I love Dolph Lundgren.
This scene is better than most movies, and it was his portrayal of Sgt. Andrew Scott in Universal Soldier of all films that made me a fan for life. The Expendables is a movie I enjoyed the first time I saw it and held out hope that it’d improve over repeat viewings, something I can say is true. I’ve been poring over the new Blu-ray of the film and the more I watch it the more I love the movie. It is what it is and there’s obvious flaws to take into consideration, but it’s impossible not to just fall into the fold and appreciate what’s onscreen and who’s involved and the fact that this is a victory for folks who grew up watching these guys do what they do.
Over the next few days I’ll be speaking with a few of the Expendables but today is Dolph Day, and I’m thrilled to have had the chance to spend some time on the phone with a really articulate and talented man who more folks ought to appreciate.
Nick Nunziata: People have grown up watching you in a variety of different things and obviously now you’re an accomplished directer and writer on top of acting and all the other things you’re known for. Now you’re in a film with another guy who wears all those hats. I kind of want to see how Sylvester Stallone’s approach compares to yours. What was it like being on this set with all that new experience you have as a filmmaker?
Dolph Lundgren: Well it was a lot more interesting than the first time. First time with Stallone was in ’85. I was just a kid. I hadn’t done any movies at all. Now I’ve done thirty-five, maybe more. You’re more observant. You realize why certain things are done the way they are. Why Stallone is making the choices he does. I just like to watch him work. He’s done a lot more movies. He’s got a lot of experience, especially on big films. It’s interesting to see how he works. Any time I work on any film I try to learn as much as I can. This last one was great.
Nick Nunziata: Do you consider yourself more interested in the technical aspect of directing or is more is it just a matter of getting the story up there by any means necessary?
Dolph Lundgren: Well, the technical part is something you have to learn to accomplish your goal; which is to tell the story to the audience. To move the audience. The technicality is just part of it and I’m not an engineer by training. I’m not 100% interested in that. I like to work with the actors. I like to work with writers and actors. I just learn. Pick it up. Speak to the D.P. Speak to the editor and pick it up as you go along.
Nick Nunziata: The Expendables is kind of an interesting movie in that a lot of people have been deprived of this kind of movie in theaters. Video and the foreign market has been rife with really good muscular, old-school action films. This one kind of sneaked through the system and got up there. Was it kind of a milestone you think for the kind of action, well the kind I grew up on and the kind of which you and many of the cast contributed to. Do you see it as kind of a renaissance opportunity?
Dolph Lundgren: Well I’m certainly hoping so. Look, things go in circles and I know the action movies have been focusing on the nerdish anti-hero a lot lately. The less physical the actor is, “Yeah great, let’s put him in an action movie!”. Because you have a lot of CGI tools and stunt doubles you can make anyone look proficient. Hopefully the tables are turning and people are back more to the old school guys.
Nick Nunziata: I think we’re a little less cynical today than we were maybe eight or nine years ago.
Dolph Lundgren: Yeah. I know some people are getting tired of it. CGI dates pictures, the more CGI you have…with a few exceptions. You watch Star Wars today, it’s fun to watch but the CGI stands out. There’s a great story there, good acting but the less CGI you have… if you watch The Godfather, for instance. That movie’s like, wow, is always as fresh as if it was made yesterday. That’s the thing in action films. You can in camera effects more. You can focus more on stunts. You can have a longer shelf life with a picture.
Nick Nunziata: Working alongside some new guys to the fold but also some older school guys, what was the dynamic like on set? You always hear stories of tension on sets but it just seems like that was a once in a lifetime atmosphere to have that group together.
Dolph Lundgren: You’re very much right. It was a one in a lifetime. Everyone felt like they were a part of something special. I don’t even think Stallone realized what he created really until he started seeing these people on set together, sharing the same frame. You’re over there getting ready for your scene and you look over as Stallone arrives with his people. You’ve got Jet Li warming up in the corner. Jason Statham drinking coffee. Couture throwing punches over there. You’re like “Am I in this picture? Holy shit, OK… cool!”. It’s really is a once in a lifetime opportunity. People that are very physical and athletic are often less egotistical and more often less insecure. That’s kind of the atmosphere we had, everyone’s just hanging out with each other.
Nick Nunziata: The character arc that Gunner’s got in this movie is something that blew my mind, because throughout the entire film because, obviously we don’t have to worry about people being spoiled necessarily at this point, but you obviously have a turn of character there and I know that some of the drug subplot was kind of toned down a bit in the theatrical cut, but to see the way you ended up at the end of the film was so perfect and heartwarming – and it goes against all of the rules you’re taught in film school about writing a character – it was just so rewarding. Was it always the plan to have Gunner slip back into the group leading forward?
