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Holy Fire

by Louise A. Barile, Starbase, Vol. 1 n°33, 1995

Action star Dolph Lundgren goes high tech as a Bible-touting mercenary in the film Johnny Mnemonic.

Dolph Lundgren's religious zealot bounty hunter Preacher, doesn't appear in the cult short story by William Gibson which the new film Johnny Mnemonic is based upon, but this didn't stop the actor from immersing himself in a role that is quite unlike any he's done before. With shaggy hair, flowing robes and the fire of righteousness in his eye, the Swedish actor is virtually unrecognizable.
Johnny Mnemonic is set in the not-too-distant future, where everyone is online. Keanu Reeves plays the title character, a courier, who carries in his memo-enhanced mind information which will change the world. Dolph, meanwhile, is a virtual villain out to stop him by taking johnny's head back to his employers for downloading. Starbase got inside of Dolph's head in this exclusive interview.
STARBASE: Your character in Johnny Mnemonic, Preacher, has been described as a "Jesus-freak mercenary." Is that an accurate description?
DOLPH LUNDGREN: I like {director) Robert Longo's description, a cross between Ted Nugent and Jesus. (laughs) I thought it was pretty good. It has a certain comedy to it. What we tried to do was to create somebody who is a futuristic version of your most dedicated TV evangelist, who's taken it one step further. He's really made it in to a science where he plays the part himself of Jesus Christ, so to speak. He also works on the side as a bounty hunter to help his congregation.
STARBASE: So he has two different careers which come together once in a while?
DOLPH: Exactly. They come together sometimes when he's out working. He also has a congregation. In the film, a lot of people have this nerve disease, the black shakes. It's a nerve disease that spreads over the world. It's caused by microwave radiation from all the microwave radiation from all the computers and screens everywhere. He had it too. He feels he was healed through God.
STARBASE: Does he enjoy his work?
DOLPH: Oh, most definitely. He enjoys converting sinners and also if he can collecting a few dollars… In this particular story, he gets a job to bring back Johnny's head, because that's where the information is and the best way to download is to take the whole head in.
STARBASE: Johnny Mnemonic is based on a short story by William Gibson. Were you familiar with the story?
DOLPH: I was. The Preacher didn't exist in the short story, but we kind of developed the Preacher with the look. I tried on the physical look-the wig, the beard and the different robes and the crucifix and also to try and find a certain delivery-a little bit of a sweet voice. He uses almost a Shakespearean delivery. I also tried to speak to the writer about making his language more flowery and using a different vocabulary than your average villain, who sort of uses more F words and things. He doesn't at all. He's very pure, but he does become menacing towards the end of the picture. An odd sort of guy, really.
STARBASE: Did you do your own stunt-work in fight scenes?
DOLPH: Most of it. I do most of the fight scenes. To tell you the truth, there's some exciting stuff in this movie but a lot of it is high tech effects and opticals and graphics. For me, we have a couple of fight scenes. I have one little scuffle with Keanu, one with Henry (Rollins) and something with Dina (Meyer), but nothing extravagant as compared to my other movies.
STARBASE: What about the special effects? Did you have to interact during the filming with things that weren't really there?
DOLPH: Yeah. We had to do some of that. A lot of the communication between me and some of the other people is done on video monitors and of course there's nobody there when you're shooting it. You sort of have to play the scene to a monitor. In my case, I put an actor close to the monitor, not to look at them, but to feel somebody there to play to. Otherwise, it's very hard to play to an empty screen.
Then we did some bigger effects on the set called Heaven. That's the big set where the Loteks live. They take Johnny up there and I show up during the big final battle. There's a lot of stuff going on that I'm reacting to-there's microwave radiation, there are explosions and electromagnet pulses that start to get the best of me toward the end. (laughs) You never know, maybe I'll be reborn for the sequel.
STARBASE: Do you have a good feeling about the film as far as its sequel potential?
DOLPH: Sure, the movie plays. It all depends on the audience's reaction to it, of course. It's different. Kind of claustrophobic in the fact that it's all shot on sets, in interiors and very high tech. On the other hand, what I really like is all the cyber-space graphics. When Johnny and some of the other characters go on the internet, they actually fly through the Net and you see all the information. The audience goes in-as they push the button-whoosh!-right in the Net. That's how the movie opens and I thought it was pretty powerful.
STARBASE: There was a change of leading man in the 11th hour, Johnny was supposed to have been played by Val Kilmer who dropped out. Then Keanu was brought in. Were you already signed at that point and did you have any thoughts of not waiting to do the film?
DOLPH: No, I stuck with it. I had done a lot of work on this character. I thought it would be a fun character to play and to work out. It was a bit of a stretch for me.
STARBASE: You certainly don't look like we're used to seeing you.
DOLPH: People didn't recognize me. I don't appear until half way through the movie and even though people knew I was going to be in the picture, they'd given up looking for me. When I do appear, they don't think it's me. I think that's good. It's nice to be a little bit mysterious sometimes.
STARBASE: Did the costume hamper your movements during filming?
DOLPH: Oh yeah, it was tough. Plus, because I have a robe, there's a lot of bare skin-it was pretty cold in the winter and we did a lot of effects. It helps to have clothes on for the effects.
STARBASE: Johnny Mnemonic's director Robert Longo, is making his film directorial debut after having established himself as an artist. Was his style as a director much different than anything you'd previously encountered?
DOLPH: Well, he was more spontaneous. He wasn't as set in the same way of working, which sometimes can cause delays in the shooting. On the other hand, it was inspiring for me creatively because he hadn't set his way on anything almost, as far as performers went or blocking. It gave me a lot of room to work on my character.
STARBASE: What was the general atmosphere on the set like? In addition to Robert Longo, there are also other folks in the film such as Henry Rollins and Ice T who aren't primarily known for their filmwork.
DOLPH: It did have a special feeling because the movie is very on the edge -the design, Robert's energy, some of the actors-Henry Rollins, Dina even-it was kind of unusual. It wasn't perhaps as subdued. Sometimes you get on a movie set and it gets very serious. Like the last film I did, all the actors are getting into their characters and talking about their parts, you kind of over analyze everything. And this set was very spontaneous and free flowing.
For my part, I'd over analyzed my character. (laughs) I came from the other side. But it was fine because my character is kind of crazy anyway, so it only helped. He's out of control, so it didn't matter!
STARBASE: You've played both heroes and villains before. Which is more fun to play?
DOLPH: It's a different type of fun. To play a hero-I did one last year after Mnemonic called The Shooter. It's an action thriller and I play more of a classic lead. There's much more realism than , like Speed or Johnny Mnemonic. It's a realistic movie. That's fun because it's more about the nuances and the performance. It's more intricate. It's fun and it's satisfying in that respect.
In playing a villain, if he's well-written, it's more enjoyable as you're doing it. I think you have to be more inventive to come up with a good villain, otherwise that becomes clichéd too. All the big actors are playing them now. Some of the best roles in American cinema now are the villains and they're winning the awards.
After this, I wouldn't mind doing another villain, but it would have to be something really special and really big.

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