Muscling In On Stallone
by Desson Howe, The Washington Post, November 28, 1985
Under the baggy white corduroy suit tapered at the wrists and ankles, 6 feet 6 inches and 245 pounds of Dolph Lundgren are posing for the camera. Pretty-boy features form an unsettling marriage with perfectly toned muscle as he pumps up lips, eyes and shoulders into a frenzy for the photographer.
"I like the PR and I like the press," says Lundgren in his Baltic baritone. He is fretting whether to turn his shirt collar up or down, or take the jacket off (you know how it is). "I like all the attention." The forearms and the hands, with their well-hewn bulk, look like spare parts for the statue of David; maybe even the Statue of Liberty. The word "humanoid" springs to mind. He trails an overwhelming feeling of mass, but it moves easily -- a 26-year-old, first-degree karate black belt whose Cover Girl skin knows no wrinkles. Like an Olympian fresh from a decathlon victory 2,000 years ago, he is parading through his victory lap after a major Hollywood film.
"I did L.A. for about a week, then I went to Toronto, and then Philadelphia. Now I'm in New York for talk shows for three days. The New York Post, they asked me all the dirt, those boys. Then off to L.A. for the opening. Then Chicago, Atlanta, D.C. Then back to L.A., then Australia, Singapore, Europe, South America. I'll be promoting about three months."
The "Rocky IV" publicity machine is in full throttle; so well greased this afternoon, the oil practically oozes onto the New York hotel carpet. Trailers for The Film, already omnipresent on pre-Thanksgiving television, are reshown on video prior to The Interview. This is the launching of Hollywood's latest mega-hypee and by now you should recognize the name or the face: Ivan Drago, the Russian iceman who challenges Rocky Balboa in the fourth film about the everyman boxer with a big heart and apparent speech impediment. "Soon I fight Rocky Balboa," says a voice lower than Lurch in "The Addams Family." "And the world will see his defeat."
Lundgren, a former model, averts his eyes from the photographer's lens until the shutter is ready to click. The session is interrupted by a female head -- hidden under dark glasses and a black fur hat -- that peeps around an adjoining door. "Gotta go," she coos, waving to Dolph. "Bye." Dolph the model is shed like a discarded Armani jacket as Dolph the lover rushes to whisper to companion and rock Amazon Grace Jones. The two heads huddle together to share the muted mutterings of skyscrapers in love. "Gimme a call, okay?" says Dolph.
The model again, he straddles an expensive hotel chair "Cabaret"-style, only to break one of its legs. "That's great," cackles Grace. Oh, the time everyone's having. But enough banter. Dolph, can we rap?
If Dolph and Sylvester Stallone ever really mixed it up, Sly would be on the canvas before you could say "Yo, Adrian." Lundgren, a former bouncer at New York's Private Eyes video nightclub, was champion kick boxer in Europe and Australia and put on 25 pounds of new muscle for the movie over a four-month training period.
Stallone discovered what that meant when, departing briefly from the tightly choreographed fight sequences, he reportedly told Dolph to "let it fly." Lundgren did just that and punched Stallone's diaphragm northward, severely bruising his heart. Production halted as Rambo was laid up in the hospital for two weeks.
"One shot I guess went through his guard and caught him," says Lundgren. "It was just a freak accident, that's all."
For the record, the Lundgren brain has been doing its own share of bench pressing. The Swedish son of a chemical engineer, he speaks German and French as well as Swedish and English and can hold his own in Japanese and Russian. He also plays trombone and percussion. He holds a master's degree in chemical engineering and only a year ago appeared destined for MIT. "My parents were all excited -- 'Wow, you're going to be chairman of Exxon.' "
But with a couple of months' lull before classes, Lundgren "found myself waiting. So I hung out in New York, modeled a little bit sports and swimwear , made some money, lived a fun life for a while." He also met professional acting coach Warren Robertson, and the rest is pectoral history.
"He told me, 'Dolph, I think maybe you're an artist, that you've tried all these various things in your life. But what you should do is maybe find one profession where you can use all your talents and also your looks.' "He said, 'You're sensitive, you're not the normal beefcake walking the street.' . . . So I started Method-acting for him. And I liked it." He even changed his name from Hans to Dolph for the marquee.
It didn't hurt that he was dating Grace Jones, either. He found himself with a bit part in the James Bond film "A View to a Kill," in which Jones also acted. After that, he tried out for "Rocky IV" but "they turned me down. I was too tall. But I knew this part was too good for me to just let it go through my fingers."
So, while in Paris for "View," he sent pictures to Stallone through Robertson. "By this time they were very desperate," Lundgren remembers. "They were looking at 8,000 actors" but couldn't find one who could simultaneously act, box and speak in a Russian accent. Dolph got invited to Hollywood.
While talking to Stallone, Lundgren was almost given a thug part in "Rambo: First Blood, Part Two." "The people casting 'Rocky' were also casting 'Rambo' . . . The 'Rambo' people saw me and said, 'Hey, this is our man,' and they started negotiating without Sly knowing about it and he kinda had me set aside for 'Rocky IV.' And when he finds out I'm going out to Mexico, he says, 'Hold it. Send the kid back to New York.' They paid me
for 'Rambo' anyway."
