Dolph Lundgren has stared in over 30 action films, portraying, among many others, He-Man, The Punisher, and Ivan Drago in Rocky IV. After killing hundreds of bad guys, leaping from dozens of exploding cars and buildings, and saving plenty of damsels in distress, Dolph is tackling his greatest challenge yet: directing. Starpulse caught up with the action star to discuss filmmaking, playing the bad guy, and learning to trust the audience.
What is it that inspired the story of Missionary Man?
I like Westerns. They're simple, mythical, and I thought it'd be a way to learn some skills as a director. I knew that if I did it as a contemporary picture set on an Indian Reservation that things would be simpler since I could use motorcycles instead of horses and still achieve that mythical sort of feel. I tried to fashion the story after the [Clint] Eastwood Westerns, or a [Akira] Kurosawa film, where it's more of a mystery, with not everything being explained and the audience having to figure out a few things on its own.
Does directing the film you're staring in improve the filmmaking experience for you?
Yes and no. It makes things simpler because you have more control and it's you that ultimately has the responsibility and the power to changes things, even at the last minute. On the other hand, there's more pressure because there's no one else to ask for help. And directing yourself onscreen makes things more difficult because you're more focused on the movie and the other actors than your own performance. The good thing is that you learn to trust your own instincts and simplify things, like doing only one or two takes and just working with what you have.
What are some things that you learned from directing "Missionary Man"?
I think you always learn something directing a movie. I've directed 3 movies, so I'm still a beginner, but I've starred in over 30 movies. I left a lot up to the audience in terms of back-story and the relationships between characters. I'm trusting that the audience's imagination is more powerful than what you can do with film, like with the action scenes, where I choose not too show too much graphic violence. I think I learned a lot in this picture, and I'm sure I'll learn a lot more in the next few movies I do too.
Do you plan on doing more writing and directing?
Yeah, I do. Matter of fact, I'm working on a script now that I'd like to direct and it's fun to design these things. It's definitely more work. I'd love to just do an acting job now maybe for my next gig. I'd just sit in my trailer and make phone calls instead of working my ass off all day. Just be an actor. I love acting and while it is simpler than also directing, I definitely will direct other movies.
And how bout as a screenwriter?
I actually used to hate writing. English isn't my first language, so it takes a little bit of extra work, but what I usually do is work with a partner who can tweak the dialogue once I'm done. I've just found that by putting a story on paper it makes it easier because I can write down all of my feelings ideas for shooting, and also try to keep the budget in check. I think that one of the more fun parts of making a film is designing the story and the characters, although it is a bit frustrating to attempt to take that perfect idea in your head and make it into a reality.
As someone that's worked in the action genre for as long as you have , how do you think it's changed and evolved with time?
I think a lot of changes are due to technical innovations. Obviously the basic stories are the same. They're mythical stories of heroes and their exploits that have been told over campfires for thousands of years. They're sort of meant to teach people how to deal with their own lives and their own challenges. But when the technical aspects changed and CGI came into play, we could suddenly make anything happen. We can have 100,000 soldiers charge across a field. You don't have to get 100,000 guys out there and dress 'em up, and try to get them in line and have them charge across the field like you had to thirty/forty years ago.
I think action movies have also changed because of influences from different countries, like the wire works and the more fantastical sort of movements borrowed from Chinese Cinema. In "Missionary Man", I tried to keep it pretty simple and kind of gritty and realistic, where the violence isn't really that entertaining and I'm not trying to glamorize it too much. It's a bit more brutal, and that's the kind of movies that I like better.
So you prefer the style of older action films?
I tend to like the older grittier stuff, but there are ways to apply older ideas to modern films. For instance, Gladiator was a picture shot using a lot of green screens and a lot of CGI, but it was an old style Hollywood movie: gritty action, very realistic, but not too graphic. Of course, the characters didn't do anything like the real Gladiators would have done in the arena 2000 years ago, like triple back flips and running up and around the walls.
With all the different roles that you've portrayed, is there one that you enjoyed playing most?
Well, I must say I enjoyed playing Ivan Drago in Rocky IV. That was my first role, it was new, it was meaty, and it was a big movie. It was also a great role for me, and I'll always remember that role for sure because it was very special to me. I enjoyed Universal Soldier. Those were 2 bad guys. As you can tell, I like the bad guys. I do enjoy directing, but more so the actual behind the camera work than perhaps being in front of the camera these days. I'm working on a script now for me to play a heavy or a bad guy because I haven't done it for many years, 15 years actually, so it's time for me to get out there and be mean again. Hopefully I'll enjoy playing that role later this year.
World Premiere of Rocky Balboa - Chris Hatcher / Photorazzi
What is it that attracts you to playing the bad guy?
You can have a little more fun. You don't feel boxed in by conventions and moral rules. You're a little freer as an actor. It comes with the territory. If you're a bad guy, you don't have to answer to anybody. You can take up the turns in your performance a bit more. The blond look and the intimidating quality I possess on film also make for a good combination for a bad guy. It's a good character to come up against in a film. I have a sort of leading man quality, but with an evilness, and the bad side of my personality is a good mix. I like to use that as a director. That's why I'm designing this script now.
And what is the script that you're working on now?
It's basically a story about an assassin. He's the main character of the piece. He's kind of likeable guy on many levels, but obviously is the bad guy-he's a criminal. Hopefully I can get the audience's emotions a little torn. He has a love interest. It's like one of those 30's gangster movies with Humphrey Bogart or James Cagney. It's basically a tragedy where the main character has more negatives than positives. Those are always interesting, like Richard III or Scarface.
You're frequently portraying the heroes in the film. Who do you see as your own heroes?
My karate instructor, who I trained with since I was 15. I look up to him. He's an English guy, Brian Fitkin is his name. He's still got his dojo in Sweden. He still teaches kids. He's a man of very strong moral convictions and great character. Also I have some older men, there's a lawyer that I work with that I look up to, and some other people like that. I think it's important to have role models. As a man, it doesn't matter if you're 20 or 50 it's great to have people to look up to. They've gone through parts of life that you haven't. No matter how smart you are and how talented you are, you have to suffer through it. So it's sometimes great to see guys that have gone through it and come out ok, and have a lot of wisdom, and to try to emulate that.
Who do you see as some of the bad guys in the world today?
Criminals, people who are damaged by the system, or by other reasons are antisocial and can hurt you or people you love. And then one of my characters has to put an end to them. (laughs).
Interview by Ben Kharakh
Starpulse.com contributing writer