A Chat with Dolph Lundgren (“Command Performance,” “The Expendables”)

When we last chatted with Dolph Lundgren, the topic at hand was “Missionary Man,” a film where he served up a triple threat writer, director, and leading man. One can only presume that he didn’t find the experience too overwhelming, since he’s performing the same duties on his latest picture, “Command Performance.” This time, though, he’s playing a rock and roll drummer from L.A. named Joe…just Joe…who’s sitting behind the kit for a Moscow-based band that’s opening for an American pop star named Venus. You may not be surprised to learn that things go horrible wrong, leading Joe – who’s surprisingly good with firearms for a percussionist – to save the day. Last time around, we quizzed Dolph left and right about his body of work, so this time we decided to stick mostly to current topics like his new flick, his upcoming reunion with Sylvester Stallone in “The Expendables,” and…wow, another “Universal Soldier” movie? Really?

Join us for…

Premium Hollywood: Hey, Dolph, how’s it going?

Dolph Lundgren: Hey, man! Sorry, we got held up because some of the other people took too long and everything, so I apologize.

PH: No problem. I’ll try to keep you on track.

DL: Thanks.

PH: Well, you did an intro for Bullz-Eye.com for a clip of “Command Performance,” so thanks for that.

DL: Oh, yeah, cool. That’s right, I remember doing that now.


(Note: The actual clip is no longer exclusive, so it’s not on here, but you can find the trailer for the film a little farther down the page.)

PH: You and I actually talked before, when “Missionary Man” came out, so I’m already coming into this film with a frame of reference to your directorial work. (Laughs)

DL: Oh, good. You’re one of the few who does! (Laughs) I’m just kidding.

PH: Well, in all seriousness, it’s good to see you keeping up with the work behind the camera, and I really dug this flick. It’s a lot of fun.

DL: Thanks, man.

PH: So what is your personal experience as a percussionist? Were you, once upon a time, a drummer by trade?

DL: I used to be a little bit, when I was in high school and college. I played some drums in some bands, starting in the military band, and then I did kind of like a big band, the school orchestra, and then in a couple of pop bands, rock bands, whatever. But it was only for two or three years, five tops, when I was younger, so I had to brush up quite a bit on my skills for this film. (Laughs)

PH: Well, even so, I could tell that you were handling the sticks like someone who knew what he was doing.

DL: Yeah, it’s tough to pick it up, I guess, if you have no idea at all what you’re doing. It’d take a long time.

PH: So how much of the film was actually done in the Soviet Union? At least a certain amount of it was, I presume, unless that was just some impressive green-screen work.

DL: Yeah, some of it was done there. Red Square, we did that, and we did some establishing shots, some of the motorcycle stuff. We shot for a few days there, and the rest was…a lot of it was in Bulgaria, where we could get more extras and it’s less problematic to shoot. In Russia, it can get kind of rough with permits and things. People tend to change their minds and want more money, stuff like that.

PH: Yeah, I was wondering how hard it was.

DL: Actually, it… (Sighs) …it was a nightmare. (Laughs) It was really bad. But then it kind of resolved itself, because, like, we were shooting in Red Square, which is always the toughest location, I suppose, outside of the Kremlin. You can get fined in Russia, but we had the permits and everything, and we came in with our actors and crew from Bulgaria…and then we lost the permits the night before, and the only time we could do anything was on the weekend. Everybody was ready to shoot themselves. The producers were, like, “What? What?!? You’ve got to be kidding me!” It was, like, we could’ve turned into instant alcoholics. But, y’know, somehow, somebody bribed somebody, and we got it. But, y’know, even with all of that, it’s fun to shoot in Moscow, because it is very impressive, and it’s fun to get it on film.

PH: Clearly, you’ve learned from first-hand experience how to write an action film, but how do you determine if a line is too over the top. Like, for instance, you manage to pull off the line “death is easy, rock ‘n’ roll is hard” because you add a wink afterwards…

DL: (Laughs) Yeah.

PH: …but when you wrote it, were you thinking, “Oh, man, I’m going to have to deliver this just right”?

