With ‘Creed II’ in the cinemas, RSNG caught up with this screen legend to find out how he’s still training at 61, why strength has developed into a psychological game, what brought him back to the story of Ivan Drago, and how meditation helped him come back from a dark place…
RSNG What defined your approach to playing an older Ivan Drago and did the results surprise you?
DOLPH LUNDGREN, ACTOR ‘I got a text from Stallone about a two years ago, and he said, “Would you mind considering playing this character again? I got this idea.” It was a short text and it said: SINS OF OUR FATHERS. And I thought: This is interesting.’
‘As it came from him, I was very interested in it and I never thought that I would play the character again, of course. I thought he was going to live in the past wearing those Soviet trunks, back 33 years ago. But yeah, I got excited about it and I think that excitement grew as it got closer, especially after I met Steven Caple Jnr, the director, and read his draft of the script.’
‘In terms of playing an older character, well, that natural evolution is something we live with every day of our lives. We don’t notice the ageing process in ourselves. On film it is a bit more dramatic but Ivan is no longer the central character, and such as is true to life, the focus begins to shift onto others in these circumstances… in every circumstance. Accept that in your mind and you can move forward without fear.’
‘It’s tough to beat films like Rocky 4 – how do you beat that training montage?’
RSNG So it felt natural?
DL ‘Sure. It felt like a good sequel to the story, if you want to call it that. Our future generations will redefine what we do in every aspect of life, and this is no different. Let it happen!’
RSNG How did it feel to return to the character that made you famous?
DL ‘It felt nice and relaxed to be on the other side of the ropes and the training! I felt a little sorry for Florian [Munteanu, who plays Drago’s son, Viktor] actually for most of it because they pushed him a lot and I know what it’s like to do it on film. You get this adrenaline charge where you keep going forever. Towards the end he was so tired – he was going running on fumes.’
‘I was impressed by all of the stuff he did, and I remember doing my training montage where Stallone was pushing me. It’s tough to beat films like Rocky 4 – how do you beat that training montage? But I think these guys did.’
RSNG Was Rocky 4 the toughest for you?
DL ‘Yes, the absolute toughest. We had never done more than that. In a way it was too much and I wouldn’t want to go back to that.’
‘All of it comes from having the right mentality, the right psychology – without that, you have nothing’
RSNG How tough was the training you set yourself for the role?
DL ‘Well, I was thinking that if I could match Florian in something it was enough for me. This guy has, what, 30 years on me? I am still keeping up but perhaps not for too much longer. There is a definitely mentality behind strength these days and it is on another level from when myself and Sly Stallone were doing our thing.’
‘That is not to say we will ever stop, but people look on strength and the psychology behind fitness and power in a completely different way to how they did 30 years ago, and I think these new guys coming through have the advantage of reaching new heights. But all of that comes from having the right mentality, the right psychology. Without that, you have nothing.’
RSNG Can you describe a typical training week?
DL ‘Well I’ve dropped off weightlifting now – I would rather focus on bench presses, bicep curls. I will switch between chest one day, shoulders the next, leg strength… so by doing this I am really putting that part of my body through its paces, but then giving it almost complete rest for one or two days afterwards.’
‘My typical week rotates through that – not so much combat. I am very much in the head space now of maintaining physique, not building it further. I won’t do more than three days in the gym in a row – I’ll go outside… walk, hike, climb, run, swim perhaps. No regimentation – it kills creativity.’
‘It is the ego that gets people injured… every time’
RSNG What nutrition hacks do you use to fuel your training and recovery, and how do you avoid injury?
DL ‘I prefer to stay quite basic. I’ve said it a lot but people love to lift with their ego and I no longer lift the biggest or heaviest weights that I can. I’m 61-years-old! It is the ego that gets people injured… every time. Nutrition is nothing special – fish, chicken, protein, vitamins, vegetables. And some mint tea before bed, of course!’
**RSNG How do you maintain the motivation to train?
DOLPH: ‘Like most people it doesn’t become a choice. I hate myself for not training – I hate the feeling. So I get to the point very quickly when training is a necessity, not a choice.’
‘There are certain things I will do to ensure I am in the right space to be able to train – so some of that is being organised and making time; another part of that is making sure I am mentally prepared to give it everything I have when I train, otherwise what is the point? I achieve that by being organised, by meditation, by having everything around me that I need.’
‘I wouldn’t be the same person now if I didn’t meditate – it’s cleansing for the mind’
RSNG How specifically does meditation help your mindset?
DL ‘Clear space, to focus on anything. To focus on removing obstacles that might be gathering in mind, to focus on a project; perhaps just to prepare myself for a workout the next day. I don’t like people making excuses – there should be no excuses when it comes to getting the job done, but I do totally understand it when people struggle to start; and that’s what meditation gives me, often – the clarity to start.’
‘When I first got into meditation I wasn’t quite sure, but now I couldn’t imagine going a day without it. I wouldn’t be the same person now if I didn’t meditate. It’s cleansing for the mind, it really is.’
RSNG Would you say you’ve had to overcome some mental demons along the way to where you are now?
DL ‘Well, I had a pretty difficult period leading up to my comeback in the mainstream movies with The Expendables. My father passed away in 2000 and although we had a pretty difficult relationship when I was growing up, I stayed with him when he was very ill.’
‘My partner, Jenny, made sure I went to therapy and that’s where I really felt some of the meditation having its effect. I felt like quitting the movie industry every day, before that, and I took a step back from it to make sure that I sorted my own life out for real, instead of playing characters who were troubled in films.’
‘I have Jenny to thank for helping me turn myself around, and then Sly invited me onto The Expendables set for a part and that was that.’
RSNG What’s the biggest lesson you learnt through that process?
DL ‘It is interesting – a lot of the time I talk about mental strength, but to give advice you have to take your own advice, and that is more difficult than it seems, sometimes. Finally I realised I needed to stop talking and to start listening – to myself – and from that day everything got easier.’
WHAT NEXT? Watch the trailer for Creed II out now in cinemas.
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