One complaint often voiced by die-hard (no pun intended) action movie fans is that directors don't make these films like they used to. The hardcore and meaty testosterone-charged pictures that helped launch lengthy and lucrative screen careers for heavy hitters such as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone appear to have been replaced by less gritty, more polished, and, in many cases, politically correct renderings of the varied 'good guys versus bad guys' themes for which the '80s made famous.
A decade in which cinematic portrayals of the muscle-loaded and battle-proven alpha male survivor - a woman on one shoulder, an AK 47 on the other - were commonplace. The '80s heralded in the era of the action movie hero. Despite numerous directorial errors and a fair heaping of bad dialogue, many such films became legendary, with several of their leading men today referred to as action movie icons.
Today your action hero might be more at home coaching a rag tag bunch of delinquents on the local baseball team or changing diapers or baby-sitting unruly rug rats. But not all hope is lost.
Though the current action genre could be described as a watered down version of its '80s predecessor, there are still many formidable industry talents who can knock out an epic or two. However, the true pile-driving wallop and old school authenticity of the '80s action classics, it could be argued, still has not been matched in recent decades. Perhaps, that is, until now.
For those who enjoy relentless old school action delivered in rip-roaring fashion by big name stars, it is quite possible that the film they have been waiting many years for has arrived. With an A-star cast list that reads like a who's who of heavyweight screen talent, The Expendables, to be released on August 13, 2010, is an action fan's biggest wish fulfilled and a likely nod to all that was good about the '80s action genre.
With its basic premise based around a group of extremely well armed mercenaries - both in the way of weaponry and biceps' power - and their attempt to overthrow a ruthless South American dictator, while facing many battles both from within and externally, with deceit and betrayal coming from both sides, The Expendables promises to provide plenty of explosive action and exciting plot twists.
Dolph Lundgren, who plays the role of Gunnar Jenson, an ex-combat veteran with a hair trigger temper and formidable martial arts prowess, recently spoke to Bodybuilding.com about his role in the movie and why he feels audiences will lap up the non-stop '80s-style action and star appeal The Expendables provides with equal doses of unrelenting ferocity and testosterone-governed firepower.
Born in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1957, Lundgren, a devout martial artist from a young age, rose to prominence as an action movie actor in 1985 after being featured in Rocky IV alongside one of the genre's best, Sylvester Stallone. Playing the formidable Soviet boxing powerhouse, Ivan Drago, a role for which his lean 6'5", 240 lb physique and impressive athletic attributes were ideally suited, Lundgren quickly gained a following among action movie fans. Since then he has acted in more than 40 action films, featuring alongside such notables as Jean-Claude Van Damme and Keanu Reeves.
Today, Lundgren is fired up about his new role as Gunnar Jensen in the highly anticipated The Expendables, and for his many fans it will indeed be a treat to see this star back in action. In the following interview he discusses his character and many of the processes behind the filming of what promises to be yet another action-epic-on-steroids for the 52 year old.
Interview With Dolph Lundgren
Well, it was great to work with Stallone again. He wrote a really cool role for me where I play this guy, Gunnar Jensen, who is a burnt out combat veteran who has seen too much action. He is a hair trigger character, as well as being a little crazy. In the beginning he has a falling out with the rest of the expendables. He is kind of banished from the group and ends up looking around for work, only to end up working for the other side, the bad guys: Eric Roberts (who plays Monroe) and those dudes.
Then there is a twist at the end, which is interesting. So it is action oriented, but the role also had a nice little touch, which I really enjoyed. My relationship with Stallone is what's in the forefront of my character I think.
It's a bit different. I've done it a couple of times where I play bad guys, whether it is in Universal Soldier or in one I did with Keanu Reeves called Johnny Mnemonic, with this diabolical kind of nuttiness and unpredictability. And this (The Expendables) character has some of that.
Well, I think one is the cast, of course, because most people have seen these action guys starring in their own films, whether it is Jet Li, Statham, Stallone, or Mickey Rourke recently. Now we are all together in one movie, so I think that is the big draw, number one.
Number two, I think people are kind of interested in Stallone's work as a director after Rambo and Rocky Balboa, and he goes a lot for the old school hardcore kind of action where there are not too many incredible stunts, but mostly fights, car chases, shoot outs, explosions. There are good stunts but nothing unbelievable, really. I suppose that combination will hopefully put them in the seats.