DL: Oh, yeah, I certainly felt that way. I was…you know, I’m not used to comedy at all, but I had to do some of it in this picture, and I did a lot of it in “The Expendables,” with Stallone, because, well, it’s like he said. (Goes into a highly credible Stallone impression) “You’re gonna be the first Swedish comedian, pal.” So I’m, like, “Oh, okay. Thanks, Sly.” So, basically, I think it depends on the character a bit. Like, if you design a character who’s over the top, who’s a little crazy, like the Joker in “Batman,” then, y’know, you don’t get so nervous about it, because you can really take it all the way and make it funny in an over-the-top way. But if you’re playing a regular guy and you have to do it, then that’s harder. That’s why you have to hand it to actors like Bruce Willis and people like him: they’re very good at it. I’m just learning. (Laughs)

PH: Was there ever any talk of getting an actual pop star to play the part of Venus in “Command Performance”?

DL: Yes, there was, actually. We made some big efforts and had some feelers out. The problem was that the film was greenlit kind of late, and it was during the summer – August – when they all go out on tour. Now, with all of the downloading and all of that, they make money mostly on their tours and selling merchandise, so a lot of them weren’t available. And, also, the movie wasn’t big enough for some of them, because it’s a smaller budget picture, and they probably didn’t want to bother, really. So it was the combination of those factors.

PH: Who had you had your eye on?

DL: Well, let’s see. There was Jessica Simpson, and…who’s the girl from the Pussycat Dolls? Nicole Scherzinger. And there was another one…

(Writer’s note: Mr. Lundgren struggled for a few more moments to come up with the other singer who was under consideration, throwing out a few more points of reference to try to jog his memory. First, he brought up “the one who’s with Jay-Z,” which is presumably Beyonce, then explained that it was “her partner” that he was referring to and that “they had a group,” which suggests that he may have been talking about Kelly Rowland. Or maybe not.)

…but, anyway, people like that. Some people were interested, but a lot of them were on tour. Like, I would say that, out of 5, 3 or 4 would be on tour, and then the 5th would have some other contractual problems. But, anyway, if it would’ve been a bigger budget and I’d had another year to plan it, then it would’ve been cool to find a good name, like Whitney Houston did for “The Bodyguard.”

PH: When I was talking about you today, I suggested that you were on track to become the Lee van Cleef of your generation. I meant it as a compliment.

DL: (Laughs) Well, thanks! Let’s see, Lee van Cleef…well, yeah, he was a cool dude, and he kept it up for a long time. You know, the other one I like a lot is Lee Marvin, speaking of Lees. He had that thing, too, where he got better as he got older. And Clint Eastwood has it, too, to a certain extent, although he was already super-famous for that when he was young.

PH: Does it frustrate you that people underestimate these films that you’re doing? Like, I’m watching “Command Performance,” and…well, to pick a peer at random, it’s a hell of a lot better than the stuff Steven Seagal is doing these days.

DL: (Laughs) Oh, yeah? Thanks, man. Well, you know, I suppose I’m kind of a late bloomer. Being Scandanavian and all, we mature late. I came over here, then I went back over to Europe to raise a family and try to create some other things in my life apart from working on my career. I suppose that’s held me back to some extent. I do feel that, since I’ve stayed in pretty good shape, I have a lot of really good stuff ahead of me, hopefully more things ahead than what I’ve done already. So it pleases me that you feel that way, and hopefully other people will start to feel the same way.

PH: So as it stands now, when people come up to you and say that they’ve enjoyed one of your more recent films, do they seem surprised that they’ve enjoyed it?

DL: Yeah, most people feel that way. They’re surprised that they’ve enjoyed it, and I think that people are that way a lot because there are so many new faces all the time in the business. Somebody who’s been around for a long time like I guess I have now – 25 years! – it takes a little convincing to sort of re-familiarize yourself with that person. But I do think there’s some strength to that, too, because there’s a certain charm and a level of status if you can come back for a second act. (Laughs)

PH: You brought up “The Expendables” a few minutes ago, and I’m sure you know that I need to get a little more info on that project.

DL: Yeah!

PH: So how did you fall into the mix? Did Sly just call you up and ask if you wanted to join in the fun?

DL: Sort of. I got a call, and…we’re sort of friendly. We’ve been seeing each other on and off, just saying “hello” in Beverly Hills. Even though I live in Europe, I’ve been back here on occasion, and we always talk about the good old days. And I just got a call, and he said, “You want to check out this script, see this character, and see if you like it…?” And he was very nice about it. He’s a down-to-earth kind of guy. And I read it, and I loved the writing. It’s, like, I realize that, with Sly, when he sits down and writes something, that’s when he changes things in his career and lots of people take notice. He’s a terrifc writer. I mean, look, he wrote one of the better screenplays ever, “Rocky.” I mean, that’s a fricking classic. So I read the script, and I was, like, “This is great! It’s like ‘The Dirty Dozen’ with a sense of humor, and the action is terrific!” And he wanted me to play this crazy Swede… (Laughs) …who’s this over-the-top, super-dangerous guy, but he wrote the character in a very funny way, kind of like Nick Nolte. One of those guys who drinks too much and who’s, like, a loose cannon. So I was very interested straight away, and then we had some talks. I had a couple of ideas, and he was very, very nice about it. And he actually developed a friendship between me and him that we’ve had in real life, and also the stuff that goes back to “Rocky IV,” where we do have a falling out in the movie, but then we go back and forth, and…it’s really good. I think people are going to enjoy it.

PH: Can you speak to who the majority of your scenes are with in the film?

DL: I suppose most of my important scenes are with Stallone, and second would be Jet Li and Jason Statham.

PH: How were they to work with?

DL: They were great. Jason’s really good, he’s an up-and-coming guy who’s doing really well, and I like him a lot. He plays, like, the ladies’ man in the movie. There are all different types: Jet Li is the philosopher martial artist, Stallone’s the leader, Jason’s the ladies’ man, and I guess I’m the nutcase. (Laughs) And then there are two or three more characters. Mickey Rourke’s in it, too. I didn’t have any scenes with Mr. Willis and Mr. Schwarzenegger, unfortunately, but they are in it.

PH: Well, you can’t have everything. You know, I was talking to Dean Stockwell the other day, and he was talking about the different types of films that he does, and some are for love, but some he does for the money. Where did “Universal Soldier: A New Beginning” fall for you?

DL: (Sighs) Well, the producer also produced “The Expendables” as well as “Command Performance.” I didn’t want to do it at first, because I didn’t like the script, but to tell you the truth, the director, John Hyams, he…I wasn’t crazy about doing a sequel, but John Hyams is the son of Peter Hyams, and he actually turned out to be an intelligent young guy. He did this cool documentary on MMA called “Smash Palace,” and he had some great ideas. I sort of made a demand that I needed to have X number of scenes because, y’know, I wanted to prove myself in my scenes and do some kind of acting, and he came up with some really good stuff. I certainly didn’t do it for the money. There wasn’t that much there, really! I did it because of the relationships with other people. And, y’know, I’ve seen the movie, and I’m glad I’m in it. I think it’s another one where…well, perhaps not to the extent of me and Stallone, but it’s still me and Jean Claude, and I think some people are going to like that.

PH: Do you and Jean Claude have a pretty decent working relationship?

DL: Yeah. I mean, we didn’t work together much on this picture, apart from one fight, but, yeah, I’ve hung out with him, too. I mean, Stallone and I are different, because…well, we’ve just had much more time together. We did “Rocky IV,” we sparred for five months and worked out together twice a day. I mean, you become friends on a different level. Me and Jean Claude, we did the film together, but…well, anyway, I think people are going to enjoy the film. John Hyams did a good job, and this guy Andrei Arlovski, who was a UFC heavyweight champion, he’s one big tough MF. (Laughs) I mean, this guy’s tough. I think people are going to enjoy seeing him kick some major ass.

PH: Okay, I’m trying to keep you on track, but I do have one more. I asked you about a lot of your other work in our last conversation, but here’s one I didn’t bring up then. You worked with Brandon Lee in “Showdown in Little Tokyo.” How well did you get to know him, and how was the experience of working with him?

DL: You know, I got to know him pretty well because we worked out together, and, you know, his mom is Swedish. She married Bruce (Lee), but she’s Swedish, so Brandon had a certain affinity to Sweden. He was born in Hong Kong, but he’d been to Sweden, so we always talked about it. He was an up-and-comer and I suppose in those days I was fairly established compared to him, but I realized when I met him that he was going to be a big star, because he had charisma, he was a good actor, he could fight…he had it all, really. And he had the pedigree from his dad. That didn’t hurt! I went to his 30th birthday party in Century City. But a couple of weeks later, I got the call and got the news, and…it still seems very bizarre to me that it could have gone by that quickly. I felt really sorry for his mom. But it was a great experience working with him. He was a nice, great kid.

PH: Okay, Dolph, it’s been good talking to you again. I’m looking forward to seeing “Icarus,” by the way. Can I hope that it’ll see US release soon?

DL: I hope so! And if there’s anything else you want to talk about, give us a call.

PH: I’ll do it. Thanks, Dolph!

DL: Thanks!

  

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