Who is Dolph Lundgren, really? It’s a question that’s been on my mind—well, mostly since I was offered the opportunity to interview him, but certainly before that, too, if I ever stopped to think about it.
To most of us, Lundgren is still and maybe always will be Ivan Drago, the robotic, mostly-monosyllabic Soviet-smashing machine from Rocky IV. As he’s said himself of the movie’s premiere in 1985, “I walked into a Westwood theater as Grace Jones’ boyfriend, and walked out 90 minutes later as the movie star Dolph Lundgren.”
That said, it’s probably not an insult to say that Dolph Lundgren the person is a lot more interesting than Dolph Lundgren the actor. In a way, he was famous before he was famous. Raised in Stockholm, the 6’4” Viking with the cartoon jawline initially planned to follow in his father’s footsteps as an engineer. A chemical engineer, specifically—a discipline for which Lundgren received several scholarships, including a Fulbright to MIT.
That same father was also abusive, however, inspiring Lundgren to seek an outlet for his feelings of anger and aggression. He discovered it in the form of karate. He excelled at that, and so for a time he was Hans Lundgren, the karate champion chemical engineering scholar, attending Washington State, Clemson, and the University of Sydney in Australia while competing in martial-arts competitions and working as a bouncer. It was in Sydney that he met Grace Jones, the singer, actress, and gay icon. The two became lovers (possibly because they knew that together they’d make an irresistible sight gag?). Before long, Lundgren had moved to New York, changed his name to “Dolph,” and was hanging out at Studio 54 with Andy Warhol.
Lundgren has spoken about Jones bringing four or five women back to their apartment some early mornings for group sex. Jones has talked about setting Lundren’s clothes on fire after their breakup. It was a different time. Of course, he’s been married twice since then, and has two grown children.
So what do you ask him about? Karate? Chemical engineering? Studio 54? And oh yeah, doesn’t he have a movie he’s promoting? It’s called Wanted Man, which Lundgren directed and co-wrote, which co-stars Kelsey Grammer. It’s actually Lundgren’s eighth directing and seventh writing credit. Though let’s be honest, you probably haven’t seen many of these. Diamond Dogs? Missionary Man? Castle Falls?
In Wanted Man, Lundgren plays a racist cop in the fictional, San Diego-like bordertown of Del Vista. Grammer plays his retired counterpart. At one point, over beers at a strip club, they complain about how entitled these migrants are these days, coming to the US, expecting everything. Lundgren’s character lands in hot water after he’s caught on a bodycam calling a suspect a “lowlife Mexican”; as penance, he’s sent across the border to escort some sex workers back to Del Vista after they witness a murder.