Yes, it is more believable, and also I think with most of the guys in the picture I suppose much of the audience have a feeling that they (the actors) can actually do some of this themselves. They are either martial artists or have backgrounds in weaponry. Whereas I suppose in some of the new action movies the latest fad has been taking someone who has not had anything to do with action really as a person, or previously as an actor, yet they are placed in this hardcore action role. The Expendables is a bit different in this respect.
Yes, I am always fit so that part was fairly easy for me. Although I did work out and beef up a little bit because I knew I was up against some big guys. I do a lot of sparring and martial arts anyway so usually I'm leaner, but I did put on more muscle for the picture. The stunts were very well organized; we had a great stunt team and also Jet Li's stunt team was there, his stunt coordinators. And you had Stallone. So yes you had to be fit, but there are also a lot of people there that can help you to make it look good.
Like I said, I'm always in good shape, but I started training a couple of months before, just increasing the poundage on my lifting a little bit and building muscle to look better. Because when you are fighting (in a real life situation) it is not really about your look, it is about your conditioning and how well you can move - technical things. Whereas in the movie it's more a visual art form and you had to look good, especially if you are wearing sleeveless shirts and such.
I did a split weights routine, pretty standard, where I usually split upper body for two to three days and train legs twice a week. I like doing legs because it keeps you strong and even helps you to add muscle to your upper body. I did train with my Bulgarian sparring partner, who is a fighter, so we combined the weight training with some sparring, working also on mitts and pads and the bag to achieve that lean look as well.
It was easy because Stallone is a tough leader and everyone looks up to him, and I've been a friend of his for 25 years so for me it was a pleasure. There was a healthy amount of competition on the set because you know the other guys are in good shape and people did train a lot. So you did feel like you wanted to be in shape and also wanted to show up looking your best.
Not so much. Randy Couture was doing some sparring around the time we were doing some fighting. We were at the same gym but we didn't really train together; everybody had different schedules. Some people were working while others were taking the day off, so I would say no.
(Laughs) Yes I would love to. He was actually getting ready for a fight (against Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira) towards the end of our shoot so he was doing a lot of conditioning. He is a guy who is in really great shape.
Well I probably did more cardio than some of the other guys - maybe apart from Randy - because I like to spar and visit Karate dojos and there is a hefty amount of those here - so you have to be in shape not to be an embarrassment (laughs). Normally I do about 70/30 - 70 percent cardio and 30 percent strength. I sort of flipped that to where I was doing 70 percent strength and 30 percent cardio.
Yes I did.
I trained a little more on shoulders and arms because that's kind of what the camera sees when you are holding weapons, and usually you have a T-shirt or sleeveless shirt on. Not very often will you show your back or abs or chest. Those areas are there to support your frame. But as far as what the camera sees, it is the forearms, upper arms and shoulders. So I trained a lot of forearms and arms actually.
I think so. It's actually something I don't usually train so much because when you are fighting it often slows you down because your arms feel a little heavy. You tend to do more leg work and back and shoulders, areas which tend to support you when you are striking. But I think people in general take strong arms and shoulders as a measure of your fitness so I think a lot of actors do emphasize that, and why not?
Yes, exactly, that's right.
I think we did about five to seven nights a week so you get a bit burnt out and lose about 20 percent of your strength right off the bat. You sleep til about noon or so, because you come home at 5.00am or 6.00am. So you might actually sleep maybe until 1.00pm sometimes, and then you are up. And it gets really hot in New Orleans so usually we would have breakfast and go down and hang by the pool. We would then go and train around 4:00 pm and instead of doing an hour and half we would usually end up doing 45 minutes to an hour because your strength has been sapped from the night shoots.
After training we would go to set. So there was less training and I would usually try to keep it lower in intensity with lighter weights so as not to become so tired. There would be no heavy deadlifts or squats because this would just make you more tired when it came to working.
Yes it does, and a lot of the time even as you get towards the end of a shoot - if you are acting or especially directing as well, like Stallone and I have done - it's very hard not to be burnt out; you eventually end up doing maybe very light circuit training or more work on push ups or sit ups, dips and light weights so that you can prevent your whole body from becoming tired.
It often does. I think that if you are going to film any good body shots you should probably do them early on in the shoot. Not in the first week because you get a little bit more cut after the first week due to the strain and the hours combined with the reduced appetite, which allows you become more ripped. So the second week would probably be ideal for taking your shirt off. Then you gradually begin to hold more water and you are not as strong as you were at the beginning. Your muscles do not look as full (towards the end of the filming process).
Yes, for sure I think there probably was some of that. We are all part of a team, but I think there was a bit of a feeling of competition, but in a healthy way. We all hoped this is going to be a great movie but obviously when we are on the set together there is a bit of a feeling of that testosterone vibration going around.
I think we all do. But filming is also a function of where you put the camera and how you light it and such. And that's why we relied so much on Stallone really, because if there's anyone who knows about shooting muscular bodies (in an action movie context) it is him. There is nobody better than him so; he is very good at that.
Well, it's a big movie and I haven't been in a film like this, as big as this, for many years, and I don't think any of the others in the picture have as well, other than maybe Stallone. But even for him it's a big movie, maybe the biggest he's been in probably budget-wise. So everybody was really hyped up about this picture's possibilities. You only had to show up on the set to see just how big the production was and see the other actors to be motivated to train to stay in good shape.
I did my usual level of sparring. But I think my level of martial arts is enough for any role where I am to play a martial artist who is expected to do a lot of specialized fighting. For any kind of film fighting or combat I think my training is sufficient, which is what I usually do anyway: techniques, punching, kicking striking, knee drills and mitts work, and then moving with a partner and sparring.
When it goes very quickly you get used to reacting to the other person, but you don't really know what he is going to do. Whereas in the film fights you know what he is going to do, because you have memorized a move, so that makes it much easier. I think there was nothing really special I did (in filming The Expendables) even though I did a little work with the stunt guys. We had a meeting and talked about the fight with Jet Li, because I have one big fight and one small fight with him. They wanted me to keep my flexibility so I did quite a bit of stretching for that because they wanted me to do a lot of high kicks.
Yes, I always do. Kyokushin is something I do for myself to feel good, to alleviate stress and to kind of get my head out of show business. That I always do whether I'm filming or not, but in this particular case the stunt coordinators knew about Kyokushin, knew how we fight and that there are knees and elbows and certain ways and methods, so they tried to incorporate that into the way my character fought.
Well the character, as he was originally written, was to be portrayed as somewhat of a substance abuser, this crazy guy who drank too much. But we toned it down because Stallone didn't want to give the role that negative appeal. So even though you don't see or hear how the character was from the original script, he is still a little huffed up and a little speedy.
Physically all of the aspects of the role are not so much to do with the body - which has the character with long greasy hair, very unkempt. He doesn't have the military look that most of the other guys in the team have; he looks like he just woke up, rolled over, grabbed his gun and came out to play. He was not so clean cut, so that was part of the image.
We did some dark circles around the eyes also. I think Stallone wanted me to look a bit different and I think that is why we haven't seen too many photos because he didn't want to let that out until close to the release.
Yes and it's also a bit of a rock 'n' roll kind of feel, my character. Like Kurt Cobain; a bit like that.
Yes a more muscular Kurt Cobain. But he has that longish unkempt hair and that hollow cheeked look - a more muscular version of that with a big shotgun (laughs).
Yes I think so - I think it worked out well. Yes.
I would say around 225 to 230lbs.
No, actually my bodyweight fluctuates a little bit, but I think I'm closer to 220 when I do more Karate. So I actually gained weight for my role I would say.
Yes they do. In this role Stallone wanted me to look bigger than everybody else pretty much, to tower over other people. It's kind of like the Ivan Drago syndrome in order to intimidate other people in the film when I walk up close to them.
Yes more intimidating and unpredictable. I end up going on my own little adventure at the end of the movie.
Again, this is a tough one because you are trying to give yourself enough calories to work during the night hours while trying to stay cut. But I wouldn't cut too much back on the carbs because I wanted to stay a bit beefy. Usually I just cut back on fats and sweets if I'm going to make a movie because it gives you more energy anyway when you begin to clean up your diet, just generally. Not so much salt and sugar and fat.
And I just try to supplement my diet with protein shakes after every workout, perhaps twice a day - after training and maybe one after my workday. So my meals were pretty much chicken and rice, fish and rice, a lot of clean carbs and protein two to three times a day. Then we had the night shoots, which made it a bit more difficult. Here your metabolism comes down by about 20 percent.
What I would also do prior to each body shot - where I knew there would be camera focused on my arms, for example - like in the opening scene where there is more interest in showing people off as to what they look like, I would cut back on the carbs two days before and try to lean out a bit. Maybe dehydrate a little bit before as well.
