Dolph Lundgren has directed, maybe not the best film of the year, but certainly one of the coolest, strangest, funniest fuck-em-up hostage thrillers seen in (at least) the last five years. Not one to take himself or his image too seriously, Command Performance is a tour de force that proves the legendary muscle man (who first made his appearance known in Rocky IV as Russian boxer Ivan Drago) still has what it takes to decimate a room full of heavily armed bad guys. Its no lie when I say Command Performance is hands down the most fun you'll have with any action movie being released this year. It earns 2009's Mega-Awesome Achievement Award simply for having the balls to pull off many scenes like the one below:
Rock 'n' roll drummer Joe (Dolph Lundgren) and his band are about to make it big as the opening act for America's hottest pop star (Melissa Smith) in Moscow. Fame and glory quickly turn into chaos as armed terrorists storm the arena, capturing the teenage singer and her guests of honor, Russian President Alexander Petrov and his two teenage daughters. With the death toll rising and the hostages' lives on the line, it is up to one man to come to their rescue and save the day. Nonstop action, hand-to-hand combat and a rock 'n' roll edge make Command Performance a jam-packed hit!
In fact, this movie is so truly incredible on just about every level, we had to hook up with Dolph Lundgren to find out more about it before Command Performance hits store shelves on November 3rd. Here is our conversation:
You make saving the day look like a cake walk. It can't really be that easy, can it?
Dolph Lundgren: It isn't easy. In real life, it certainly wouldn't be that easy. And in making a film, it's not easy either. There are always many problems that can come along.
Are you of the same mindset as Sylvester Stallone? That today's male star is far too wimpy to be of any use? Is that why you're back on the scene with Command Performance? To prove what real men are all about?
Dolph Lundgren: (Laughs) How'd you know? I never came with a conscious plan to replace anyone else. Stallone does feel that way. He is a real tough guy in real life, and he gets to act that out. If you meet him and work with him, he is what he is. He is a guy that works out every day. And he fires guns. That's what he does. People's tastes vary and change. I guess there have been a lot of actors that have been trained to fight and look tough, starting with The Matrix. Now, Stallone figures that he is going to put some real men out there. That is why he hires people like me, who are big and used to do sports for real. That's why he's picked guys like Couture and Statham, and Lee.
In making a movie like Command Performance, are you hoping to inspire future actors to man up? Is it your goal to inspire a new generation of action stars? Because we are sorely lacking in any at the moment.
Dolph Lundgren: I didn't do this for that reason. But I think you are right. I suspect that with UFC being so huge, there will be some real fighters and real athletes making that crossover into film in the near future. Just as I did, and Stallone. Arnold did it, and Seagal was a real Aikido guy. And Jean Claude was also a real fighter. I hope this will inspire certain people in that way. I think it will mean more to the audience in the long run.
This is one of the most amazing action films of 2009. You wrote it, you directed it. How did this concept come together?
Dolph Lundgren: I was in Moscow about three or four years ago. Madonna had a special concert for Vladimir Putin. He was a big Madonna fan, so she did a command performance just for him. I thought, "That would be really cool if some bad guys took over." They also had that theater siege in Moscow around the same time. They gassed a bunch of people. I thought, "If I marry these two ideas, that could become Die Hard in a rock concert." That's how the process of making this movie started.
How did your own musical prowess add to the performance we see you pull off in the film?
Dolph Lundgren: I like the old school heavy metal bands like AC/DC and Aeromith. I like that type of music. As the director, I tried to influence the type of music the bands in the movie would play. As a drummer, I had to practice a lot. I used to play a lot as a kid. But for this movie, I had to relearn all of that over again. Just to make it a bit more realistic, and old school.
A lot of actors go out there and start their own bands. Even Kevin Costner has a band right now. And Billy Bob Thornton. Is that something you're interested in pursuing?
Dolph Lundgren: I don't know. I haven't consciously planned to start a band, or anything like that. But I suppose if I go back to Bulgaria I will be suckered into playing with this band from the film. D2 as they are called. Its fun. I wouldn't mind doing it again. It's a real rush. It beats acting by five hundred percent. Just to get up on stage in front of five thousand people and let loose really does it for me.
So D2 is a real band that goes out and plays, and puts on shows? How did you get them involved with this film?
Dolph Lundgren: I have a Bulgarian assistant. At the time, she was really into rock and roll. She told me that this was the best band in Bulgaria. That the guys were really cute. She wanted to meet one of them, probably. I met up with them, I listened to their music, and they turned out to be really cool. They wanted to do it. They had the kind of songs I wanted. So we made the movie together.
As the director, did you have to work with these guys in developing their acting chops, or were they able to bring that on their own?
Dolph Lundgren: They hadn't done any movies before this, so they were kind of nervous about it. As anyone would be. We worked on them a little bit. They don't have any tremendously long scenes. They adlibbed a little bit. That is very good. You can shoot that and play with it later in the editing bay. I am pretty relaxed on set. I don't force people to do something they don't feel like doing. I will change it right then and there. Whatever works for the story.
