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Tough-guy Lundgren bares his pecs at Angus yards; Swedish star portrays a misunderstood assassin in Canadian-British thriller

by Bill Brownstein, The Gazette (Montreal), September 7, 1995

Cast and crew of The Algonquin Goodbye are gathered in front of the old Angus railway yards set for the mandatory team photo, which, 20 years from now, might be the only reminder that this movie ever existed. After seven long, hot weeks here, shooting on this $ 15-million Canada-British thriller wraps tomorrow, and local techs are feeling sentimental.

Unlike most of the local talent, though, the film's marquee star, Dolph Lundgren, will move on, secure in the knowledge he will land more work soon.

Oblivious to the bonding around him, Lundgren, who plays a misunderstood hit man, bares his teeth in the window of a minivan. Even he seems taken aback by the menacing reflection he has cast before heading over to take his place for the picture. Sporting skin-tight black jeans and a green T-shirt, the hulking Swedish star looks sinister enough without the gobs of greasepaint applied to his face and arms. Crew members become silent when Lundgren arrives, perhaps concerned that life might imitate art and, out of boredom, he might start tossing bodies around.

Turns out that they have no reason to be worried. Lundgren has an abundance of belts in karate and kickboxing and is among the toughest people on the planet. But Lundgren, who made his mark as the concrete-headed Russian boxer Ivan Drago in Rocky IV, is actually a chemical engineer with degrees from universities in Sweden and Australia.

Won a scholarship

Furthermore, Lundgren, star of Masters of the Universe and The Punisher, won a Fullbright scholarship to MIT. (Hey, I couldn't even make this stuff up.) What all this really means is that Lundgren can not only bend the human body in many imaginative ways but he can also blow it up, too.

More extraordinary, the soft-spoken Lundgren hasn't volunteered this brainiac information. Word leaked from other sources.

"Unfortunately, I wasn't at MIT for long," says Lundgren, 35, after the team photo is snapped. "I got sidetracked and quit to study acting in New York."

That dashed all hopes of a career in chemistry, unlike his father and brother, both chemical engineers.

Lundgren now sits stone-faced, staring into another mirror, as he is being made up - mussed up, actually - for a scene in an elevator shaft.

Does he survive this dramatic moment?

"I do, actually," he says, spilling the plot beans in the process.

As Lundgren explains the complexities of his role as assassin Waxman in The Algonquin Goodbye, directed by Russell Mulcahy and produced by Montrealer Nicolas Clermont, it becomes clear that he has become a master of the deadpan delivery.

"I'm an assassin, but I really hope the audience will sympathize with me at some point during the movie. I'm trying to quit, you know. But it's not that easy. The people I'm working for aren't the kind you can just call in and request your pink slip from. Oh, no."

Lundgren is under no illusions about why he is in demand for the movies. He looks tough and a good 10 years younger than his age.

"Scandinavian genetics, I suppose," he says. "I guess as an actor you can only have a long career as long as you still look good."

He's had to work at it. When he was a young teen in Stockholm, bullies used to kick the Swedish equivalent of sand in Lundgren's face.

"I used to have a lot of allergies. I wasn't that big. And I used to get beat up a lot," Lundgren says. "But then when I was 16, I started growing about four inches a year for the next three or four years. And I started getting into martial arts and training rigorously."

And kicked the butts of all those who had harassed him?

"No, not at all. I tend to avoid fights. I'm just not into that."

After bolting MIT for acting classes in New York, Lundgren wasn't inundated with offers to star in film. But because of his imposing presence, he was much in demand as a bouncer and doorman on the club circuit. That is where he came to the attention of casting agents looking for a young Nordic punching bag for the upcoming Rocky IV.

Lundgren played a cursed Commie pugilist (before the Iron Curtain got torn to shreds) who dares to challenge heavyweight champ Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone). It's not like an actor has lots of career choices after being whipped by the Rock.

"At the time, I was really excited. It beat working as a doorman. I learned a lot. But it would have been nice to have a little more acting experience in smaller roles so I would have been a little more ready - because I really wasn't.

"It's taken me about 10 years just to get my feet back on the ground. I moved back to New York last year to do some theatre and to take a little more control over my career," says Lundgren, who also maintains a residence in Stockholm with his Swedish wife.

He might wish to perform Hamlet on stage, but Lundgren is resigned that he will always be typecast as action-man.

'Gets a little tiring'

"It's because of my physique and personality. Film is such a visual medium. It's hard to break out of that mold. I enjoy it, but it gets a little tiring because there's not much of a challenge."

Last year, Lundgren started an experimental theatre company, Group of 8, in New York.

"Mostly because there's not too many shoot-outs on the stage," he says. "We've done several productions of one-act plays from new writers. I even did a monologue from a new British play. It was a real kick."

He takes heart from Arnold Schwarzenegger's occasional moves outside the action genre.

"Honestly, it would be hard for me to do one-liners while holding a guy over a 100-foot ravine. But give Arnold credit. People didn't think he was that bright. He's proved otherwise.

"But I didn't go into acting for commercial reasons. It's because I have this need to do it - otherwise I wouldn't be doing experimental theatre. There's no career reason for that. I just need to grow."

Besides, if times get tough, he can always return to the chemistry lab.

"I don't think so," he shoots back. "I've made my career decision."

Right now, that entails being called back to the set and risking life and limb while hanging precariously in an elevator shaft.

"It's a job."

And at least he can take heart that he will survive the scene and live to do more battle another day.

LOAD-DATE: September 8, 1995

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