Dolph Lundgren can’t seem to escape Jean-Claude Van Damme. The Swedish veteran action star co-starred with the Belgian action star in “The Expendables” and the equally popular sequel “Expendables 2.” They also co-star in the “Universal Soldier” action series, including the latest “Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning.”
“It’s like I’m being haunted by Jean-Claude; he’s in every movie I’m in,” says the hulking blond actor with a chuckle. “Every time I get a part, I say, ‘No, he’s in it too?’”
Whatever cosmic forces have linked the two tough guys’ careers, Lundgren is fine with it.
In “Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning,” the fourth in the longrunning action franchise, Lundgren and Van Damme reprise their roles as Unisols, who battle anarchy and are building a new order in which they rule without government oversight. Of course, as with prior installments of the testosterone-fueled series, “Day of Reckoning” is a bloody, violent, gruesome world in which only the strongest soldiers will survive. John Hyams, who directed 2009’s “Universal Soldier: Regeneration,” returns to co-write and direct this latest installment, which combines a variety of fight styles, including mixed martial arts as well as plenty of gunplay and hand-to-hand combat.
Unlike his stoic, killing machine onscreen character, the oak-like Lundgren—at 55, he is still as fit as he was 20 years ago—is genial, with a dry and self-deprecating wit. He spoke about returning to “Universal Soldier” for the third time. (He sat out the 1999 sequel “Universal Soldier: The Return”).
As he arrives for a press conference, he assesses all the recording devices in front of him and dryly remarks, “It’s like I’m on trial. Damn, what did I do?”
Q: You and Jean-Claude have been part of this franchise for a while.
Lundgren: Yeah. It’s the third for me, the fourth for him.
Q: What is the appeal of “Universal Soldier” and your character Andrew Scott?
Lundgren: They had to drag me out for the third one. And this one I wasn’t too happy doing at first because I felt like I was repeating the same thing, but then John (Hyams) came up with a very clever idea that I thought was more interesting. He made it a horror movie and it was more mysterious and smarter. It was a different type of movie; it was more evolved. And my character was just more interesting because he’s not robotic. He has more compassion for his fellow soldiers and he’s more human than he was before. For me, it was taking a step forward. So when (Hyams) presented me with the idea, I thought, yeah, I can do that. It sounds kind of interesting. And it paid off because I think the movie stands on its on as something unique. People seem to like it.
Q: How much input do you and Jean-Claude have into the fight scenes? You don’t walk in and they tell you what you’re going to do, do you?
Lundgren: Well, that’s how it starts. But then you go, let me see it. They show you the fight and then you look at it and you try it. It’s a collaborative process. You change one move here because it doesn’t feel right or you want to add something. You end up with something that’s maybe 90 percent of what was there originally. When you start shooting, you have to change something because it doesn’t look or feel right. We have a lot of say but you also have to respect the filmmaker and the choreographer because they’re thinking of the big picture, whereas you’re just in a few scenes. We feel comfortable working together. I’m sure Jean-Claude would say the same thing.
Q: How difficult was it to orchestrate the fight sequences?
Lundgren: They’re all difficult. You just have to have a good choreographer and you work on it for a couple of weeks. Then you have to work on it and suffer through the grueling process of rehearsing and shooting it under tough conditions. Then there’s the editing. And then John (Hyams) takes over. My job is just to get all the aches and pains shooting it, the injuries.
Q: Now that you’re 55, how do you stay in shape? How do you avoid the aches and pains?
Lundgren: I’ve gotta pay my bills so I keep working. Pains and aches—I’ve got plenty of those. But I don’t know any different; it’s part of my life. I get up each morning and make my plans. It’s something I’ve done since I was a kid. I do the same type of training—martial arts and weights, some swimming and conditioning, and I just do it. I try to be a little bit more clever. I don’t do crazy stuff where I get injured or get too sore so I can’t work the same day. I have to keep going.
Q: Do you exercise between films to stay in shape?
Lundgren: Oh yeah, mostly between movies. Even if I weren’t an actor, I’d do it. I started martial arts when I was 14 so it’s something I’ve been doing to stay sane and feel good about myself.
Q: Diet-wise, what do you do?
Lundgren: I’m a little bit of a fat boy. I eat a lot of sugar and stuff sometimes. (I have) too much coffee and a few too many tequila shots on occasion. But I’m always ready to cut back. If I feel like it’s impacting me negatively on my physique and if I have to do something special, I’ll just cut it off. I’m not dependent on any of those things.
Q: Which was filmed first: “Expendables 2” or “Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning?” And how do you get into the mindset of each character?
Lundgren: “Universal Soldier” was first. We shot it in the summer of 2011 and then I shot “Expendables 2” in the fall. They’re different characters, which is fun. The Scott character (in “Universal Soldier”) is more of an introvert in a different way and a little smaller except in the big speech, but Gunnar Jensen is kind of a Swedish drunk, carrying a big knife. “Expendables 2” was more of a comedic performance for me; this was a bit more of a dramatic performance. But I tried to bring some comedy into this one as well because I thought it was kind of a dark story. Even the first one had some comedic moments without me playing it too broadly. I had to find those little beats where the audience can get relief from all the mayhem and murder and brains everywhere. So I thought I’d bring a little light touch. (He chuckles.)
Q: Most of your fan base is male and probably a lot of them are military. Do you get feedback from them after each of your films?
Lundgren: The military is obviously a huge audience for me. I don’t know how many DVDs they sell to the military but there’s quite a few (of my movies) on all the bases. For “Expendables 2,” we went to the Marine Corps in San Diego. It’s great watching films like this with them because that’s there business—killing people and blowing shit up—so they love it.
Q: Jean-Claude’s character kills a lot of innocent people in this.
Lundgren: Yeah, he went nuts. I got off easy.
Q: Is there something you wouldn’t do on film, that’s off limits?
Lundgren: Like killing kids? It depends on the script and how clever the story is. I suppose there would be some limit. Henry Fonda got a script from Sergio Leone for “Once Upon a Time in the West.” He cast him to play the bad guy and it starts with him killing his family. They wondered why he cast Henry Fonda. But then, Leone explained to Fonda how he would shoot the scene, and after five minutes (Fonda) said he’d do it because he realized the guy was a genius. It didn’t matter (that his character) killed the family because it’s such a beautiful scene how they shot it. He realized the guy was an artist so it didn’t matter (how horrific the scene was).
Q: You shot this one in Baton Rouge. Where do you think you’d like to take it next?
Lundgren: A Bollywood musical? (He chuckles.)
Q: Stallone has made the announcement that Nic Cage will be coming in for “Expendables 3.”
Lundgren: I almost forgot about that. (He chuckles.)
Q: Are you coming back for that sequel and what can Nic bring to the franchise?
Lundgren: I don’t know if I’m back. I haven’t seen a script but Cage is, of course, a great actor and he will balance the cast, I’m sure. He was supposed to be in “Expendables 2.” But I guess it didn’t work out. He could play some more verbally driven character to balance all the guys that run around grunting and killing people, like me. (He laughs.)
Q: What are you developing through your production company? Are you going to make movies like this or are we going to see you as a French teacher?
Lundgren: Chemical engineering teacher is what I had in mind. (Note: Lundgren holds a master’s degree in chemical engineering from the University of Sydney in Australia) A priest? A psychiatrist? No, really, I’m interested in smaller movies if I was going to direct something that isn’t action or maybe has some action. I’d like to do something different from what I’ve done as an actor. I’m looking at doing something in Europe that’s more of a period piece, and there’s a small movie set in L.A. that’s about something else. It’s not about guys driving tanks and killing each other. I’ve directed some movies just to get some experience with scripts that were sent to me or things that I didn’t feel totally passionate about, but I learned from them. So I want to find something that I really feel for before I direct anything else.
Q: So you haven’t heard anything about “Expendables 3” yet?
Lundgren: No. I don’t know what’s going on. I haven’t heard anything.
Q: Sylvester Stallone probably won’t get you the script until two weeks beforehand.
Lundgren: He’ll probably get me cheap again too.