Hans Dolph Lundgren was born and raised in an academic middle-class family in Stockholm, Sweden. Despite an early interest in rock n' roll drumming and clowning around in high school comedies, Dolph decided to follow in his father's more cerebral footsteps and pursue an engineering degree. Dolph went through some hard times during his teenage years when Dolph's father, his precious career losing steam -- started taking out his frustration on his wife and oldest son. Both verbally and more so: physically.
Dolph feels that the physical abuse he suffered at the hands of his father later motivated him to pursue both contact sports and the dramatic arts. 'I still love my father, no matter what happened. There are many things about him I still admire. As a child, I was probably too much like him, very stubborn -- perhaps that's what he couldn't deal with', Dolph says. After having served in the Swedish Marine Corps for two years, Lundgren enrolled in the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, studying the same subject as his older brother: Chemical Engineering. Dolph was still trying to prove something to his dad.
It was as a late teenager that Dolph first came in contact with the martial arts. An insecure and allergic younger child, Dolph enjoyed this opportunity to work out and getting stronger, proving that he could stand up to other athletic kids. 'I wanted to feel that I was somebody who could accomplish something on my own -- that I wasn't a loser like my dad used to tell me during his tirades', Dolph says. 'It is a known fact that boys with a troubled father-son relationship are drawn to physically challenging contact sports, like boxing, wrestling and karate. That was definitely me.'
After spending five years training harder than anybody else in the dojo, Dolph Lundgren was a world-class competitor in Japanese full-contact karate. He was also getting deeper involved with a samurai philosophy of life that since has become an important part of his persona – both on and off-screen.
After graduating high school a straight-A student, Dolph spent considerable time in the United States on various academic scholarships. He attended both Washington State University and Clemson University, studying Chemistry. 'My dad always told me that if I wanted to make something special with my life, I had to go to America', Dolph remembers. 'He said that in Europe, a man was usually stuck in his social position and didn't have the opportunity to advance. He was right.'
In the early eighties, Dolph graduated from The Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm and completed his Master's Degree in Chemical Engineering on an exchange program with the University of Sydney in Australia. Graduating at the head of his class, Dolph was then awarded a Fulbright scholarship to the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston, one of the world's top engineering schools. He was finally on his way to America.
A Fulbright scholar Dolph could now finally consider himself a 'success' with a bright future, perhaps as the CEO of some large corporation -- but somehow the academic world could not make him fully satisfied. He was soon to stumble on a profession that would. In the words of writer David Mamet: 'Nobody with a happy childhood ever went into show business...'
While preparing to move to Boston, the 25-year old PhD student met his definite physical match: exotic singer Grace Jones. The blonde Swede and the dark beauty fell in love and he decided to move in with her in New York City. Dolph took up modeling at the famous Zoli Agency to make some extra cash. 'A bit too tall and muscular for a model's size 40', Dolph also started working as a doorman at 'The Limelight', an infamous nightspot in Manhattan where one of his fellow 'bouncers' was Chazz Palmitieri – soon to find his own fame in Hollywood… Dolph was to begin at MIT a few months later. A friend's gave him some advice: 'Hey man, you sure look like you should be in the movies...and you can kick ass'. Dolph listened and started studying drama at the Warren Robertson Theatre Workshop in Manhattan, not knowing how quickly his life was about to change. 'My time in New York City opened up my adolescent Swedish eyes to a multitude of different people and lifestyles, mostly in the arts. I hung out with Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, Iman and Steve Rubell, danced at Studio 54 and studied acting with Andy McDowell and Tom Hulce.' Mostly based on his Scandinavian looks, within a year Dolph had received numerous film offers. His motion picture debut came in the James Bond feature A VIEW TO A KILL in 1985. 'I'm on screen for no more than ten seconds, if you blink you miss me...'. However, it was Dolph's memorable performance in ROCKY IV later that year that definitely got him noticed worldwide. After a nine- month audition process among 5,000 hopefuls, Dolph was chosen by writer-director Sylvester Stallone to be his fearsome Soviet opponent in the ring, Captain Ivan Drago.
Getting ready for the ROCKY IV Premiere, a still innocent twenty-something Lundgren moved to Los Angeles. 'I walked in to a Westwood movie theater as Grace Jones' boyfriend and walked out ninety minutes later as the movie star Dolph Lundgren. I was shell-shocked for years from the mind-boggling and daunting experience of being a student-athlete from tiny Sweden suddenly having to live up a new action-star persona', he remembers.
Despite many hardships, including breaking up with Grace, Dolph dug in and managed to build a solid career as an international action-hero and has since starred in more than thirty-five feature films. 'I was certainly thrown it at the deep end. Sometimes I feel it would have been better working as a waiter for a few years doing bit part and getting my feet wet at a more human pace', Dolph ponders. That wasn't in the stars for the big Swede. In the eighties and nineties, Lundgren played the classic action lead in such films as MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE, SHOWDOWN IN LITTLE TOKYO co-starring the late Brandon Lee and BLACKJACK by Hong-Kong action legend John Woo. In the 90's Lundgren also turned in some memorable performances as the main villain to other action stars, most notably in UNIVERSAL SOLDIER opposite Jean Claude Van Damme, directed by Roland Emmerich and "JOHNNY MNEMONIC opposite a young Keanu Reeves.
