Beyond Body and Mind

Reflections of a movie muscleman

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Actor Dolph Lundgren has appeared in 14 major feature films. Born and raised in Stockholm, Sweden, he entered the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1983 on a Fulbright Scholarship and then decided to become an actor. His breakthrough role came in 1985, when he played Sylvester Stallone's Russian opponent, Ivan Drago, in Rocky IV. More recently he has appeared in Universal Soldier, co-starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, and Johnny Mnemonic, with Keanu Reeves. He is pursuing a third-degree black belt in karate. Here he discusses with writer Michael Schulze what he's learned about the mind-body connection.

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.