Dolph Lundgren travelled an unusual path to fame: He was the bodyguard-turned-boyfriend of Grace Jones on the set of the James Bond film A View to Kill when the filmmakers needed a goon, and destiny called. Big parts as Rocky’s nemesis Ivan Drago and the heroic He-Man quickly followed, and the hulking blond Swede has sustained an acting career for going on three decades now.
In his latest, The Expendables 3, Lundgren revisits the role of the quiet but calculating (and of course largely intimidating) Gunner Jensen seen in the previous films. He rejoins Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham and Arnold Schwarzenegger, along with new recruits Wesley Snipes, Harrison Ford and Mel Gibson.
While Lundgren’s reputation as a physical force is well documented, lesser known is that the fact that he’s a genius: He has not only a sky-high IQ but was also a Fulbright Scholar who received two degrees from MIT. In our latest episode of Role Recall – which you can watch in two parts above and below – we found out he’s a pretty great storyteller, too.
A View to Kill (1985)
When 007 director John Glen was down a stuntman for a gun standoff with Bond villains Christopher Walken and Grace Jones, Lundgren made his blink-and-you’ll-miss-it debut as a KGB henchman. “I remember Roger Moore always said, ‘Dolph is larger than Denmark,’” Lundgren said with a laugh.
Rocky IV (1985)
It was the popular Rocky sequel, however, that put Lundgren on the map (and introduced him to future co-Expendable Stallone). Initially cast in both Rambo: First Blood and Rocky IV, he had to drop out of the former. He described their realistic ring tactics that landed Stallone in the hospital.
Masters of the Universe (1987)
Lundgren made the leap from villain to hero two years later as He-Man, and it wasn’t an easy transition for him. “It was weird playing a toy,” he told us. It also wasn’t easy wearing the superhero’s skimpy costume, which he described as “two leather straps and some kind of mini-leather diaper.”
Showdown in Little Tokyo (1991)
When Lundgren first met his co-star Brandon Lee, who died in 1993 on the set of The Crow, he wasn’t aware that he was the son of the world’s most famous martial artist, Bruce Lee. “He seemed very talented as an actor, had a lot of charisma, and I’m sure he would’ve been a big star hadn’t he gotten killed.”
Universal Soldier (1992)
The actor met another action heavyweight in the following year’s Universal Soldier: Jean-Claude Van Damme. Lundgren recalled an early scene where the ‘Muscles from Brussels’ was kicking him so hard that a knockout punch had to be threatened. And then of course they became friends.
The Expendables (2010)
Lundgren was recruited into Stallone’s gang of old-timer pain merchants, and though originally cast as a villain, he was resurrected as a good guy for the sequels (with the help of a plot hole). As for whether his casting meant Stallone had forgiven him for those Rocky IV hospital bills? “I think so… Or maybe he wanted to kick my ass again,” he laughed.