Greetings all and Happy Holidays. I’ve got an early gift for you and that is a chat with the Siberian Express, Mr. Ivan Drago himself: Dolph Lundgren. Obviously I leapt at the opportunity to speak with this accomplished actor, who has appeared in several of my favorite films. My top pick, of which I was unable to explore with him as we ran out of time, is JOHNNY MNEMONIC, wherein he played the Street Preacher, a cybernetically enhanced mercenary with a particular schtick. Of course, many will remember him from Cannon film’s poorly-regarded MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE film. Maligned though it is, it holds a special place in my collection and I genuinely enjoy rewatching the film every few years. (The secret is not to view it as a He-Man film but just enjoy the 80s-ness of it and Frank Langella’s excellent work as Skeletor.)
After bursting onto the scene in 1985 in 007’s A VIEW TO A KILL, Lundgren quickly became a rising star in the heyday of Hollywood’s obsession with muscles, landing huge flagpole franchise roles long before they could be properly executed. (I’m looking at you, 1989’s THE PUNISHER, though it is also a guilty pleasure of mine.). As his star waned, he kept busy with small projects and expanded his arsenal of skills behind the camera. When his stock rose again, as is the customary cyclical Hollywood nature, he started popping up everywhere. Today, everything’s coming up Dolph,as he finishes filming on a few big-budget titles and today releases a film he directed starring Scott Adkins, CASTLE FALLS. Check out the trailer:
The synopsis reads: After decades of neglect, Castle Heights Hospital, this symbol of the city's segregated past has been packed with dynamite and is ready to be demolished. No one knows that a gang leader, now in prison, hid the 3 million dollars in cash he stole from his rivals inside the abandoned building. Now, three desperate parties want the money - a blue collared ex-fighter (Adkins) who finds it while working as part of the demolition crew, a prison guard (Lundgren) willing to do anything to pay for his daughter's cancer treatment and a ruthless gang who claim to be the rightful owners. The demolition charges are set, everyone clears out and the Castle is set to fall in 90 minutes. The clock is ticking. Who will find the cash and: will they get out alive?
When I noted that the film clocked in at 90 minutes I imagined that it’d be shot in real time, but alas that was not the case. To the film’s benefit, though, as it allows the viewer to meet the central characters outside of the ticking premise and blossom as realized individuals. CASTLE FALLS works in a way that many smaller budget action films don’t due largely to Lundgren’s direction, both for the action sequences and for his work on the script’s character development. Adkins brings a moody humility to his character, and Lundgren’s ability to let the drama breathe between the action beats elevates this picture above its peers. It has similar features one would expect from a direct-to-streaming feature, such as one central set piece, disposable villains, and a dimestore score, but the choreography of the fighting as well as some impressive acting from the three leads saves the film from being just another derivative in the dollar bin. Adkins and Lundgren are excellent fighters,and although it seems hokey at first that every individual they cross paths with is seemingly an MMA champion, it is explained briefly after the fact.
I was excited to talk to the 6-foot-6 giant with an intellect to match on a Saturday morning in the middle of November about this new feature and some of his other upcoming projects.
Dolph Lundgren: Hey, good morning.
Eric McClanahan: How are you today?
DL: I’m good. I’m in London working, so it’s 5pm here.
EM: Oh, okay. It’s afternoon here, too. I’m in New York. So let’s get right into it: CASTLE FALLS is a new action film that you directed. I’m sure there’s no shortage of projects coming across your desk these days, so why CASTLE FALLS and why as director?
DL: Well originally Scott Adkins and I were supposed to be in another movie but it fell through. I was looking for a two-hander and this script came across my desk and it had two characters but Ericsson, the guard, was kind of a bad guy and there were some other problems with it; it was too big-budget for the money we could raise, so I had to rework the script. We worked on that for six months and Scott was in and I always wanted to direct something to see how it felt. You know, I’d directed movies like, I guess the last one was about twelve years ago, and I thought this one was good as it was a smaller budget, was kind of contained and had some action, which always makes it easier to get financed, but it also had a bit of drama, so I saw it as kind of a test. And that’s the reason I did it.
EM: Right. I noted some great dramatic work from you early on in the film when Richard is dealing with the enormity of Emily’s illness and the adversity before him. I know you’d mentioned wanting to do more dramatic work. Was that one of the draws of this character?
DL: Thank you. Yeah, I kind of designed it that way. I wanted to give it something that’s kind of raw and brutal so that you realize where the guy’s coming from. To have him working in law enforcement and then have to break the law to save his kid is kind of interesting. High stakes, for sure. I was lucky a couple of years ago to get the role in AQUAMAN playing a King [Nereus]; that was more of a political figure. Then in CREED II I was back as Ivan Drago but it was a lot more drama; I didn’t have to fight in the scenes. You’re right: I was trying to carry that onward. It’s a challenge, the dramatic work.
