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The Punisher Film Journal Entries

by Marc Shapiro, Comics Scene, #9, Summer 1989

After all that beating up, shooting up, blowing up in other movies, Dolph Lundgren tries something "different."

What's in a name? If you're Dolph Lundgren considering a script, plenty.
"My first reaction to being offered The Punisher was that I didn't like the title too much," recalls Lundgren. "The Punisher sounded too much like Terminator or The Exterminator, and I didn't like the idea that I would get involved in that type of movie at this stage of my career."

Obviously, something must have changed Lundgren's mind since the actor, several days into his latest film Dark Angel, is waxing nostalgic about his role as Frank Castle in The Punisher (scheduled for summer-fall 1989 release, though it may go directly to video). Lundgren concedes that he did eventually come around to producer Robert Kamen and director Mark Goldblatt's way of thinking, but not before concluding that there was something to the role besides a salary."I didn't know anything about the Punisher," confesses Lundgren, "and my initial reaction was that I was being offered another of those same action-oriented films that I had been doing to this point. I was definitely concerned that it was just more of the same.
"But then, I read the script and I said, 'Wow! This is really good! The story is fine, there are some funny moments and many scenes of real dramatic potential.' So, I decided to do it."
Lundgren, who grew up reading superhero comic books, explains that the character and the concept basically struck a nerve with him."There's just something very catchy about the Punisher that proved immediately attractive to me. I liked the idea of playing a character who really doesn't care about anything except getting revenge and dealing out the blow of
justice. And while there's all sorts of action and really over-the-top characters and situations, there's a sense of realism about the whole thing that makes this more than just another action picture. "The movie also has that shade and extra dimension that you don't see in most action films. This isn't just the Punisher killing everybody in sight. There's a carefully drawn background that gives the audience a legitimate reason for why he has become what he is. That appealed to me."
Lundgren, in previous interviews, has described The Punisher as "RoboCop meets Lethal Weapon." But, now reminded of that description, the actor amends the label."It's really hard to describe The Punisher in terms of being like other films," he says. "The RoboCop comparison might work because there's so much action involved. The beginning of The Punisher is more along the lines of a typical cop movie but then it becomes more like a James Bond movie with situations and characters that are totally larger than life."

Lundgren, through cutting out weightlifting and concentrating on
martial arts and running, dropped 25 pounds in an attempt to physically become the character. "Let's face it," he chuckles, "Frank Castle is a guy who has been living in the sewers for five years. He could not look too healthy and be believable."The actor remembers that getting mentally into the character proved an even tougher task."I didn't feel that reading the comic books would give me any real insight into the character," he explains, "but I did read them just for fun. I tried to bring as much of myself as possible into Frank Castle. I'm a fairly innocent sort of tough guy and playing this character forced me to get pretty intense. "And I accomplished that by acting like the Punisher would act. I stayed by myself a lot, walked around talking to myself and didn't talk to anybody. The result was that I put myself in a very tense frame of mind." He stayed that way when The Punisher cast and crew began filming in Australia, and his continual mental training caused a number of anxious moments on the set. "I guess I scared many people," he admits. "I know I was real weird some days. But, that's what it took to get into the character. Working 12 hours a day for three months helped me stay insane. It also didn't hurt that the dialogue and the scenes were written in a way that called for me to have an intense, yet detached attitude."
There were numerous conversations between Lundgren and producer Robert Kamen. "I had a say in the script [apparently rewritten by Kamen, though screenwriter Boaz Yakin says that only Yakin will be credited, see page 58] only in the sense of suggesting things that would be consistent with the character's motivation," Lundgren says. "Kamen was very receptive and I feel the talks we had ultimately resulted in a better movie." And those results, explains the actor, can be seen in the scenes in which Castle relates to his family and, as the Punisher, when he talks to himself and God.
"I worked especially hard on making those scenes play real," says an outwardly proud Lundgren. "I know I've already been typed as an action actor, but I think those scenes will surprise people who think I can only act with some kind of weapon in my hand. I have aspirations as an actor in dramatic, non-action roles and I think those scenes will prove that I can carry it off. "But action, violent and brutal, is the Punisher's specialty, and Lundgren was more than willing to crash and burn for the film's rougher moments. "I did about 95 percent of my own stunts," claims Lundgren. "I took some spills on the Harley when it goes crashing off the catwalk and I received some bruises in the scene where I drive the bus through the blockade. And the fight scenes we staged with those Japanese martial arts champions were all very real. These are proud people and it would have been an insult to ask them to pull their punches too far or to use inappropriate martial arts techniques."

The actor concedes, though, that much of his involvement in the stunt side of The Punisher was the result of his own boredom and hair-trigger temper, "There's this scene where Frank does a 40-foot fall off the top of a building. My stunt double was supposed to do it, but I was pissed off about something that day, and so I said, 'What the hell, I'll do it.' Everything was cool until I stepped out on the edge and looked down. I thought to myself, 'You idiot, why did you volunteer to do this?' When I took that step off the ledge, I knew I was in for an awfully long drop."
Lundgren has his share of adventure in Dark Angel, a film he describes as an action-comedy. "I play this cop who screws up a drug bust and gets his partner killed in the process. While I'm trying to clear the whole thing up, aliens show up. Pretty weird, don't you think?"
But weird stuff that Lundgren explains will, like The Punisher, allow him to stretch as an actor. "I have a girl friend in this film and get to crack a few jokes which takes me one more step away from stereotypical roles. I mean, I've fired a gun every way you can fire one and thrown every possible punch. If I want to grow in this business, I've got to do different things."
Things he had to put on the backburner ~ with his first few major roles, beginning (after a brief appearance in A View to a Kill) with the Russian fighter Drago in Rocky IV.
"I felt Drago was a good first role for me even though the character was very one-dimensional and stereotyped. Working with Sylvester Stallone was a good time for me, and I learned quite a bit."
However, Lundgren has fewer kind words for his days as He-Man in Masters of the Universe.
"Playing He-Man was pretty much my lowest point as an actor," says the candid Lundgren. "It was a kids' movie. How much could I do a£ an actor when I was running around in swim trunks and chest armor? There was talk of my doing a second one, but I wasn't available, and from what I understand, the whole idea of a sequel fell through."
Things pretty much fell through with Lundgren's latest movie Red Scorpion, which came and went virtually unnoticed. It's now on video.
"That film had many problems," Lundgren admits. "It went $10 million over budget, there were lawsuits going back and forth over who got the final edit and there was some political heat involved. I've pretty much distanced myself from the film because it does have a South African connection."
On the other hand, he notes, "Red Scorpion is not a bad film. It has a ton of action in it and I basically feel being a part of it was a good experience for me."
Lundgren feels equally good about his Punisher experience and believes, in a sense, he's acting out a fantasy by playing the character. "There's something definitely cool about the Punisher. I was able to totally act out and, in the process, take out my own personal frustrations."In Dark Angel, I'm playing a character who's sort of a charmer and a tough guy, but Frank Castle is definitely a different case. He's strong yet he has been victimized. He's easily the most interesting character I've played in my career."
Lundgren plans on taking a break after completing Dark Angel, the better to let that film and The Punisher show casting people he's capable of something more than blowing up landscapes.
"But that doesn't mean I wouldn't do a second Punisher film," declares Dolph Lundgren. "I like Mr. P. He's a cool cat."