Behind the scenes on Creed 2 with Dolph Lundgren, director Steven Caple Jr, and Florian Munteanu
Behind the scenes on Creed 2 with Dolph Lundgren, director Steven Caple Jr, and Florian Munteanu

Ivan Drago’s surprise return

Ever since Dolph Lundgren punched his way to fame as Russian boxing behemoth Ivan Drago in Rocky IV more than 30 years ago, random strangers have been bailing him up to inform him "I must break you".

"Yes it's that one," confirms Lundgren of the line that has followed him around most in a career of more than 40 films including Masters Of the Universe, The Punisher, Universal Soldier and The Expendables.

"Or it's 'if he dies, he dies'. And then you have the odd Masters fan who wants to say 'good journey' or whatever it is - but mostly Rocky IV is the one that stands out for sure."

As to why Drago, an enormous, emotionless, doped-up fighting machine born of the Soviet Union's quest for sporting dominance and a burning desire to take down Stallone's all-American pugilist Rocky Balboa, still strikes a chord 33 years after Rocky IV, Lundgren isn't too sure himself.

"That's a good question," he says.

"There's something about my looks at the time and the Soviet Union being such a big, dangerous foe to the West. The way the film was shot and the close-ups of me and the fact that I was such a bad-ass who killed Apollo and at the same time a striking looking kind of guy. That combination I think was pretty powerful."

 

Swedish-born Lundgren is bringing back Drago in Creed 2, the eighth movie in Sylvester Stallone's much loved boxing franchise and admits he never thought he'd again play the brutal battering ram the Rocky fans loved to hate for killing Apollo Creed in the ring.

In fact, when Stallone first approached him about reprising the character in a story that would see Ivan's son Viktor challenging Apollo's son, the newly minted boxing champ Adonis (once again played by Black Panther's Michael B. Jordan), Lundgren was wary.

Dolph Lundgren, left as Ivan Drago, and Florian Munteanu as his son Viktor in a scene from Creed II.
Dolph Lundgren, left as Ivan Drago, and Florian Munteanu as his son Viktor in a scene from Creed II.

 

Before he read the script, he envisaged the part would be a generic Russian villain and was pleasantly surprised to find a genuinely moving tale of revenge and redemption that not only humanised Drago but that he could bring his own life experiences to.

"I realised this is a great opportunity for me to resurrect this guy in a way that maybe should have been done from the beginning, where you saw both sides of him," says Lundgren.

"I thought I could put whatever pain and problems I have had in my life into him, and especially with a young, talented director who wants to make people look at this guy in a different way."

In Creed 2, Drago uses his son as a blunt instrument to right all the wrongs meted out to him following his defeat at that hands of Balboa in the Rocky IV finale. Lundgren says he drew on his own experiences of having a violent father who beat him and belittled him, but also instilled in him the drive and toughness that turned him into a martial arts champion and movie star. But the baggage stayed with him - Lundgren admits to drinking heavily and suffering emotional trauma, particularly during the years in which his career was in a downward spiral - and it is only comparatively recently that he has learned to forgive and find some measure of peace.

 

Dolph Lundgren as Ivan Drago in a scene from film Rocky IV.
Dolph Lundgren as Ivan Drago in a scene from film Rocky IV.

"I used some of that for this character as well and I got to play his part and I got to be (my father) for some of the scenes," he says.

"But on a different level, because of doing therapy and meditating and the other things I have done in the past ten years I have gotten over that trauma that kind of ran my life before - drinking too much, being very physical to myself with lots of crazy sports and dangerous stunts and fights in movies and in the dojo. That's disappeared and it kind of opened me up more emotionally and I don't mind showing that part off."

Lundgren knows he owes a lot to Stallone - he was contemplating a career in chemical engineering and only had a brief appearance in then-girlfriend Grace Jones' Bond film, A View To a Kill, under his belt when Rocky IV came along "and made me into a household name almost overnight".

But 20 years after that, when he was in the firmly stuck in a straight-to-DVD movie career wasteland, it was Stallone who threw him a lifeline again.

"He came back when my career was failing and he has this other script called The Expendables where on page 7 there was a big, drunk Swede with a knife," Lundgren says with a laugh of the all-star action hit that spawned two sequels, with another due next year. "And I'm like 'OK, I've got it'. And now, there's this other story ten years later about an ageing Ivan Drago. Look, we have had some run-ins as well, it hasn't all been positive but it's been 95 per cent positive and sure as hell he has been a big force in my life. He's very inspiring and he's a legend."

 

Dolph Lundgren, left, and Sylvester Stallone in a scene from Creed II.
Dolph Lundgren, left, and Sylvester Stallone in a scene from Creed II.

Lundgren's ties to Australia go deep. Not only did he earn his Master's degree from Sydney University, he was at one point the Australian karate champion and has filmed several movies here too. He was back on Queensland's Gold Coast last year filming the role of King Nereus in the DC superhero blockbuster Aquaman, which opens on Boxing Day.

"It was beautiful," Lundgren says of the shoot.

"I think it was seriously the best location I have even been at. Just the standard of living, the beauty of the place, the Aussies of course. I didn't meet one person I didn't like, and my girlfriend said the same thing, in all the months we were there. The movie, I haven't seen much of it at all but I hear it's a huge picture and I play a father there as well, the father of this character played by Amber Heard. So I am worried about her safety in that picture - and I have two daughters so I could use some of that. It was great to be back in Australia - I have friends there and I met some of them from the old days."

Creed 2 opens on Thursday.