Dolph Lundgren discusses the biggest action hit of the year that arrives on Blu-ray and DVD November 23rd
The Expendables was one of last summer's biggest hits, garnering writer/director/star Sylvester Stallone his best opening weekend of all time. Of course, he had a little help from his friends, with an ensemble crew that contains some of the hardest hitting action icons of all time. Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jason Statham, Jet Li, and Steve Austin were but a few who showed up. Among the fan favorites in the cast was Dolph Lundgren, who returned to reteam with Sly for the first time since their brutal boxing match to the near death in Rocky IV.
Lundgren plays Gunner Jensen, best friend of Barney Ross (Stallone), leader of The Expendables. He is a crazy loose cannon that eventually gets kicked off the team for his own good. The role offered Dolph a chance to really shine on the big screen. Not only an actor, the man is also a director and a certified genius. And a hell of a nice man. We recently caught up with Dolph to celebrate the release of The Expendables on DVD and Blu-ray this Tuesday, November 23rd.
Not only did we chat about the movie, but we also talked about The Expendables 2, his possible on-screen reunion with Jean-Claude Van Damme in Universal Soldier IV, his directing career, and a whole lot more. Here is our conversation:
This summer, two of the most anticipated, original genre films happened to open on the same day. Audiences went to see The Expendables instead of the other one. How do you think that speaks to what fans truly want to see today, especially in terms of their on-screen heroes?
Dolph Lundgren: When you say "The other one," are you speaking about the Julia Roberts picture?
No, I was actually referring to Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. They are both action movies. They both had genre fans excited. Except the lead characters are at two extremely different ends of the spectrum...
Dolph Lundgren: Okay, I thought maybe you were talking about Julia Roberts. Because, I actually went to see that movie. I thought it was pretty good. But lets see...I don't know, because I never saw that Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World picture. I knew it was a big deal. It's a video game, right?
It was originally based on a comic book.
Dolph Lundgren: See, there you go. My generation doesn't know about that. The baby boomers had been waiting around for their quote-unquote action picture to come out. I just read an article about baby boomers. They are underestimated as consumers these days. Once you turn fifty or fifty-five, everyone cuts you off their list. But they still have a lot of money. And they all went to see The Expendables. It has a great cast. A lot of those guys and gals grew up on some of the movies we made back in the day. On another side of the spectrum, from what I can tell when I move around and talk to the fans, they like MMA, they like real fights. They dig the old school action more than some of the stuff in-between. Those newer films. Its fake in the way it works. Someone will still be standing up after taking a thousand kicks to the head. Maybe that's why...
Stallone wrote the part of Gunner with you in mind. And he wrote him in as his own character's best friend. When you read the script, did you see a lot of the elements from your own personal relationship with Sly on the page?
Dolph Lundgren: No. I love this character, and I love that they are friends. But I read it as a drama. This guy? Jensen? He has a big arc. He is very colorful, and he has a lot of problems. When you are playing a role, the more problems the guy has, the easier it is to play him. Because you have something to do. You have some obstacles. The fact that we were friends in the movie was kind of cool. Because people have seen us in film before, but we were enemies. They had never seen us together like this on screen. I think the strength of that relationship shows up in this picture.
Stallone directed you in Rocky IV. I think that was only the fourth or fifth film that he directed. Now, a few years down the road, he is once again directing you in this. Did you notice anything different about his approach to directing this time around?
Dolph Lundgren: I was very inexperienced when I worked with him the first time. Since then, I have made about thirty or forty movies. He is still the same guy. It was a similar experience. On Rocky IV he was very detailed oriented. He was very intense. He didn't leave anything to chance. He wants it right. He keeps shooting until he gets it. It was the same this time. I'd worked with other directors in-between. Like Roland Emmerich and John Woo. There is a certain intensity to Sly that these other people don't have. There is another level. Obviously, he has matured a bit as a man. I think he took more time in talking to the actors about their performances. Maybe he was a little more patient. Basically, ninety percent of it was the same. It was physically intense. He has a "take no prisoners" type of attitude as a director.
One of the things that has changed between the 80s action movies, and today's action movies is the violence. Which Stallone really upped the stakes with in Rambo 4. How has that changed your own process as an action director when you take on a project of your own? Knowing that it has to always go to that next level of intensity?
Dolph Lundgren: What has changed in the pictures, I feel, is that up until now, it has been very CGI driven. Those things come and go full circle. I think people are coming back to doing in-camera effects to make it look more real. I suppose, with the violence, you are trying to make it gritty and more real. I always liked those films, anyway. I think there is a way to do this. I am still learning as a director. I have only made five movies. But I think there is a way to get violent, and not show too much. Like Gladiator, which was very violent in one way. But you only think you are seeing a guy's head being cut off. You don't really see it. I think that is the way I would like to do it in the future. Basically, it is moving back to these in-camera effects and realism. The CGI looks fake. And I think it dates the film, too.
With the 3D, there is this problem, where you can't really cheat the punches anymore. You can see the space in the depth between the fist and the face. So directors who are having to utilize 3D are having to actually have their A list actors punch each other in the face. From what I understand, you guys are shooting the next Universal Soldier in 3D, so you will have to actually punch and kick each other to make it look more real in what you are shooting...
Dolph Lundgren: That is an interesting point. I had never thought of that. I did look at doing 3D on my next picture. The studios love 3D, and they are always asking me to shoot in 3D. Well. Not always, but on this next one. They want to know how much its going to cost. But yeah, maybe that realism is an aspect of it. I think the attitude is changing, because young kids are watching MMA. They are more aware of real violence. There was this generation in-between who were really excited about the CGI aspect of the violence. But the reality got lost. I think those days are gone.
I grew up in the 80s, watching your films, and the CGI today just doesn't cut it. It's always too fake looking, and it does date a film pretty badly when its used wrong.
Dolph Lundgren: It was fun for a while.
Stallone recently opened up his Twitter account, and he uses it mostly to give updates on The Expendables 2. What do you know about the sequel? And has he approached you with any ideas yet?
Dolph Lundgren: I probably know less than you. I haven't watched his stuff. I haven't listened to his "tweet-tweets". But I just know that he is working on the script. I think he is bringing back some of the characters, including Jensen, from what I hear. But I don't know for sure. I have not read the script. At one point they were taking about Bulgaria. Then they were taking about going to Mexico. To deal with drug dealers, I suppose. Those are people we could whack, and no one would really care. Not too much. Not if they were drug traffickers. I think that is what he might be looking at.
Drug traffickers? Your next directorial gig is a movie called Skin Trade? About human trafficking, right?
Dolph Lundgren: I am working on it. I am not a hundred percent sure yet.
During the press rounds for Rambo, Stallone had mentioned that he wanted to have Rambo involved in human trafficking. Have you guys talked about the similarities in these projects. Is that a possible storyline for The Expendables 2?
Dolph Lundgren: Did we talk about the idea of human trafficking? No, we didn't, actually. I started on this idea about five years ago. That was quite a while ago. But I never really got a chance to make it. I'd been working on the script. But no, we never discussed that aspect.
Its interesting to me, because it's a great idea for your stand alone project, but it also seems like it would jive well with The Expendables.
Dolph Lundgren: I hope we don't end up with the same story. We start shooting next summer. That means we'll be in prep in March. It's a big movie. That means the script has to be ready in January. So it will come up pretty fast here.
Is that Skin Trade you are talking about?
Dolph Lundgren: No, The Expendables 2.
What do you hope to see happen with your character in the sequel? I mean, your character was one that the fans really loved...
Dolph Lundgren: Well, thanks. I think it would be great to be on screen a little more. But, also, I think the most important thing is to keep Gunner troubled. And to keep him an outsider to some extent. I think that would be important. I think people expect that. And it balances the team a little bit. If he is a wild card, you don't really know what is going to happen with Jensen. He is apt to change his mind and go his own way. I think that makes for a more exciting picture.
There is a lot of talk about who will be in the sequel. Stallone want to bring in some guys, he wants to keep some guys. Who would you like to see show up for The Expendables 2?
Dolph Lundgren: I think Jean-Claude Van Damme would be fun. I'd love to see him in it as a bad guy. Because he has never really played that. I think that would be a big draw. The other guys that I really like in the genre are Wesley Snipes. Vin Diesel. There are a few guys that I really like. There are a few young guys that I really like, too. It could be interesting. There is always Chuck Norris, of course (laughs).
Kurt Russell was another big one that keeps coming up...
Dolph Lundgren: Oh, yeah! Cool! Snake!
I want to know your thoughts on having Ryan Seacrest in the sequel. Stallone has been pushing this, and I guess its not a joke...
Dolph Lundgren: I don't even hardly know who he is...Who is he? Ryan Seacrest? Who is that?
He is the host of American Idol, and he is the anchor of E! News.
Dolph Lundgren: Ah. I know who he is. Okay. Well, if he does join the sequel, I don't know what he is going to be doing. Maybe he can play some CIA guy or something. I don't think we'll have him lifting heavy machine guns at the back of the team (laughs).
In bringing up Van Damme, you guys are reuniting for another Universal Soldier movie? Correct? Are you both going to be in it more? That last one was basically about the two MMA fighters that were in it. Not so much you guys.
Dolph Lundgren: Look, I haven't seen the script. There was a script. I didn't like it. I haven't even signed yet, so I don't know what is going to happen. It all depends on the scheduling and how it all goes. I like director John Hyams. I just think that, yeah, you are right, people got a little disappointed because they wanted to see much more of myself and Jean-Claude Van Damme. I was starring in The Expendables at the time, so I couldn't be in it more.
You guys have one really great fight scene in that last one, and that is it. The rest of the movie we're waiting for you guys to show up...
Dolph Lundgren: I know!
From what I understand, you are going to be working with Uwe Boll...
Dolph Lundgren: Yeah. I am doing a little thing with him. Its just an acting gig for a few weeks, coming up in December.
He is such an interesting man. He is like the evil villain of filmmakers...
Dolph Lundgren: (Laughs) I guess he will be tangling with me, then. We'll see how it goes!
Your Expendables co-star Jason Statham was in the first In the Name of the King. You are sort of taking over for him. Did you have any discussions with Jason about taking on this Uwe Boll project?
Dolph Lundgren: With Jason? No. I didn't.
What about this other project called Take Back? You are re-teaming with Steve Austin. Danny Trejo is in there. Can you talk about that project a little bit?
Dolph Lundgren: That project? I had never heard about it. I only just saw it on the Internet. I don't know who posted that on there. That is the blessing of the wonderful IMDB. I've never heard of it. I haven't seen a script. I haven't talked to any of those guys. I don't know why that is on there.
I guess that is just someone wishful casting...
Dolph Lundgren: It looks like it. Yes.
Maybe someone is just trying to get you interested in it?
Dolph Lundgren: Yeah. It worked. I'd be interested to see what that is.
That's what's crazy about the internet. Everyone assumed that you were signed to do another Universal Soldier, but that isn't a definite. You're not signed to that, either...
Dolph Lundgren: No. I don't even know if Jean-Claude Van Damme is signed up for that. I don't know what is going on. That is another strange part of this business. Who knows? We'll have to wait and see.