Beyond Body and Mind

Reflections of a movie muscleman

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Rocky IVUniversal SoldierJohnny Mnemonic

Michael Schulze: When did you grow interested in developing your body?

Dolph Lundgren: I became fascinated with martial arts when I was about 15, in the mid-70s. I was a bit of a loner when I was younger, and I had a lot of allergies, so I didn't do sports very much. And then I learned about martial arts, which not many people in Sweden practiced at the time. It was an exotic thing, and I guess it gave me an identity, a way to get aggression out. I had a lot of aggression in my body.

Then, when I began studying acting and went for the role in Rocky IV, I met Sylvester Stallone, and he wanted me to put on some weight, get more muscular. So I started lifting weights. But lately I've gone back to doing more sports and less bodybuilding. I've found that getting too fixated on your body and the way it looks can be very stifling for an actor. Stifling in real life, too.

MS: When I watch a modern action film, there's a cartoonish element to the heroes' bodies that makes me feel that I'm looking not at a real human body at all but at a technology, a machine.

DL: That's right. We live in a time when nearly everything can be summed up in ones and zeroes, right? And that produces a certain amount of despair. People feel that their lives are going to be lived in front of a computer, pushing buttons . . . and that's why you see these guys working in a marketing office, working the phone all day, and they look like javelin throwers! You wouldn't expect that.

MS: So it's a control thing. Just as control is one of the primary themes in an action movie.

DL: Of course. And the tension and release produced by an action movie satisfy a deep urge in the human body. The kind of violence associated with hunting--and being hunted--was absolutely normal until about two hundred years ago. So the 'control issue' is more than an issue; it's a matter of genetic programming. I think that action movies probably fill some sort of void in our emotional makeup.

MS: What are your feelings about the relationships between the body and the mind? The body and the soul?

DL: I'm not really sure, but when I watch a great athletic feat, like a basketball player soaring through the air, doing something seemingly impossible with his body, or a sprinter crossing the finish line, I'm speechless. At that moment, there's something about the body that's so primal, so pure. Godlike. The body is in a place beyond the mind, above it.

MS: So if you pay attention to it, your body can become a tool for self-transcendence, for raising yourself up.

DL: Definitely. In martial arts, for example, when you're training extremely hard, when you're fighting and it's the last 30 seconds and you're totally finished and you know you have to get it together and find that source of energy . . . sometimes you enter into a place beyond words, beyond comprehension. The body just takes over. I'm amazed by that. It humbles you. Reminds you how little you actually control things.

And then, of course, the biological process itself lends a certain urgency to life. I mean the experience of being injured, of healing, of aging, without your 'participation,' as it were. It's astonishing, a miracle. It keeps you connected within life and death, and it reminds you that the body isn't going to last forever, that it's going to give up. Which gives life a precious quality. You don't want to waste it.

MS: There are some people who would argue that the very fact of aging and death is reason for not focusing on the body, for living a life of the mind alone. But you seem to be saying that, in a paradoxical way, the body provides a way to get beyond both body and mind.

DL: Exactly. Because what happens is, you get in touch with nature. This happens in acting too . . . the moment when you go beyond intellectual 'understanding' and follow an impulse. And all your good impulses come from the body, from your soul, not from your brain.

As both an actor and an athlete, you try to condition yourself to accept certain circumstances, certain premises. and then you let go. You're in the moment. There's a Zenlike quality to this, when time disappears and you're suspended in the moment and your mind is absolutely blank. It's like what they say in martial arts: 'The moonlight is reflected in black water . . . the slightest ripple affects everything.' Once you've been to this place of stillness and feel in your soul how everything is connected to everything else, well, you want to go back and have that feeling again. You can't stay away from it.

From Soho Journal (1995-96). Single copies: $25 from Soho Partnership, 114 Greene St., New York, NY 10012.