Former Sydney University engineering student Dolph Lundgren is best known to most people as the Russian superman who caused Sylvester Stallone a lot of grief in "Rocky IV". But that's because they don't know the real Dolph. The beefcake image that has won Swedish-born Dolph a series of starring roles is, in some ways the least of his accomplishments.
At 31, he is a movie star, a millionaire and a fantasy role model for millions of kids. But he also has a bachelor's and a master's degree in engineering, and is a Fulbright scholar. Dolph won his Fulbright scholarship while studying for his master's degree at Sydney University in the early 80's - but instead of becoming a research engineer, he became an action movie star. It was being on the spot in the US that inspired him to try out for the role of the Russian in "Rocky IV."
"Looking back, I have to draw the conclusion that something was leading me into the path of acting - it all just seemed to follow an arc," Dolph said on the Long Beach, California set of his latest movie, "Showdown in Little Tokyo."
"I went into engineering because it was what my father did. But somewhere inside I knew I wasn't going to spend the rest of my life in a lab.
"I went to Australia more or less on a whim. I saw a scholarship program advertised at Sydney University, so I applied for it and got it.
"I really enjoyed Australia and I made a lot of good friends there. I regularly go back to see them. There is something in Australian culture that is easy for Scandanavians to fit into.
"Then, when the possibility of a Fulbright came up after a couple of years in Australia, I applied for that, too. I enjoyed the academic life. But, somehow, there was always something inside me that needed to be creative in the arts. When I was younger, I was very much into writing, drawing, painting, and music."
At 2m and 108kg, the actor carries his size with easy grace. This athleticism ceases to be a surprise when you learn that he was a champion in the most bruising of martial arts - full-contact karate - before abandoning competition for a film career. At various stages, he held the Australian, British, and Swedish karate titles. His trainer says he was a certain future world champion and could, probably, even come back and do it now if he wanted to. "The man has an absolute will of iron," said another associate. "He will not only do anything he sets out to do, he will accomplish it perfectly."
Which brings us to another of Dolph Lundgren's accomplishments, perhaps even the most impressive: he could well be the only Swde on earth who speaks English with no accent whatever. "I had an accent, of course. But not having it opens up other possibilities, other more contemporary parts that you couldn't play with a heavy accent."
Asked how hard it was to lose it, he replies, "Pretty hard. For the past five years, it's been one of my main objectives."
The sort of willpower that can eradictae one of the world's most tenacious accents is the key to Dolph Lundgren - in fact, it can be said to have created him. At the age of 15, this man who can make the ground seem to shake as he walks on it was, in fact, a weedy, asthmatic teenager, slightly undersized, if anything. He decided one day to do something about it. "I wanted something to establish my identity. Karate was something that not many people were doing in Sweden then, so I decided to try that." Associates say he wasn't a natural at the sport. But by sheer force of will and endless practice, he fashioned himself into an unbeatable force.
A bonus was a huge spurt in body size, which apparently resulted from the intensive physical conditioning and diet he embarked upon.
Dolph has no regrets about his choice of career: "You must choose, and I decided to be an actor, and now I focus on that. I keep at the karate, for my own satifaction, and I use it for films. Being an actor is a good life." Although he is probably the last person anyone would say such a thing to, Dolph Lundgren is sensitive to the suggestion that being big and muscular and handsome means you can't also be smart.
"I think that is a myth some people cling to to protect themselves," he says. "But I think it's disappearing in these times, when lawyers and doctors go to the gym.
"You can't be stupid and run a career in this town. There's just no way."