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Dolph Lundgren on ‘Castle Falls,’ ‘Aquaman 2’ and Drago Spinoff Talk

The Hollywood Reporter
The Hollywood Reporter
 2021-11-29
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Dolph Lundgren has been trying to return to the director’s chair since 2010, but his work in franchises like The Expendables, Creed and Aquaman have kept him plenty busy as an actor. He finally found a window of time to direct Castle Falls in March 2020, and after half a day’s worth of filming, production was shut down for seven months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to directing and producing, Lundgren leads the indie actioner alongside renowned martial artist Scott Adkins. The two action stars play desperate men who attempt to retrieve $3 million in cash from an abandoned hospital before its imminent demolition.

Despite the obstacles he faced in resuming production seven months later, Lundgren remains optimistic that independent films like Castle Falls can survive the ongoing pandemic.

“With our little budget, which I think was $1.5 million, we spent 10 percent on Covid testing, $150,000. So if you’re doing a $100 million movie, it’s a huge cost,” Lundgren tells The Hollywood Reporter . “But as the vaccine spreads and people take it, I think human ingenuity is going to deal with this disease the way we’ve dealt with a lot of other things like smallpox, and I think it’s going to be less of a problem in the future. Independent filmmaking is still about trying to squeeze a lot of bang for the buck and being prepared as a director if you want to make a film for a low budget.”

With the recent release of Sylvester “Sly” Stallone’s director’s cut of Rocky IV [ Rocky vs. Drago ], Lundgren can’t wait to see more of the Ivan Drago performance he crafted in 1985.

“When I played the character, I did a backstory about how he was brought up by the state and they controlled him. He didn’t have much say,” Lundgren shares. “He wasn’t really an evil person; he was just a product of the system. He’s Frankenstein’s monster. He’s not Dr. Frankenstein; that was the Soviet Union. So I always played that, and some of that came across in ’85. Sly and I are friends, but now, I guess he wanted to show the other side of the character. So I’m sure I’ll enjoy it.”

When Lundgren reprised his most famous role for Stephen Caple Jr.’s Creed II , he was able to show even more of Drago’s humanity in relation to his son, Viktor (Florian Munteanu), but he remains disappointed that a fight between Rocky and Drago didn’t make the final cut. However, there might be a chance to make up for it as MGM is apparently interested in continuing the Drago story.

“I thought it was a good moment. It was also a fan moment. It was a quick little fight, and I thought it worked,” Lundgren says regarding the deleted fight. “But the director [Caple] and MGM felt that it was extraneous and that it didn’t add anything. By the way, I think there’s some talk about doing a whole spinoff on Drago with MGM. So you may get more of that.”

The Swedish actor is also eagerly anticipating 2022’s holiday season as he recently wrapped James Wan’s Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom .

“That whole picture is just a class act. I think [ Aquaman 2 ] is better. I think the script is stronger and it’s more exciting,” Lundgren admits. “The technology has moved forward in four years, so I was really pleased to be a part of it. James Wan is just going to blow everybody away again by this tremendous world that he creates. He’s involved in every little detail, even every little piece of every weapon, and I think it’s going to be great.”

In a recent conversation with THR , Lundgren also discusses the historical building in which he shot Castle Falls . Then he recalls his state of mind when he accidentally put Stallone in the ICU during the filming of Rocky IV .

So what made this the right time to step back into the director’s chair?

Well, I’d been involved in The Expendables franchise for a number of years, and then came Creed II and Aquaman . So I was kind of busy acting, but I always wanted to direct another picture. Then I had this little break, but I didn’t know it was going to be as long as it became because of Covid. So I just found this script that was a two-hander, and I knew I wanted to put another name in there and do some acting. I also found a script that I could shoot on a really short schedule. That way, I wouldn’t have too much pressure to do a picture that’s too big a budget. I could do something really small and a little more intimate, and after I tweaked the script a bit, it was right for that.

Since Castle Falls revolves around a soon-to-be-demolished building, did you talk to a demolition crew just to get an idea of their procedure and how they prepare a building to explode?

Oh yeah, for sure. We did that. Early on, the production designer and I also started looking at videos of buildings being brought down, and also the kind of explosives they use and how many floors they set them on. So the film is more or less correct, I would say.

Covid has made moviemaking even more expensive due to safety protocols. So in your estimation, what does the future look like for independent films such as Castle Falls ?

