Dolph Lundgren interview: The Expendables 2, stunts and sequels

With the UK release of The Expendables 2 imminent, here’s our interview with action star Dolph Lundgren…

It’s often said that, compared to their larger-than-life on-screen personas, most actors can seem disappointingly small when encountered in real life. Not Dolph Lundgren, though.

Dolph is physically gigantic – he’s a man of extremes. His eyes are impossibly blue. His hair is golden. His hands are tanned and bigger than baseball gloves. If he were holding a jewel-encrusted sceptre, Dolph would look like a king of ancient Northern Europe, or perhaps a Greek god. Instead, he simply sits perfectly still, positively humming with a weird heroic ambience.

When I first meet Dolph, he’s staring at the floor – or his eyes shut may even be shut – and he appears to be meditating. His colossal hands are pressed together in front of him, and his legs are arranged in an impossibly broad V configuration. I’m just beginning to wonder how it’s possible to spread one’s legs so wide without causing a tear in the trouser, when Dolph suddenly looks up and fixes me with a steely gaze.

For a moment, I realise how a hypnotised snake must feel, or maybe a rabbit confronted by a truck. When Dolph opens his mouth to say hello, his voice is a low-frequency rumble that disturbs roosting pigeons.

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At one point in our meeting, I make a rather timid comment about art imitating life (you’ll get the context of this later), and Dolph immediately fixes me with that hypnotic stare again.

For a moment, I fear that all is lost – that, mistakenly thinking I’m making fun of him, this mighty warrior may suddenly destroy me with death rays from his eyes. But then the clouds clear, and he breaks into a teacup rattling, unapologetically chesty laugh.

Dolph’s in town to do a bit of press for The Expendables 2, the action sequel in which the Swedish actor shares the screen with an entire generation of similarly elemental genre stars – the sort of people immediately recognisable from one name alone: Arnie, Sly, Statham, Norris, Willis.

With Con Air director Simon West now taking care of the technical side of things, Sylvester Stallone and his crew are free to cause more carnage than ever, as reflected in Expendables 2’s trailers, in which the former Governator rips the door off a Smart car, Jason Statham makes a terrible joke about marriage and knives, and Chuck Norris marches implacably through a battlefield with his beard neatly trimmed.

It’s a wild movie that harks back to an era of similarly orgiastic movies and larger-than-life characters. And in amongst it all is Dolph, reprising his role as the hulking, morally blurry mercenary Gunnar Jensen.

So with The Expendables 2 out this week, here’s our interview with the mighty Dolph Lundgren. Our encounter with the actor was brief (following the success of the first film, it seems Dolph’s time is now at a premium), but then again, maybe that’s not such a bad thing – after all, there’s only so much god-like charisma an ordinary mortal can take in one sitting. 

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You must have been thrilled with the success of the first Expendables. Did it come out of nowhere for you, the success of the first movie?

I don’t think anybody expected it to be that successful, really. I think everyone was nervous – especially Stallone, because it was his baby. I don’t think anyone realised there were still so many fans out there for the 80s guys, you know, that wanted to see them on film. So it was a big surprise for all of us.

Your character in the first movie is probably one of the darker ones. How has he developed in this second one?

Ah, Gunnar. Gunnar Jensen, the crazy Swede. Well, let’s see. He’s cleaned up a little bit, and he’s not quite as mad. You can trust him a little more. He still goes off on a bender once in a while, and does funny things, you know. And we find out that, before he went over to the dark side, as Sly says, he was a chemical engineer. And then Gunnar has another drink and goes [adopts even gravellier voice], “Yeah, and a Ford Bright scholar.”   

Later in the movie, he tries to use his engineering skills to get him out of this tough situation. With mixed success, I must say. 

That’s close to your heart then, with your scientific background.

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Yeah, that’s maybe where he got the idea….

Art imitating life, perhaps?

[Silence. Then laughter]

You have Simon West on board now as the director, who’s great at action. How has he affected this film? 

It was a great idea to bring in another director. I mean, Sly did a great job on the first one. But Simon has an outsider’s view on it, and also his camera set-ups are wider and bigger, and he frames things differently. It feels like a much bigger film now in terms of scope.

And Simon did a great job dealing with all the personalities and dealing with Stallone to start with. He says, “Right, you’re the star of the movie”. But everybody else – Arnold, Bruce Willis, Chuck Norris, Jet Li, Statham and myself – there are a lot of people he has to wrangle and keep happy. He did a great job, really. A lot of people wouldn’t have done it, or couldn’t have done it – they’d have gotten fired straight away. But he did it. 

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So what was the atmosphere like on set? It must be extraordinary, with all those egos, and all that testosterone.

Yeah. I think it starts with Stallone. He knows that, and he’s one of them. So he writes a way – he came up with the script, and he knows that this actor needs to have a certain moment, and another actor likes something else. He puts that in the script, so people feel satisfied as performers. 

Of course, on set, you’ve got all these guys in one little room together, and most of them are used to being the star in their picture. I mean, we’re a team, me and Stallone and Jason Statham and Jet Li and the rest. But I can see when Arnold and Bruce show up, and Chuck Norris, they’re not used to sharing a tent about this size [Dolph motions to the room we’re sitting in, which seems huge to me, but obviously tiny to him], getting suited up along with other guys who are stars in their own right. It’s kind of interesting to watch.

How does Expendables 2 compare to your other movies in terms of stunts? Because you’ve done your own stunts before. In Red Scorpion, in particular, you did a lot of your own stunts.

Oh, I nearly killed myself on that one. Jeez. Before the days of CGI and wires, I had to jump from a motorcycle to a truck in the middle of Africa, you know? With some African stunt driver going like this [implies a weaving motion]. It was crazy. You could never do that today – they’d never let you do it.

But I try to do most of [my own stunts], because that’s what the Expendables are. They’re a bunch of tough guys who do stuff that feels real – or at least in the context of the movie, it feels realistic. So we have to do as much as possible, basically. 

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I know it’s a bit early to talk about a third Expendables, but Randy Couture mentioned the other day that there may be another one filming in the autumn. Is that right?

Uh, I heard about the third one. I wasn’t too excited, because we just got out of four months in Bulgaria and New Orleans, and enough’s enough. There isn’t any way they’re going to start in this fall, I don’t think. You gotta wait and see how this one does, and then set up. Maybe next year.

I don’t think you want to release them too close to each other, anyway. You want a little bit of a break so you can build up the feeling that you want to see another one.

[And with that, Dolph returned to his Jedi-like state of meditation. Outside the building, pigeons fluttered back to their perches.]

Dolph Lundgren, thank you very much.

The Expendables 2 goes on general release on the 16th August. You can read our review here.

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