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Visiting Dolph Lundgren on the set oof

by Jérémie Damoiseau


“Rolling, and Action!” - Dolph storms into the room, stealing the show. His character had been off-screen for a while after we encountered him in the first part of the picture and is now making a comeback into the story with a somewhat theatrical and twisted monologue. Sly is very particular about the phrasing, he will say the lines the way he wants it or point the gun a certain way. The fact is there's nothing monotone about Dolph's monologue, which goes back and forth between humorous sarcasm, and a threatening, tough, bad-ass attitude. It's nice to see Sly direct Dolph, talking him through the beats and watching the playback together, working hard and yet still cracking up and joking around. The two men go way back now and have remained good friends for 25 years, but both also seem to keep a mutual sense of respect towards each other. Dolph for instance, knows how to keep his distances towards Sly as he's working as a director.

Sly. There's definitely a certain aura coming from him. He is the man that everybody looks up to and makes a way for when he walks through. He's the general on his set and you don't wanna mess with him or interrupt him if not necessary, but you trust and respect him. Of course he keeps it together throughout the shoot and his focus and dedication are impressive. If you work with him you have to follow, keep up the pace and get the job done or else you can forget about it. But once you go with it he will take you with him and push you to keep it moving and you'll go a long way.

Needless to say, it's hot and humid in New Orleans. And on the set, the only place cool is the green room, where talent can hang out and chill in between set ups. Dolph is joking around with his stunt double (not required for this scene but yet on stand by) about their respective fights in competitions. Dolph laughs about a boxing exhibition fight he did a couple of years ago in Moscow. He had just flown in from America at the last minute (posting Missionary Man), had no time to train and was 11 hours jet-lagged. And he was stunned because the Russians made it an over the top show, making him wear this Soviet Union outfit like Ivan Drago, making him make an entrance through the crowd like in Rocky IV! Then came Randy Couture and Gary Daniels into the conversation and jokes. You can tell the guys have become pretty tight, and being all real fighters they genuinely respect each other.

Meanwhile the second unit is also lining up a quick shot of Terry Crews hiding in the palace from soldiers. Nothing elaborate, the camera on a plate, outside lights. Sly is called to check out the set up and consult with the stunt-coordinator/second unit director. Then it's up to shoot medium and close up shots of the Dolph scene. Once they finish the scene it's a wrap for Gary Daniels and Steve Austin (for the entire shoot).

After lunch/diner (it's 3am!), Dolph is done for the day, but he offers to take me to the other set, where they've been shooting the final showdown. A twenty minute drive from camp. It's an entirely built set, next to a warehouse. They have been prepping for some big time explosions and some coverage to get for the day. This set gives us a better sense of the scale of the production, although most of it has already been destroyed by the mayhem that concludes the film. It is a huge military camp surrounding a palace (which some of will be completed through CGI and therefore stands huge blue screen on top of it. In the middle stands a statue (of the dictator) likely to be blown up tonight. Dolph is all proud and quite animated, as he shows me around. He takes me inside the warehouse where they had shot the opening action scene set on the deck of a pirate ship (as of now only a reddish deck remains). There's also the Expendables sea plane at rest. While we're watching the crew working on the set, Dolph took out his director's hat and switched back to being a normal visitor. He doesn't show off in any way, as if he felt like a small player within a big Hollywood production with other big names involved and lots of money at stake. He's probably as much happy and excited to be part of this, as he is also just happy to make and direct his own little projects (as he calls them). That is why he's actually talking to a production company to direct his next film Wanted Man in Mexico and produce it himself. As he says with a big exasperated laugh “Love this business!”. When we leave the set it's about 5am and we're taken back to the hotel by a New Orleans driver, a real movie character!

Next day - Dolph is not filming, but it's never totally a day off! We're to meet up and talk after he's worked out and taken care of his daily business. Even while filming The Expendables, Dolph is also supervising the editing and post-production of his “neo-noir” thriller Icarus. He's about to deliver his director's cut to the producers and seems anxious about the executive’s possible notes and additional edits before locking the picture (before moving on to scoring, finalizing visual effects and sound editing). Shot on HD in merely 18 days on a tight budget (needless to say the Icarus shoot was fast paced, tense and excruciating), Icarus is a project Dolph has had on the back burner for a while under various forms (the original pitch which had him as a plain bad guy assassin chased by a cop was refused by the producers) and has been delayed several times (notably because of the filming of the Universal Soldier new sequel). The teaser trailer suggested the result might be interesting, a multifaceted role for Dolph, the film a cross between Jean-Pierre Melville and Johnnie To.

Dolph shows me the first 20-25 mins and I must say it looks very promising, maybe even probably unique in that he has never done something like it as an actor or a director. Not only in the look of it, but in terms of directing, editing and storytelling. It's not as straight forward as the teaser let it seem, it's not as simplistic as "loving father and husband is called to be a hitman once again and protect his family". It has temp music and sound and the edit can still be altered before the final cut, but it shows something bold coming from Dolph. Even his character is a bit different and multi-layered, with a cold sense of humor, and living the American way of life in a cynical way. The best part about watching it with Dolph himself is the candidness with which he is laughing about his own work throughout the scenes, as if he was almost embarrassed to be involved in such silly business (that is filmmaking)...