If Dolph Lundgren had never done another movie after his breakthrough role as Ivan Drago in "Rocky IV," he'd still be remembered today. But, to the great benefit of the action genre, he kept on, punching, shooting, and detonating his way through a string of memorable movies.
One of these, 1992's "Universal Soldier," has recently been resurrected as a franchise by up-and-coming action auteur John Hyams. "Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning," -- which comes out on DVD and Blu Ray this week -- along with Sylvester Stallone's "The Expendables" series, has brought Lundgren back into the spotlight. We recently chatted with him about action movies, directing, his academic background, and what's next:
Danny Bowes: These last two "Universal Soldier" movies have, in a way, brought the franchise back from apparent death in a way not dissimilar to UniSols themselves. Did this surprise you, or did you always think you'd revisit the series some day?
Dolph Lundgren: Oh, it surprised me, actually. Especially this last one, because No. 3 ["Universal Soldier: Regeneration"] I did reluctantly, you know, but I ended up doing it -- for various reasons -- and I thought it worked out pretty good. I hadn't worked with Hyams before. He didn't really have full control. There were a lot of people involved in that one, but on this one they trusted him a little more. He did a good job on the script. I thought it was kind of different, kind of a horror thriller, more of a grown-up movie. Kind of an unusual type of picture. That's what it is; it's really his vision.
I think to some extent "The Expendables" helped because it kind of helped bring me and Jean-Claude [Van Damme] a little more to everyone's attention, so maybe that helped this. But I think a lot of it is due to John Hyams and his directorial skill.
DB: Was "Universal Soldier: Regeneration" in any way linked to the first "Expendables" movie, in the sense of one leading to the other?
DL: Not really. The first "Expendables" came out in 2010, and we shot this picture ["Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning"] in 2011. The fact that me and Jean-Claude were in it, the old guard came back and did OK, really helped get the "Universal Soldier" picture made. We shot this one before "Expendables 2," but it came out after "Expendables 2." Between now and when we shot this has been a year and a half, actually.
DB: You've directed a number of films in recent years. Do you have any directing projects coming up?
DL: I directed about four or five movies; the last was in 2009. It was fun. It was something I always wanted to do, and I got caught up in it. I made a bunch of films in different genres to learn about directing and to gain a little bit of respect from producers and let them know I can pull it off on time and budget and all of that. But then I realized that, if you want to start directing something you might as well produce it as well. Because then it's your baby and you can mess it up or you can do a good job and no one else can get in there and mess it up for you. So I'm actually a little more interested in producing right now, and I've got a couple of things I'm working on. With that, and learning a little more about producing, yeah, I'd like to direct some other things. Perhaps something a little more special, like not outright action movies, like a period piece or something from Sweden. I want it to be something I really care about and try to reserve those type of projects for directing, instead of the big, action-y things.
DB: And you feel at this point, producing is the way to have more control than directing?
DL: Well, it is. Both are a way to control it. But if you can produce something and direct it, especially if it's a smaller movie, then you're more in charge and you can call the shots, and it's ultimately your vision. You're better off controlling the financial side of it as well. Then you can maximize the effort and put it all on the screen, you know? I have a couple things I'm trying to produce right now, and one is more an indie movie, not action-y at all, and one is a little more action. But once those are done, like I said, I'll try and find something a little offbeat to direct, to do something different from my usual fare, which is more action-oriented.
DB: One thing I want to ask about is, prior to the martial arts, bodybuilding, and movies, your science background. Has there been any transference between the kind of mindset you needed in that field and the one you've needed in your subsequent work?
DL: Not a direct correlation. Being an actor, you don't use your brain too much. That kind of gets in your way. It's almost the opposite. You think too much, you analyze too much, it can hurt you. You can use logic reading contracts, figuring that shit out. It makes you appreciate the world around you a little better. But I think, you know, my parents used to tell me, your education, nobody can take it away from you, you'll have it forever, and I'm starting to realize now that yeah, they were right. Because it's come into play a little more now, not just that people are more interested in it, if you're on a talk show you can talk about that, too. But also that if you want to produce and you want to do other things in life, then education's always a good thing.
DB: It's interesting that you say that overthinking it gets in the way with acting. Do you regard acting as something that requires you to be more emotionally in touch with it? More instinctive and physical?
DL: I always get this mixed up, but is it the left side? Which one is the emotional side, is it the left or right? I can't remember. The right brain is the …
DB: I don't remember either.
DL: Well, left or right, the logical side. Obviously, it's something that's part of you, the part that analyzes everything. When you act, it's like you're an athlete: You just react. Because once you think, you get caught up, whether you're boxing or playing football or whatever. It's a more instinctive discipline, and emotional, acting, whereas being a chemical engineer, it's something different. Very logical and scientific. I think in my case, yeah, I do tend to overthink things a little too much. I've got to work on that, but on the whole I think it's still a good thing to have. Because life becomes a little richer with that. You can't just make those things up when you get older. You need the education; get that in your late teens, that age.
DB: What's next on the horizon for you? What do you have coming up in the immediate future?
DL: I'm doing a series called "Rescue 3," which is an action series. I play the leader of a unified command on the California coast, people with helicopters and boats, stuff like that. Shooting in six months this year. It's no violence, just a lot of action. It's kind of cool; it's different for me. I play a guy who has a lot of problems with his co-workers and his bosses and his love life, whatever it is. He's basically trying to help people, instead of blowing them away, which I've done in the past. So I think that's good. Also, coming up I have "The Expendables 3."
And "Without You I'm Nothing," which is this indie drama I'm trying to produce as well as act in, written by this really talented actress who's going to play the lead. It's about strippers. Then I have this reality series coming up called "Race to the Scene," based on stunts from movies, coming up this spring. And, that's about it.
Watch the trailer for 'Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning':