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Lundgren's not another musclehead actor

by John McKay, The Canadian Press (Toronto), December 20, 1997

So you think you know Dolph Lundgren? Big Scandinavian actor, you say? Portrayed a futuristic human fighting machine opposite Jean-Claude Van Damme in Universal Soldier. Probably just another muscleheaded action star.

Well, how about this Dolph Lundgren? Attended the Royal Institute of Technology and Washington State University on scholarship. Masters degree in chemical engineering. Awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Also captain of the Swedish karate team, leader of the 1996 U.S. Olympic pentathlon team and now pursuing his third-degree black belt in karate.

"I guess in my heart I never wanted to be an engineer, except my dad wanted me to," Lundgren says in a soft-spoken, accent-free voice.

"I had always been interested in arts and I got into some modelling in New York and, before I knew it, was studying acting."

The towering, fair-haired Swede is giving an interview during an overdue lunch break on the set of Blackjack, a pilot movie that action master John Woo is directing in Toronto for a possible new TV series.

Yes, Lundgren agrees, maybe he is often mistaken for a dumb male blond and most people who probably don't really know him assume he is like that expressionless cyborg character.

In Blackjack he plays Jack Devlin, a former U.S. marshal who had worked in the witness protection program. But now Devlin has been lured into private security practice when a friend calls in a favor.

He must show his softer side, though, when he falls for a supermodel he is guarding and must adopt a precocious nine-year-old girl left in his charge.

Which brings up the subject of the fairly recent Hollywood trend of accepting foreigners as the kind of heroes that in the past could only be all-American: Van Damme, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rutger Hauer, Jackie Chan.

Lundgren concedes that in the John Wayne-Humphrey Bogart era it would have been unthinkable, but things have changed socially and economically since then.

The overseas market now accounts for at least half of a Hollywood movie's profits. The world has also become more international and Hollywood is either leading or following with a less chauvinistic attitude.

"Maybe they are leading the change," he says. "The women could be Europeans, that's always been the case. Brigitte Bardot or Ingrid Bergman. But the men have always been Americans."

Lundgren says it's fun and challenging to work with Woo, the Hong Kong native with the flair for turning mayhem into onscreen ballet.

"He always has a different take on a scene. . . . You feel like you're part of something special."

Lundgren says Woo demands more of his actors in their interacting with his always-moving camera.

"He wants you to do more stunts, gunplay and more physical things yourself," he says.

"I don't mind working 18 hours a day to be a part of this stuff."

Blackjack will air on the USA Network on American cable. A Canadian broadcaster hasn't been named yet.

It's the second project in Woo's contractual agreement with Toronto's Alliance Communications to develop TV projects. The first was Once a Thief, another action series spun off from a Woo-directed pilot. It's also filmed in Toronto for export and is aired by CTV.