Dolph Lundgren is not going down without a fight.
The Swedish muscle man and longtime fixture of action films since his first appearance as Ivan Drago in 1985's Rocky IV is stepping into a different kind of ring this September. After nearly a decade away from the big screen (with the exception of the Expendables franchise, of course), Lundgren stars alongside Luke Goss and Mickey Rourke in War Pigs, a gritty World War II action drama about a team of soldiers sent behind enemy lines on a special assignment that could change the course of the war.
Maxim caught up with Lundgren to talk about War Pigs and his return to theaters.
Tell me about War Pigs. What attracted you to this project?
This is a quite new role for me. I’ve never made a World War II film before. The movie's about a rag-tag group of American kids go behind enemy lines on a crucial mission to destroy a piece of Nazi tech.
In this movie, they have a mission outside of just murdering Nazis. We're supposed to go behind enemy lines to destroy a special huge cannon that the Germans had built to fire on London and Paris. they pick this unit of soldiers led by this lieutenant (Luke Boss) who’s been demoted for losing all his guys in an engagement.
There's been a big of a resurgence in the let's-murder-tons-of-Nazis genre of war film with Inglorious Basterds and Fury. How is War Pigsdifferent?
War Pigs is more real. Inglorious Basterds is a fantasy, which is why we like it: we wish the fight against the Nazis was like that. But its hard to pull a mission off like that in real life, and part of War Pigs is showing that it wasn’t nearly as easy as other movies. The movie's really a bunch of scared kids and who cross the channel, dropped from airplanes, to throw down. And they’re not very well trained: as with other things during WW2, training wasn't really done in a methodical manner. Yeah, you signed up and got some basic training, but you’re sent right into the battle zone. I play a member of the French foreign legion, Hans Picoult, tasked with whipping these troops into shape.
How did you prepare for the role?
Most of of it was working on my character. I learned as much about the Foreign Legion as I could. It's a complicated but fascinating history, honestly. As we know, after Germany invaded France, there were the Free French forces under De Gaulle who continued to put up a fight. Some of Legionnaires were fighting alongside Americans, but with American equipment. And there were other French soldiers who were working with the Vichy government, fighting against their Allies. It's a really amazing piece of history, honestly.
To prep for the role, I learned a lot about the region of France — Alsace Lorraine — which is the very reason my character was picked for the mission: he grew up around there and knows the region like the back of his hand. I also tried to come up with a decent French accent and sing the French national anthem with a decent accent.
[Lundgren bursts into the opening strains of "La Marseillaise"]
I had help, obviously [laughs]. The in-laws of my producers are from the region and spent plenty of time on set, so I was able to practice with them. They were delighted to see a tough French character in a movie. Normally, it's the French who run away and the Americans and Brits who have to do the hard work. [Laughs]
How was it being back on set with [Expendables co-star] Mickey Rourke?
It was fun. I really enjoyed working with him in the Expendables. I know him on a personal level. He’s an interesting guy as an actor. It’s fun to watch him work. I think he does a great job — he plays a very colorful colonel who hires Luke Goss's character to go behind enemy lines.
For what it's worth, Mickey loves to ad lib. The first scene we shot was where Goss and I are hovering over a big map of Germany and France. He’s sitting there and giving some orders, looking at the map, going through the scene. According to the script, we're supposed to know each other from some previous tour of duty. So we're going through our lines, when suddenly he says: “Hey Hans — did you ever bang that French chick down in Marseilles, what was her name again?”
I'm so focused on my lines that I don't really know what to do, so all I can do is sputter, “Uh, I can’t remember." And he went on and on until finally, I had to make something up. "Yes, her name was Sophie. She was very nice." It did not end up in the picture, unfortunately, but it's a hilarious scene, especially because you can see I have no idea what's going on.
With the Expendables franchise and now War Pigs, you're marking a bit of a return to the silver screen. Why the hiatus?
Family. No really! I moved to Europe for 10 years to raise two daughters. It was my ex-wife’s idea, and it was a great idea for the kids because they were away from Hollywood and all the bullshit that comes with it.
The shitty thing is, I went from a good place in my career to rock bottom. When i did the first Expendables in 2010, it was the first time being on the big screen in almost 15 years. It felt great. I moved back to LA and it took a few years to get back into the swing of things. This is the frustrating thing about the move business: you have to constantly be around and constantly talking with people to maintain your flavor.
In the last couple of years, I’ve taken a little more control of producing more things. I have things I want to direct. I’m getting roles with a little more color in them. That's been fun, but it took a lot of effort to come back from that sabbatical.
Your reputation as a towering piece of muscle was solidified with your breakout role as Ivan Drago in Rocky IV. How do you keep it up while filming?
When you’re filming and a slave to production, you have to plan your workouts around your work schedule, which is really hard. But on a movie, anything is better than nothing. No matter what I'm doing, I always try to work in some pushups, some cardio in the morning or after shooting. I try to remain as active as possible, to add up the small doses. It’s very hard to go to the gym for an hour and half. You don’t have the time, and if you’re tired, you can’t remember your dialog. I have to be very careful with that.
Are you still boxing?
I do more martial arts like kickboxing, punches and kicks with your hands and legs, for cardio training. Otherwise I mainly do rehab stuff for injuries that I have.
Have you been following Ronda Rousey at all?
The MMA girl you mean? I like her. She’s very good. She was in Expendables 3, so I know her a bit. I was at the fight she won in 14 seconds. Incredible stuff.
I have to ask: who would win in a fight between you two?
In a fight to the death, the man will always beat the woman, even if he isn't trained. Rousey's a good fighter, but very few women will take a fight to the very end. There's something about a guy punching a girl in the face full blast that's a different ball game. Men are built to kill by our Creator; women really aren’t. That's why the bodies and systems work differently. Sure, there are some women who can become an Army Ranger, but they're extremely few. Ronda Rousey is a great fighter, but there’s a huge difference.
OK, that's in a fight to the death. How about in a ring?
I was a former heavyweight champion [in Kyokushin karate]. I think you have my answer.