration.
Judge Mike Rubino had a chance to talk to Dolph about Regeneration, as well as his foray into directing, his role in the upcoming Stallone movie The Expendables, modern action movies, and his degree in chemical engineering.
Mike Rubino: In the commentary track for Regeneration you mentioned that you turned down the project originally, and then they came back to you. What was it that changed about the project in between those two pitches?
Dolph Lundgren: What changed was John Hyams came on board. I really liked his take on the picture. It was like a catch-22 because I had to commit for them to get funding for re-writing and all that, so he came up with some good ideas for my character just within a few days. I knew that he was a smart guy, really conscientious, really hardworking, and I knew he was going to make it very gritty--that was his choice--and I thought that was good. That's when I decided to do it.
MR: Was your character always in the picture? Were you always going to be playing the original Andrew Scott, even in the original idea for the movie, or is that something that Hyams brought to the table?
DL: No, I was always the original Andrew Scott. And it was just like, the original script wasn't very good. It didn't have any intelligence to it. And I thought John's ideas had a lot of integrity, and he's got his own point of view as a filmmaker; even though my role is short, because I was directing at the time... and preparing for another picture, I think my role in the film is pretty memorable, and he did a good job of making it interesting. It's all his doing.
MR: It's totally a memorable role, and you definitely make the most of your screen time in this. What was it like reuniting with Jean-Claude Van Damme? Did you click right away, and how was choreographing your fight scene?
DL: It was kind of bizarre, because I've never done a sequel. You decide you're going to play this character and you rehearse it, and then you show up on the location, get into costume and then Van Damme shows up on the set and you're kind of transported back 17 years. A lot of things have happened since, but it didn't feel that long ago. It was fun to work with him... I hadn't seen him for a while and he's still very smart with the choreography and with the fight scenes--he's very talented.
I remember the first time I saw him, he was really good with that; that's what he built his career on. So we had a little fight, we rehearsed, and it was fun to work with an actor who does his own stunts. These days, a lot of times you end up fighting a double. And he's a real actor who knows how to fight so that was fun. It's interesting, that doesn't happen much anymore.
MR: What are your thoughts on the way Andrew Scott died this time? Because you had a pretty creative death scene in the first movie, and you had an excellent death scene in this one.
DL: I thought it was one of the better moments in the picture; not because I'm in it, but it was cleverly done. Very quick and kind of surprising, and comedic, too. That echoed the first Andrew Scott a little bit, who had kind of a wicked sense of humor and was a little over the top. I thought even though John's version is grittier and more realistic, there were a few touches to my character that were entertaining.
MR: So since this is your first real sequel, is there any other movie or franchise that you've starred in previously that you'd like to do a sequel for at some point?
DL: [Laughs] Well I'll have to go back and go through 'em! It feels strange to me... if I were to pull on the old Soviet boxing trunks, it would feel very strange. But I'm not looking for that, I'm not thinking of that. Maybe somebody else is, I dunno. If it's a good opportunity, and it's something fun to do, then, yeah, why not?
MR: Your next movie you're teaming up with a bunch of other classic action stars. Can you talk at all about The Expendables or what your role is in that movie?
DL: Sure! Well, it's a group of guys--mercenaries--and everyone's an ex-servicemen from some part of the world, led by some guy played by Mr. Stallone, who wrote and directed the picture. Basically, we take on jobs that nobody else wants... and it takes us around the world, and in this particular case from Africa to South America... My character is a crazy Swede named Gunnar Jensen, he's a bit of a burnout. He's seen too much death and destruction, he's a bit of a loose cannon, really, and it gets him into trouble with the rest of the gang--and with a few other people as well. So [laughs] he's kind of a very colorful character, and it was Stallone who's made a great role for me. I'm very happy... he's an interesting guy, and it's going to be fun.
MR: Are you currently directing any new projects?
DL: Yeah. I've directed a couple movies, and I've two projects that I'm working on that I've written, and co-written with somebody else. It's challenging and it's fun; you learn a lot. These are smaller films, you know. Nothing like The Expendables, but you gotta start somewhere. [Laughs] I do that as a side kind of thing.
MR: So now that you've directed some, to do something like Universal Soldier: Regeneration, is it different being an actor since you've seen the other side of the production?
DL: Certainly. It's gives you a whole different take on the directing side, and you certainly sympathize with the guy more--the poor sucker has to taste that pressure. And I found myself being more respectful, and wanting to help more, and perhaps having some suggestions more often because you know your character and you know what the director wants to accomplish... and you're trying to help as much as possible.
And also when you deliver a performance you kind of know that when you cut a movie you want choices. It's always good to follow your impulse and do things you, perhaps, hadn't thought you were going to do. But that may be the best take. Whereas when you're acting--at least in my case--you try and nail it and get that one take that's perfect, but it usually doesn't work like that. You usually combine things.
MR: Your movies are sort of classic '80s, early '90s-type action. What do you think of the new, modern action film? I'm thinking of things like the new James Bond movies, or the Bourne movies, things like that, compared to the way a lot of your movies are filmed.
DL: Well, I agree. I think this is the best example: I think the Bourne and the Bond movies are a little bit in between. I would say a good example would be superhero movies like Spider-Man or something where it's very CGI-driven, and obviously a lot of stunt doubles for the actors because there's a lot of stuff nobody can do--no actor can do some of these things. And on the other side of the spectrum you have, perhaps, one of my movies or The Expendables where it's very old school with guns, explosions, and fights basically. The actors do a lot of their own stunts, you get injured more and things like that.
I think the Bourne pictures are in between, where there's a lot of fancy camera work and they take actors that are physically talented and you train them to do things. Maybe they haven't done it before, but they'll learn it for the movie. Whereas in the '80s you had a guy who you knew could fight, or was a body builder or something, and you put him in a movie. That's kind of how it was done then. I think everything's different--different strokes for different folks...
The more visceral violence is coming back a little bit, I think, because of MMA. A lot of the kids watch MMA, and they know; they can see a real punch and a real kick and what it does to somebody's face. And I think that's why, perhaps, the filmmakers are being pressured a little more, if you're trying to make a realistic movie, to make the fights realistic. Unless you're doing superheroes, where it doesn't matter.
MR: Speaking of MMA, how was working with Andrei "The Pitbull" Arlovski in Regeneration?
DL: I didn't have any scenes with him, but I met him. He's a great guy, very smart, and very ambitious and committed. Obviously, a tough cookie: he fights MMA and he's one of the best fighters in the world. And I think he's being used very well in the picture.
MR: I know that you have a masters degree in chemical engineering, so if you weren't an action star like you are today, what would you be doing? Would you be working in chemistry?
DL: That's a good question. I have friends I went to school with, and they're all working with big multi-national companies. I guess I would have been doing something similar maybe. I certainly wouldn't have been fighting The Pitbull over in Bulgaria, or tossing people through walls. That's the magic of life, you never know what's going to happen. I don't think I'll go back to it [chemical engineering], but maybe I could get some use out of it somehow in the future.
MR: Thanks very much! I really appreciate you taking the time, keep up the good work!
DL: Thanks, man, I appreciate it!
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