Having worked with numerous on-screen weapons over the years, what, in your opinion, is the best musical instrument when it comes to taking out the bad guy?
Dolph Lundgren: That is a good question. (Laughs) I haven't used them all. I would think that the drumstick is probably pretty good. Because you can put that anywhere. If you are a strong guy, you can put it in the throat, the nose, the mouth, the ear. It's also easily concealed. The guitar is pretty good, but you have to break it. And that's pretty difficult. Unless you use it against someone's head, of course.
There are some great fight scenes in this movie. How difficult, as a director, was it to find new and interesting ways to stage new fight scenes, with each one topping the next? And then keep it incredibly enthralling to boot?
Dolph Lundgren: Part of it is hiring good stunt coordinators and fight choreographers. In regards to the guitar being used as a weapon? Sometimes you just have to listen to people. I think that idea came from a production designer. He was South African. I'd like to do his accent, but I can't. But he goes, "I think it would be cool if you broke that guitar and stabbed him!" I was like, "Okay, cool! I am going to put that in the script!" (Laughs) You have to listen to people and keep an open mind.
How important was it to bring humor into this? You obviously aren't shy about making fun of yourself.
Dolph Lundgren: When I set out to shoot this film, I didn't realize how important it was. I had an instinct about it when we wrote the script. Seeing the movie, I think it could have even more of it. I think it does work. It suits me somehow. I am a giant blonde guy. Am I going to just stand there and look stoic? No, then I just become Ivan Drago. This guy needed to be likable. That was also true with The Expendables. Stallone wrote this great character for me. He's crazy but funny. In a comedic way. He's a good guy and a bad guy at the same time. Stallone really pushed me to get those comedic moments to work. It's something that I hadn't really ever done before. It was hard for me, especially with Stallone directing. And we have all of these other guys there. Stallone is a pretty tough director. You don't mess with him. But those scenes certainly proved that comedy in these types of films is very important. I think it works for me. Maybe that will be my secret weapon in the future of my career. I hope, anyway.
What's a favorite joke about your own stated persona?
Dolph Lundgren: Its usually something from Rocky IV. When people meet me, and they've never seen me before, that's what comes to their mind. Sometimes they'll be, "Hey, what'd you kill my brother Apollo for, man?!?" Or, "You killed Apollo! I am really upset about that." That's one thing. Other people always say, "Hey, I want to hear you say 'I must break you.' Can you say it like you did in the movie." Some fans are a little more familiar with my work. They will sometimes tease me about Masters of the Universe. I think they'll start quoting The Expendables after it comes out. I'm a little bit nuts here. I am so violent and crazy in the movie. All of those mercenaries are violent, but this guy, Jensen, is a crazy Swede. He is the worst. I think there will be plenty of jokes coming out of that.
One of the great things about Command Performance is its gratuitous violence. How important was it to just continue to top yourself from scene to scene, and what went into creating those ultra-violent moments?
Dolph Lundgren: I think the violence is important. It all depends on the genre. Rambo was ultra-violent, and I think it worked. You have to give Stallone credit. You have to respect him for taking that shot, and taking the violence all the way. He was the first one to do that in a long time. It fricking worked. I couldn't believe that he did that. The Expendables is violent, but its not as violent as Rambo. It's funnier. It has a little more humor. There are some moments were guys get blown across the room. They get stabbed and shot, and shit like that. But its not as bad as Rambo. The tone is a little bit more entertaining. It's not as dark. In Command Performance, it's a little bit in-between. Its entertaining and light, but there is some violence. Its not nearly as violent as Rambo, but it is pointed in that direction. It all depends on what type of film I am making. If its darker, and the bad guys have done some really awful things to people, like rape kids, then the audience wants them to get it in a very bad way. You have to really hurt them. That's such a heinous crime. You can't just be nice and shoot them.
Who are some of the directors you've taken cues from in creating this? Did you look to any of your action director contemporaries?
Dolph Lundgren: I did a couple of movies before this. It started off small, and it is getting a little bigger now. I like Clint Eastwood. I like a lot of his stuff. He was an actor that started directing, and he was very underestimated in his career. Suddenly people realized, "Holy shit, this guy is a great director." I don't want to compare myself to him. But I look up to him. He does different types of films, and he is not afraid to make it a little bit emotional and a little bit dark if he has to. He does comedies, too. Especially in his early days. I like Stallone, too. Because he writes. He sits down with a blank page and comes up with another Rambo movie. That isn't very easy for anybody. He's made it successful on top of that. I also like Kevin Costner's work. I think he is great. I love his movies. These are some of my role models. I look up to them. I am just starting out. I am on the lower level. But I am trying to get better as I go along.
With films like this and The Expendables, do you see Hollywood going back to making more of these types of films? Or is it completely up to the icons of the genre to bring the true action flick back to life?