Well, in March 2020, we got shut down after half a day, and then we went back to Alabama to shoot it in October. And with our little budget, which I think was $1.5 million, we spent 10 percent on Covid testing, $150,000. So if you’re doing a $100 million movie, it’s a huge cost. But as the vaccine spreads and people take it, I think human ingenuity is going to deal with this disease the way we’ve dealt with a lot of other things like smallpox, and in the future, I think it’s going to be less of a problem. Independent filmmaking is still about trying to squeeze a lot of bang for the buck and being prepared as a director if you want to make a film for a low budget.

With a performer as skilled as Scott Adkins, did you give him plenty of autonomy and freedom in regard to fight choreography?

Yeah, I gave Scott a lot of freedom. He actually brought in the choreographer from Europe [Tim Man], and then I would just lightly supervise him practicing the fights. The [camera] operator was very good as well; he’s also a stunt guy [Eric Linden] so he could anticipate. Scott can do 30-second takes without messing up, and Scott even cut some of the fights himself. So he’s very skilled at that, for sure.

Had you worked with your daughter [Ida Lundgren] prior to this film?

Way back in 2008, when she was 12, she was in another movie I directed for Millennium called Command Performance . But this was the first time I acted with her as a grown-up, and it was a pleasure. I thought she did a good job.

Did it take a while to find the perfect abandoned building that could accommodate everything you wanted to do?

Finding the building was the most difficult task. In the original script, it was an apartment building, but the writer was sitting at home in Encino and writing. Once you show up in Birmingham, Alabama, you go, “Okay, well, I need a building that’s been gutted, that’s safe, where I can get a permit to shoot and has the geographical layout that works for the film.” So we ended up finding a hospital [Carraway Hospital] that was actually part of the Freedom Riders situation. It had some history during segregation so I included some of that in the movie. The location was really good for the film because we were in one place for 80 percent of the picture. So it made it much easier once we found the building.

Everybody wants to know what you think of a certain director’s cut that was released recently. So have you watched Rocky IV: Rocky vs. Drago yet?

I haven’t seen it yet. Sly showed me little clips, but I’ve been filming the last two weeks, every day. Today is my first day off for a number of weeks. So I’m going to watch it. I was just reading some of the reviews, and people seem to like it. Have you seen it?

I have! It adds a bit more humanity to Ivan Drago than we saw in the original cut. Did you want to see more of Drago’s human side in 1985?

Well, when I played the character, I did a backstory about how he was brought up by the state and they controlled him. He didn’t have much say. He wasn’t really an evil person; he was just a product of the system. He’s Frankenstein’s monster. He’s not Dr. Frankenstein; that was the Soviet Union. So I always played that, and some of that came across in ’85. A little bit of something came across because in the next picture, I was not playing a villain. So some of it was there even then. Sly and I are friends, but now, I guess he wanted to show the other side of the character. So I’m sure I’ll enjoy it.

Sly has talked a lot lately about your punch that put him in the ICU . While you awaited his recovery, were you as anxious as one might expect you to be?

I didn’t know what happened. We wrapped the fight in Vancouver, and then I found out he was in the hospital. I didn’t really know it was my fault to start with; I just thought he was overworked. He was directing, acting and duking it out in the ring with a 10-year younger European heavyweight champion in karate, meaning me. He took some hard shots and so did I. But when I found out, I was obviously distraught. I felt bad. I just did what he told me to do, and I didn’t want to hurt him. I’m quite a nice guy and I’ve never had any aggression towards anyone. But I was happy when he came out of the hospital and everything continued. But it’s certainly a good PR story, for sure.

The Drago storyline was my favorite part of Creed II , and I’d actually love to see an extended cut of that film, especially for your hospital fight with Sly. Were you disappointed when that Rocky-Drago fight hit the cutting room floor?

I was. I thought it was a good moment. It was also a fan moment. It was a quick little fight, and I thought it worked. But the director [Stephen Caple Jr.] and MGM felt that it was extraneous and that it didn’t add anything. By the way, I think there’s some talk about doing a whole spinoff on Drago with MGM. So you may get more of that.

As far as Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom , how did your experience compare to the first film?

That whole picture is just a class act. Everybody from James Wan and Jason Momoa to Amber Heard and the producers. I think this one is better. I think the script is stronger and it’s more exciting. The technology has moved forward in four years, so I was really pleased to be a part of it. James Wan is just going to blow everybody away again by this tremendous world that he creates. He’s involved in every little detail, even every little piece of every weapon, and I think it’s going to be great.

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Castle Falls premieres Dec. 3rd in theaters and on VOD/Digital.

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