EM: Now, you get top billing on this film, as is expected, but it really is a Scott Adkins film. Tell me about working with him.
DL: Well, I think Scott should get top billing. I gave him top billing because he’s the lead. I’ve done a bunch of movies with him, you know: one EXPENDABLES and a couple of UNIVERSAL SOLDIERS, but I’d never really “worked” with him. Like I didn’t know him that well. I knew he was a nice guy and a good fighter, and on this film I got to know him a little better because I got to speak to him about his character and try to find the subtext for him to play; something that he can relate to that would be interesting for him to try as an actor. And luckily enough he’s a very good choreographer and fighter, so we helped with the bulk of the fights. We had a choreographer in Europe but he couldn’t come to America because of Covid so Scott was very helpful with that and editing the fights, so we had a great time together collaborating. Hopefully we can do some other films together, as well.
EM: This film is about ordinary men in desperate circumstances and your character is shown to be morally dubious in this face of his adversity. Was that a conscious choice to showcase that side of humanity?
DL: Yeah, I think it asks “What are people willing to do for money out of desperation?” You have three different characters looking for this money: one is doing it because he’s desperate, sleeps in his car, has no job; you have another one whose daughter is sick, he’s desperate; then you’ve got a guy who’s a criminal and is doing it for power and to impress his girlfriend. I think the human qualities are all there. I was trying to not have anyone playing a stock character; I wanted all the actors to play a character that feels like a real person, here’s my backstory, here’s where I’m coming from, here’s what happened to me, the situation that I’m in, I have to accomplish x/y/z and these are the obstacles. I had time due to the Covid shutdown; I had seven months, so I used that time to talk to them so when they showed up on set they were excited to portray these characters because of my preparation. That was part of the delight of being a director for me was to see that happening and the effort.
EM: You’ve stated in previous interviews that you intended to keep your daughters out of showbusiness and to focus on academics. What happened there?
DL: [laughs] Well, did I say that? Okay. Well, they’re of an age. Ida, who is in this movie, and was in COMMAND PERFORMANCE, a film I directed several years ago when she was a kid and wanted to do it. My other daughter is in photography. It’s not that I intended to force them not to go into showbusiness but I told them, and they’ve seen, the other side of it. They’ve seen how much I’ve been away from the family, the stress on me. I went through a rough period during the divorce, drinking too much, you know, kind of in bad shape and they’ve seen all that stuff and I wanted to tell them this business is not for everybody. You can try it but there are a lot of other good jobs out there, too.
EM: Your name was in the news this weekend thanks to the re-release of ROCKY IV and Stallone’s recollection of your almost killing him on the set in the ring. What’s your take on that?
DL: First of all, I’m pleased that he spent a year working on that. Sly knows how to promote those Rocky movies. But, look, ROCKY IV isn’t a dated picture; it kind of holds up. There’s something modern in the style of the way it was shot. Even the topic of the Soviet Union and America, I think it’s a movie that holds up anyway and now he’s modernized it, which is stimulating to see. I haven’t seen it yet, ‘cause I’m in London working. But, yeah, we both got hit in that fight and - I got hit, he got hit, but I’d never heard he got hurt. They just told me “Hey, you’ve got two weeks off” and I thought “Great!” “Oh, Sly’s in the hospital.” I thought “Oh shit.” I know he did get hit, and I was a pretty big guy back in those days and maybe it was the ribs. I don’t know. Hopefully it’s not a publicity stunt. I hear it was his heart or some heart/muscle problem. But, it’s a good story, anyway. I think the point is it helps people get excited about this fight. It’s a hype game. And Sly is a hype machine. Hype.
EM: Well, I’m being told we have time for one more question so where are we at on THE EXPENDABLES 4?
DL: Well, I did a week here in London on AQUAMAN 2 then I’m going back to do EXPENDABLES here and then in Greece. It’s basically same old: it’s big guns, big muscles, and vehicles; kick ass all the way through it. Bunch of new people; 50 Cent is in it, Megan Fox, Andy Garcia. Statham’s back, and me and Sly. I think it’s an interesting project. I think it’s a crapshoot, those movies. You never know. But I think it’ll do well ‘cause it has a good cast and certainly a shit-ton of action.
EM: That’s what we want. Well, I thank you so much for your time and best of luck with CASTLE FALLS and everything else that you’re working on.
DL: Thank you. I appreciate it.
Shout! Studios releases CASTLE FALLS in theaters and on Demand and Digital today, December 3, 2021.
Until next time, have a wonderful winter!
-McEric, aka Eric McClanahan-