Dolph Lundgren: That is a good question. A lot of people are wondering that. It's on the cusp right now. On the one hand, you have these huge budget films that cost millions of dollars. They are effects driven, they don't have well known actors in them, and they are making money. Well, some of them are. One the other hand, you have Stallone and Statham, and guys like DeNiro and Pacino, and Costner, who are all trying to make movies about real people. They are interested in character driven projects. But at the same time, it's all action heavy. I'm on of those guys. I think that people are going to find more interest in the human condition, especially with them being weaned on so much reality television. They want character driven stuff along with real violence. Cage fighting is very popular with the kids right now. They see and know what one punch can do to someone's face. You can't give someone five hundred punches in a film anymore. You beat on them, and they continue to stand there staring at you. That doesn't work. People just don't buy that anymore. I think that will change the genre a little bit.
We see a lot of these action guys out there making a comeback, but you went one further and made an honest to God action classic that would fit easily into the more popular films from that 80s heyday. What do you think of projects like JVCD and Steven Segal's reality show?
Dolph Lundgren: I prefer to channel my problems and inner demons through a character. Another persona. That protects me and my family. I can get my frustrations out that way. Nowadays, it's changed. People like to lay their whole life, and all of their own secrets out in front of the world. They make money off of it, and find satisfaction that way. I personally don't believe in that. I think it can be hurtful to yourself and those around you. But look, JCVD was a very cool idea. And it worked on screen. I haven't watched Seagal's show yet. And I don't plan on ever doing anything like that. I guess those guys are enjoying it.
Can we talk more about the Expendables? It's always in the back of my mind that you and Sly are at odds with each other, which I guess comes from a childhood of being reared on films like Rocky IV. Are you guys actually friends? And what was it like to get the call for this film?
Dolph Lundgren: We've been friends ever since Stallone hired me for that first picture. He was my boss and my mentor in many ways. I'd never seen a film camera. I didn't know what I was doing when I showed up in Los Angeles twenty-five years ago. We've always continued to be friends. I never expected that we'd ever do anything else together. We are both getting pretty old. He started doing Rambo sequels. I don't fit into those. Then, out of the blue, he calls me for this picture. He said, "Look, here is this script I am working on." He was very nice about it. He told me, "Take a look at this role. Tell me if you like it. I want you to be Jensen." I read it, and of course I really liked it. Stallone is a great writer. He wrote one of the best screenplays ever written. Rocky. It is one of the biggest classics of all time. I think in the past, he was shying away from writing his own stuff, because there is a lot of pressure when you star in something that you write. But I was reading this script, and I was laughing. My character was so great. I was so happy to take the role. On film, there is a certain thing between us. We have a great screen presence together. He is Italian and dark. I am the blonde Nordic type. When we are together on screen, it looks very good when they cut back and forth between us. I realized that when I saw The Expendables just on the monitors, when we were filming. We are really good friends, and I am very thankful for what he has done for my career. Anything he wants me to do, pretty much, more or less, I will do.
Have you seen the movie yet?
Dolph Lundgren: Not the whole thing, but I did some ADR earlier this week. And I did get to see some of the other scenes in it.
Do you have a particular favorite scene that you can share with the fans that are so hungry for information on this film?
Dolph Lundgren: (Laughs) I think this is going to be a great movie. And now it has Bruce Willis and Arnold in it, too. I really love some of the scenes that I am in. I love the comedic stuff, where I am acting a little bit crazy. And I like the dramatic stuff between me and Stallone. We have two or three scenes together. Those are my favorites. Its so old school. It's a confrontation scene between two men. Its real, character-driven material. Stallone writes really well. I was very pleased to make that come alive on screen. I think people are going to really dig it.
This looks like another awesome movie for you. Do you think Sly is setting up a franchise? Will we be seeing you return for The Expendables 2?
Dolph Lundgren: No, he hasn't mentioned a sequel. But people are obviously talking about it. They are starting to hold that up. Look, I think you want to get to square one first. I have never done a sequel. Wait, I did do a sequel to Universal Soldier. But I have only done that one sequel during my whole career. Stallone is huge on sequels. I don't know what is going to happen. Even so, I think people are going to love this film. And want another one. They are going to be thrilled by what they see on that screen. Especially when I am going up against Sly. We are both friends and enemies in this movie. I think it's going to be really good.
Where are you going to go from here? Are we going to see Command Performance 2? It could be like Speed on a Tour Bus. I need to see Joe again! Please make that happen!
Dolph Lundgren: Look, I think I am always going to make action movies. I'd like to make a period piece. I have this Swedish project I am working on. It deals with World War I. Maybe I will do that. I would like to make different types of movies. In different genres. I have a road picture, and a thriller I am working on. That way I can learn more about the process of filmmaking.
It sounds like you have quite a bit lined up.
Dolph Lundgren: Its not all green lit. But it is stuff that I am working on. Hopefully I will be able to put some of this stuff together. I just now got back to Los Angeles. I am going to go back to work. I just did four movies back to back, and then took a little break. Now, I am going to go back out there and do some more!
Dolph Lundgren's Command Performance hits DVD and Blu-ray on November 3rd. This is one film you are going to want to watch again, and again, and again. It's that amazing. Buy it as soon as you can!