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A Quiet Round of Dolph

by Jenny Cooney, Preview, Cannes Special May 1993


Action star Dolph Lundgren's present work schedule is almost as punishing as the part he plays in the upcoming Vision release, Joshua Tree. But, visiting him in the comparative calm of his office, Jenny Cooney found the actor in reflective mood.

It is hard to imagine a desk-bound Dolph Lundgren working as a chemical engineer. Even in his modest West Hollywood office, the 33-year-old actor avoids talking over the desk and prefers to settle in a more casual chair in the corner of the room.
"Dolph was once a chemical engineer ," he acknowledges, briefly referring to himself in the third person, "who was grooming his life to make money and support a family by using his brain rather than his body. That was the plan when I started out," he continues, switching to a less impersonal tone. "Now I'm not doing that any more, I like to think I'm still using my brain instead of my body to get what I want. But, on screen, it's usually the other way around."
Despite his academic background (which includes a Master's degree in chemical engineering from the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, and the winning of a Fulbright Scholarship to study at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology), the Swedish-born Lundgren is now one of Hollywood's most popular action stars.
He has mixed feelings about this. "I always look for a character who could show a few more aspects of myself that people haven't seen," explains the actor. "But, at the same time, I have to deliver what people expect - and that's action and heroics." The process began with a bit part in the James Bond movie, A View to a Kill, offered to him through his former fiancee, singer/actress Grace Jones, who starred in the film. His big break, however, came with Rocky IV in 1985, after which his career took off.
Since then, Lundgren has taken a fairly conventional action-hero route, with films such as Masters of the Universe, Red Scorpion, Dark Angel (aka I Come in Peace), Showdown in Little Tokyo (with the late Brandon Lee, for whom he was ordering memorial flowers just before the present interview took place) and last year's hit, Universal Soldier, which pitted him bicep-to-bicep against Jean Claude Van Damme, his main competitor in the genre. Now, in the calm of his office - which bears the name of Red Orm Productions, after a Viking character in one of his favourite Swedish books - Lundgren is talking about his next film, a modern-day western called Joshua Tree, released by Vision International, and the two films on which he is about to start working back-to-back: Pentathlon, in which he plays a defecting East German Olympic athlete who encounters members of his old country's secret police currently planning his demise in the US; and Men of War, which will be his third Vision International release (Dark Angel was the first). Talks are currently in progress for Lundgren to star in a fourth Vision picture: apparently the actor's relationship with Vision chairman Mark Damon has been a happy one.
In Men of War - the first action movie to be written by John Sayles, the acclaimed writer/director of such films as Passion Fish and City of Hope - he plays a character who leads a group of mercenaries to a South Pacific island to get rid of some natives who are refusing to sell their lucrative mineral rights to a large corporation. He ends up defending the natives instead.
Joshua Tree, on the other hand, "shows a dark side to my character, which was what 1 was looking for: a different kind of role," explains Lundgren. "My character is accused of killing a police officer. He takes a woman hostage after escaping and she becomes his unwilling partner. She turns out to be a local sheriff's deputy, and they develop a hate-hate turning to love-hate turning to love-Iove relationship as she realises he's innocent."
In many respects, Lundgren's rise seems like a sequel to that of Arnold Schwarzenegger. He speaks five languages, is six foot five and was an international karate champion before he turned his back on the scholarship and decided to take a shot at acting. Keenly aware of his image, Lundgren does not push himself into genres where he knows his audience will not be able to follow.
"Being compared to Arnold is flattering," he admits, "because people know it's possible for somebody who is physically big and was an athlete to do as well as someone who comes out of a total acting background. But, when people try to put you on the same career path, that's tough. Everyone is unique, and you have to trust your own instincts and your own destiny and what you think is unique about yourself - even though I don't quite know what it is yet!"
What Lundgren does know, however, is the battle he has had to find his own niche in Hollywood. "Obviously I'm a physical person," he acknowledges, "and making a lot of action/adventure movies will be my main type of work. But I do like acting and doing dramatic work. Maybe instead of being a charismatic, personality-type actor, I could be an actor/movie star, not a showman movie star .
"I'm more private and shy and vulnerable than people think," he adds: "more so than other actors in my genre. And I'm trying to use that in my roles and not be afraid of that part of me. Because, if you combine [those characteristics], you get a classic adventure-type leading man from the Forties. I've made it by playing tough and assertive and being over-qualified and knowing everything and being born to be a hero and never being scared... lf I keep going that way, I'll never get where I want to go with my career."
Lundgren's sparsely-furnished office, which features a black-and-white still of Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's mounted on one wall and a framed photo of him with his karate team in front of the Sydney Harbour Bridge on the other , sheds only a little light on the personality behind the actor. But its very- existence testifies to Lundgren's new business-like approach to his job.
"In my twenties," he says with a grin, "I had some goals. But I'd make a movie and go to Paris and have fun until I got tired of that and then I'd come back and find another movie. Now, I'm a little more focused. I'm determined to have an office so I start feeling grown-up. The security of my office balances the insecurity of the business. Working on the set and as an actor, you're always insecure: that's the fuel you work from. That you always have to go into the unknown as an actor makes it good to have something stable here to come into work to every day."
Lundgren is disarmingly modest about where he is heading. "I can't even imagine what it must be like being a really, really big star like Mel Gibson," he says. "I feel I would like to get used to this level first, and then slowly move on to the next when I know how to deal with this one." Judging by his incessant work schedule, the move may come less slowly than he thinks.