Dolph Lundgren: Well, no, you know I’m glad you say that because that’s typical in Sly’s intuition because he wrote the character, like you said, much more colorful, eccentric, more drugged out in the beginning, crazier; interesting stuff to play as an actor. But then he gets killed, right, and he kind of gets redemption by being the one that reveals what the bad guys are doing in a slightly different scene than what was in the film, and he dies. And now he gets redemption in death… but Stallone, I guess af ter watching some of his scenes and the chemistry between me and him, I suppose, to some extent kinda realized “No, enough of this, I’m going to bring him back at the end”, and a lot of people – and I was as shocked as you were – when I got the rewrites! I mean I was pleased in one way, but I wasn’t sure if it was going to work, but a lot of people felt like you said, “Yeah, why not?”. That was kind of nice, and it shows that you can forgive, especially if you have a good friend and they do some good, then they can redeem themselves and you can forgive them, you know? It was good.
Nick Nunziata: It certainly makes the sequel that much more appetizing, you have your fingers crossed that you get to see the continuation of that.
Dolph Lundgren: Thanks, man.
Nick Nunziata: You know, it’s funny: Stallone wears his heart on his sleeve a lot, and it’s so evident in a many of his films and I think in the 80’s a lot of people took him to task for that, but I think now that kind of passion, that willingness to embrace some things that are a little bit sentimental have paid off. I think with Rambo and Rocky Balboa, and now with The Expendables, it really seems like everything has come full circle.
Dolph Lundgren: I agree, yeah I think that’s a rare quality because a lot of the directors are tech driven and, you know, are very susceptible to all of the trends, and to make it too cool, to be dark, to be edgy. But, you know, Stallone… the guy has a big heart and he loves emotional things, and I think that these days if the heart weren’t out there, and it’s a hard life for a lot of people in this country and all over the world, and when they see something with all these guys having a good time together and they’re friends and it’s positive and it’s kind of fun, and I think they like that. And why not? Why not make people feel good?
Nick Nunziata: There was a period a few years back where there was a rumor that you had thought about retiring from film. Was that true or was that just internet speculation?
Dolph Lundgren: Well I think about it every day because it’s a tough business! It’s a love-hate relationship that I think a lot of people in the business have with it. You love it then… some crap happens and you kind of hate it and you go “Oh, screw Hollywood. Bunch of ripoff artists, crooks, low-life felons”. You want to go to Hawaii, your house on the beach and just like work out for the rest of your life. And like, hang out and be cool and drink margaritas. But then, a couple of days later you’re like, “Oh, I kind of like this business”. And it’s kind of cool and someone wants you to read their script and I then get this new role. So what happened a couple of years back was I said something to a newspaper in Europe they printed it and it kind of got blown up a little bit, but… I think I’m in it for a while… unfortunately. For better or worse.
Nick Nunziata: I think also too, the position you’ve gotten to, and I think a lot of people… it’s such a special opportunity to have. You could have the best talent in the world, and the business doesn’t let you in. But to get in there’s that certain… you have people that are living vicariously through you in some respects and it seems like there’s those good things that make it all worthwhile.
Dolph Lundgren: Thank you. Yeah, you’re right. The energy you put out there, and I think if you’re positive you should try and put out a positive energy and try and be a good person, then it comes back to you and I do feel, like you said… and it has lately, it has come back to me and I feel privileged, really. I feel privileged I can do this.
Nick Nunziata: The grocery store scene in Universal Soldier is something a friend and I quoted for a decade. The whole speech was gold. We joked, ‘wouldn’t it be great if they brought him back?’. A decade passes and sure as shit there you are back in that Andrew Scott uniform. Amazing.
Dolph Lundgren: Yeah. It was weird to put it on, I tell ya. I hadn’t done any sequels before. It was my first, it was strange. I guess I’ll have to get used to it somehow.
Nick Nunziata: Were there any battle scars that you, because I know that Stallone got banged up like a crazy man, but did you get any interesting battle scars on the set?
Dolph Lundgren: Nothing serious on the set. I had some surgery on my elbow about two months before shoot because I got hurt training for the film. I got off kind of easy on this one.
Nick Nunziata: After a couple of a decades doing it has your approach changed in how you prepare?
Dolph Lundgren: Not really. You go back and forth and up and down. What I did realize on The Expendables and a few of my last films, if you prepare as an actor all the preparation and work you do you do pays off. It’s important to remember that. It’s kind of a lonely craft. On the big screen everything shows up, every thought and impulse. It’s important to have your homework and trust it.
Nick Nunziata: Well it’s such a pleasure to see you up on the big screen and I really hope those retirement thoughts dissipate.
Dolph Lundgren: Thanks so much, thanks for doing your homework.
Stay tuned for chats with Randy Couture and Terry Crews in the next couple of days, you lucky pigs!