But I try to be careful with that now because it is only really for if you are going to show your abs and be filmed with your shirt off. And because I do a lot of cardio I don't really try to cut back like I used to, especially when I'm not filming and doing a lot of sparring, like now. If your cardio is higher and you are in shape then you can get sick if you don't eat enough carbs.
Exactly, you have to keep your head clear as well. So in this case I was pushing the envelope for myself because I haven't done a role like that for a while since I did Johnny Mnemonic, where I was kind of a loose cannon and you had to kind of let yourself go and get a little bit wild to where even people on the set watching and not knowing what was going in are getting a little scared and wondering 'who the hell is this guy'. So you are right, that takes energy by itself.
I didn't analyze it in detail but I would say that I tried to keep the protein high; that was the main thing. I would get a good serving in the morning and probably twice during the day. So this would have been at least 50 to 60 percent. Then I keep the carbs a little bit lower than that and included a little bit of fat. But I would say that the fat comes in just about everything you eat so you don't have to make any effort to ensure your fats are up. And on the set you do end up snacking on lots of stuff. You can't help yourself so you know you are going to get your calories that way as well.
Well, we did do the protein shakes about twice a day, once after training and once usually during the shoot. And it's also always hot in New Orleans; it's usually 100 all of the time, so you are sweating a tremendous amount and would have to drink all of the time and that can mess with your digestion too because you have so much fluid in your stomach.
But we did do the protein shakes, which contained about 20 to 30 grams of protein per shot. We added some bananas in there too for the potassium because you are sweating all of the time, especially during the fight scenes, which are quite brutal.
That was one of the toughest environments that I have shot in for a while, just because of the heat. I shot in Israel in the desert once and that was tough. But in this case (on The Expendables) there was more fighting. In one of the fights it was the hottest day in 100 years in New Orleans. It was pretty brutal.
Yes there are stops and starts but if you want to make these as realistic as possible you do still have to make those moves and do them quick and violent enough so it looks authentic. It is a great workout really (laughs) because you end up doing them many times. You might end up doing each scene movement maybe three or four times. If it involves a complicated sequence of up to three moves it could end up being 10 to 15 moves total. Depending on how complicated it is.
If you are on the floor doing a sweep and then having to get up and kick, maybe that's two or three moves, but if it is punches and strikes and kicks it could be 10 to 15 moves - and if you do that four or five times it's pretty exhausting. My cardio is quite good and I'm used to fighting so I don't really have a problem with that part of it.
I've seen - not so much in this picture - people underestimating just how tiring it can be. In this case we had Jet's stunt coordinator from Hong Kong who was in charge of some of the fights between him and me and then there were the regular stunt guys there as well. So there is plenty of talent around. If they want to shoot Jet and me and he's doing something else then they can do some of the stuff with my double if it is tight on him (Jet). But with those shots that are wider then it has to be him and me.
Obviously there can be a bit of tension. Stallone and I have done so much sparring that it (the tension) wouldn't be there. But when you do a fight with two name actors that are up against each other there's a bit of tension and nervousness because they don't want anybody to get hurt and they are afraid that somebody might do something stupid or somebody's going to get their tooth knocked out and ruin a week of shooting.
And there might be an ego thing going on. I don't have any problems with that because I spar a lot and have good control. And in this case, on the set, it was good because Jet's also very experienced. It's unusual to fight another actor who has a lot of experience - as much (experience) as me. I'm not used to that, which is a pleasant experience for me.
Not that much, but a little bit. People can get scared of me because I'm big and I come at them pretty strong, but it doesn't mean I'm there to hurt them. It just seems like that to them. I'm used to looking at other big guys coming at me with sparring; someone can overreact so I have to be aware of that. Then I have to watch out because they may throw a right instead of a left or kind of lose it a little bit (laughs). But it can happen on picture, even with stunt guys sometimes. I'm always aware that a fight may not go as planned so I'm ready for anything.
All went very well. No injuries. We did have a long fight, Jet and I, and his whole team was very professional.
I think as far as my character is concerned people will enjoy Gunnar Jensen, as he is one crazy MF (laughs) and I don't think anyone can guess how it is going to end for him. That's one good thing. My character, he's like the wild card. And I think people should come along for something they haven't seen in a long time, which is a realistic old school action movie on steroids; an '80s action movie on steroids (laughs).