The training for "Rocky" was no Nikon session. "You have to be cut -- your muscles defined. I had a low-fat, high-carb, high-protein diet, which is bland, but it makes you really ripped . . . We'd start with about an hour of weights, an hour of boxing, then it'd escalate. Eventually it was four hours of boxing, two hours of weights -- six hours, which was the worst thing I'd ever done physically. And that's the reason why there might not be 'Rocky V,' because for both me and Stallone, especially for him, as he gets older, it'd be really tough. You'd really kill yourself." You mean there's talk of "Rocky V?"
"Yes," is the reply. And there will also be a "Rambo III."
Although quick to parody the voice of Drago, Lundgren speaks about the "realistic" details of "Rocky IV" ("In this movie, it's the real deal: Marx is up there, Lenin on the wall, a Gorbachev look-alike, the Russian flags all over the place"). And he speaks of the extensive research he did to put depth into Ivan Drago. "I tried to make him a real person. I wanted my character to be a real human.
"He's not an evil character -- there is no evil in his heart. He has to create animosity to fight Rocky , he's really a victim of the Soviet system . If he'd been born in the States he would have been the Great White Hope, the hero of the western world. Now, because he was born in Russia, he's suddenly the bad guy.
"Of course the Russians are the bad guys in 'Rocky IV' . . . In this film, I must say, they are being portrayed like Germans . . . But it doesn't get that bad. It's not a deep political drama about the Soviet Union; it's a fight movie."
Lundgren, who says he worked harder for "Rocky IV" than he would have for a real boxing match, says he has been approached to don professional gloves. When he went to Vegas to catch the Holmes-Spinks fight, "they were all over me: 'Aaay, why don't you fight?' I said, 'I like my nose the way it looks, my brain the way it works.' "
We are now in a limo, destination: Manhattan Muscle Inc. a jock and jockette pump shop ("I do weights, a few machines, not Nautilus -- Cybex"). The plan is that Dolph will do his daily workout and a Swedish photographer will take pictures for a big Swedish daily. ("He is not well known in Sweden yet," says the photographer. "But they know about him and Grace Jones.")
Okay, what is the deal with Grace? This is a question Lundgren has heard once or twice before. He met her in Australia 3 1/2 years ago, he says. She was touring, and he was studying at the University of Sydney, as well as training for the Australian kick-boxing championship. "One of my sparring partners was working as her back-stage-door security man. I went back to say good night to the guy and, believe it or not, the door flew open to her dressing room and there was a big table of food." While Dolph noshed, Grace appeared. "She came over and said, 'Your hair's too long, you need a haircut.' I said, 'Uh-uh.' We met and that was it. We met over a plate of cheese."
" Later I went over to practice karate in Tokyo. She was there to do a Seiko commercial and we met half by chance again. I knew she was there this time and, from then on, we've been together."
Other tidbits: They work out together sometimes; Grace has asked him to sing backup on her next album and he's "thinking about it"; they have a place in the West Village and in Marina del Rey "right on the beach." And no, shoppers, Grace is not pregnant, as a certain national rag would have it. "If she is, she hasn't told me... We might have one, but not now."
Now we're at the gym, where muscular upper torsos walk around on underdeveloped lower torsos. And, before he goes to join the muscle-bound, Dolph contemplates his potential movie career.
"As an actor, when you start it's the worst because you're real low-life unless you've made it. I was already at the top as an academic. Somehow I realized if I really worked at it I could make it, because if you're special, it takes longer, but once you make it, it goes quicker. It was lucky for me that Sly was writing the script at the time I was starting to get into acting. And, by the time he was casting, I was just skilled enough to do it. So to me, I feel it's almost destiny -- everything I've done, my boxing, my acting, my languages, traveling, whatever. It's all tied together."
Is he doomed, after this film, to roles in movies like "Conan Growls Again" or "Mad Sven the Terminator"?
Typecasting, says Lundgren, "is a problem only until people have met me. That's why I like to do a lot of press. I've had seven parts sent to me already, mostly leading-man parts, a lot of them American parts. They all range from he-man, all-American hero to character parts, where I play a Don Juan character in the '60s." He is talking with a major studio, he says, about playing Joe Palooka. "Yeah, I'm interested." Hell, why not do "Hamlet" on Broadway?
Lundgren thinks about this. "Well, not 'Hamlet,' necessarily. But Warren Robertson was talking about me doing some Tennessee Williams off-Broadway."
If all else fails, Lundgren is working on several film-writing developments and, er, there is a Dolph workout tape.
"It's called 'Maximum Potential.' How to utilize your maximum potential, not just physically, but mentally and emotionally. It's calisthenics, not aerobics with pink tights on -- masculine stuff. And how to use Method acting to deal with people, relax, breathe and use positive visualization. . . How to show people how to be what they really are. Because everybody's special. I'm special, you're special."
And with that, Hollywood's latest special effect vanishes into a sea of torsos.