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Action star Lundgren an MIT man?

by Barry Koltnow, Chicago Tribune, July 9, 1992

The great thing about making fun of big, dumb Hollywood action stars is that they're usually too dumb to know that you're making fun of them. Don't try it with Dolph Lundgren. The muscular, karate-trained, 6-foot-5-inch gladiator may have looked a little thick between the ears in ``Rocky IV.'' And he probably didn't light up many circuit boards in ``Masters of the Universe,'' either. But in fact, the Swedish-born actor is a pretty smart guy. Lundgren, who co-stars with Jean-Claude Van Damme in ``Universal Soldier,'' which opens Friday, was days away from entering the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology on a Fulbright Fellowship when he got sidetracked by the glitter and glamor of Hollywood.
Can you picture this hunk sitting in the library poring over engineering books? Well, neither could Lundgren.
``I enrolled at MIT and then had a few days off before classes began, so I went down to New York City to visit my girlfriend,'' Lundgren said recently during a break in filming his next picture, ``Joshua Tree.'' ``It was during those few days in New York that I started to re-evaluate my life. I was about to embark on yet another phase of my academic life, and I needed a change. I wanted some excitement.''
Lundgren said he never returned to Boston, and he began attending acting classes. For the next year, he tried to pay the rent by modeling, but he was told he was too big for the clothes, so he was a bouncer at local nightclubs. He had a small part in the James Bond movie ``A View to a Kill.'' Then he got the role of the invincible Russian boxer in ``Rocky IV.'' There is a scene in that movie when his character is raised on a platform through the middle of a Las Vegas stage. The character looks a bit dazed by all the hoopla, and Lundgren said that mirrored his own experience in his first major film role. ``One minute I was a kid trying to make some extra bucks at the door of a club, and the next minute I was known all over the world,'' he said. ``It
took all my energy just to stay afloat. ``I didn't know anything about acting or business at the time. I had
planned to study acting for a long time and then gradually move into movies. `Rocky IV' came so fast, but what could I do? A `Rocky' picture is not something that an unemployed actor turns down. ``I look at it now philosophically,'' he said. ``It was my destiny.''
Lundgren, 34, was raised in the suburbs of Stockholm, but he was not athletic as a child. He was asthmatic, and he spent most of his early years inside the house reading. As he began to grow out of his condition, he wanted to start playing sports but was too far behind the other kids. So he took up karate. He became captain of the Swedish national karate team and now holds a second-degree black belt in the sport. Still, it was academics that he excelled in, and after attending the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden, he completed his undergraduate work in the United States, at Washington State University and Clemson. He received his master's degree in chemical engineering at the University of Sydney in Australia.
In 1989, after he already had made a name for himself on the big screen, Lundgren returned to acting classes. Although he makes no excuses for the action roles he has played so far, he said he has bigger goals in mind.
``I've gotten in this business like the old movie stars,'' he said. ``The studios would find a promising young actor, throw him into dozens of B movies and cultivate a career for him. ``Looking back, I might have liked to stay in New York and spend more time training at my craft, but I would have had to deal with Hollywood at some point, and now I'm dealing with it.''
According to Lundgren, ``Universal Soldier'' is a major step forward in his development as a Hollywood actor. In it, he plays a Vietnam soldier who goes over the edge before dying in combat. He and his platoon are later brought back to life-actually, reconstructed-and turned into a secretive super SWAT squad. The film's director likens it to a retelling of the Frankenstein myth, but it seems to borrow more from ``Robocop'' and ``The Terminator.'' Either way, Lundgren has a meaty part as a villain, and that suits him just fine.
``Some big careers have come out of villain parts,'' Lundgren said. ``I saw this as a chance to play someone who is more than a stereotype, and that's what my career needs right now.''
Lundgren said he's learning to be patient with the progress of his career, as he inches his way from big, dumb action hero to Hollywood actor. He knows it takes time to change preconceptions. ``People used to make fun of Arnold Schwarzenegger. They made fun of his movies and the way he talked. Now he's the biggest thing in Hollywood and people treat him extra-nice because they're embarrassed about how they treated him in the beginning. I'm looking forward to that day, too.''