Throughout the years, Dolph has always stayed close to the martial arts: 'Karate and physical fitness have kept me reasonably sane in a very tough and sometimes insane business'. In 1997, after a three hours grueling technical examination and twenty consecutive full-contact karate bouts without rest, Dolph was awarded his Third Degree black belt by the World Karate Organization in Tokyo. 'My instructor told me to hire a video-crew and film it because, as he put it: you'll never do this again! Watching the footage years later I understand what he meant...' Dolph's previous martial arts accomplishments include being the captain of the Swedish National Karate Team and the individual champion of the Swedish, European and Australian Heavyweight Full Contact Divisions. 'Having said all that, I'm currently training hard to take my Fourth Degree examination and perform a Karate exhibition at the World Karate Championships in 2011. I tell you, it's not getting any easier….', Dolph confesses.
In addition to his Karate expertise, Dolph was selected by the U.S. Olympic Committee to serve as the Team Leader of the U.S. Olympic Pentathlon Team during the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games. 'I starred in a film called PENTATHLON and worked closely with two US Olympic team members who really got me interested in the sport. I later got involved in trying to raise the sport's profile and to prevent one of the original disciplines from year 1896 to be dropped from the games all together'.
Both Sweden and the United States have a colorful history in Pentathlon with a young Lieutenant George Patton placing fifth in the 1912 Stockholm Games. Dolph sums up his Olympic experience: 'Entering the Atlanta Stadium at night -- next to my fellow US team members and ten thousand other athletes was one of the proudest and most humbling experiences of my life'.
While staying extremely busy in Hollywood, Dolph has also managed to raise a family. Dolph and his wife Anette, who he met in New York and to whom he's been married for fifteen years have two daughters, Ida (14) and Greta (8). The Lundgren family has lived in places as diverse as Los Angeles, New York, London and now recently in Marbella, Spain where Dolph's kids attend a British International school. 'We've decided to live away from Hollywood even if it may have had some negative influences on Dolph's career. Giving our children a more normal upbringing is much more important to us', his wife Anette says.
Anette is the person who gave Dolph the support to finally move behind the camera and become a director six years ago. Dolph was working on the screenplay with the director and one of the producers of a film. A week prior to principal photography the director suddenly fell very ill. 'He recommended for me to take over the picture', Dolph remembers. 'I was a bit stunned, so I asked my wife for her opinion. 'Go ahead and do it or you'll always regret not taking the opportunity'. Dolph took her advice and 'didn't sleep for a month', but he made the right decision.
Since then, Dolph has directed five feature films. His production company Thor Pictures is currently developing several projects, which he will produce, star and direct. His two latest projects are -- a feature he co-wrote and directed, COMMAND PERFORMANCE produced by Avi Lerner and Nu Image Films – and ICARUS, a neo-noir thriller, shot in Vancouver, BC.
'It takes a while to learn the ropes as a director-- especially since I don't have any formal film school training. My experience in front of the camera does give me a certain edge in my favorite part of directing: working with the actors', Dolph says.
Dolph is also a founding member of 'Group of Eight' an off-Broadway theatre group started in 1994.
In 2009 Dolph co-starred with fellow action star Jean-Claude Van Damme in UNIVERSAL SOLDIER REGENERATION, a sequel to the film that paired the two European actors back in the 90's. This summer, Dolph will appear on the big screen in THE EXPENDABLES -- a modern day DIRTY DOZEN action extravaganza written and directed by Sylvester Stallone. ' It's been terrific to work with Sly again and he has created very colorful character for me', says Lundgren. My role isn't the biggest in the picture, but proved to be a real challenge since Sly wanted my character to be very funny. I'm gonna make you the first Swedish comedian, he said!'.
Dolph co-stars with Sly Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Lee, Mickey Rourke and Randy Couture with cameos by Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwartzenegger in a mid-August release.
Some day Dolph hopes to direct a period piece set in Sweden, 'I have a script I'm trying to get made that's one of my dream projects...', he says. 'I'd love to do something that's closer to my home country. When I appeared as a host of a Swedish TV-show early this year, the reception my countrymen gave me was fantastic. When I saw my kids who haven't spent that much time in Sweden, sitting in the audience savoring the moment -- it made me feel like all those years of struggle actually paid off!'
Dolph is generally very pleased and excited about his newfound directing career: 'As a director I feel there's a way to deliver on the expectations and still give the audience more than they bargained for on an emotional level. That's exactly what Clint Eastwood has done for years—he is one of my big role models. A man who went from television cowboy to one of the world's most respected actors and directors.'
'I'm just a bit younger than Mr. Eastwood so there's still time. As long as I keep working, learning and going to the gym...'
Shortly after ROCKY IV, Dolph Lundgren released his workout video, MAXIMUM POTENTIAL. After more than 25 years in show business, he is now finally working on his favorite project: fitness! Dolph is currently writing a fitness book for men and also developing a DVD workout series, personal training seminars, a personalized organic brand of vitamins and supplements, as well as a men's skin care product line.
For the past thirty years Dolph has stayed in great shape, both as an athlete and as an action star. 'My friends and fans have always been asking me for advice on training and nutrition, so I decided to put my own personal fitness regime down in writing', he explains. 'I guess the older I get still looking good -- the better the advertising for my products!' As Hollywood legend James Stewart once put it: It's not how good you are, it's how long you last...'
Dolph sums up his first twenty-five years in Hollywood:
'I've just tried to play my own game and treat everybody with respect. No matter who they are. That is something I'm proud of and I feel it will always pay off'.
Dolph Lundgren is married to Anette Qviberg-Lundgren, an interior decorator and fashion stylist. The couple and their two daughters currently reside in London, England and Marbella, Spain.
/DL – July, 2010