Beyond Body and Mind

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.

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.

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