Critics have never been kind to Dolph Lundgren. They’ve called him “grinning and glistening” when they’re trying to be nice, and “expressive as wood” when they’re not. “Watching (Lundgren) think hard is a painful experience,” noted a Washington Post review of 1989’s Red Scorpion. “May well be the only man in the universe who can make Mr. (Jean-Claude) Van Damme look like an actor,” a New York Times critic wrote of Lundgren in 1992’s Universal Soldier. Film academic Christine Holmlund, summing up Lundgren’s career in the 2004 book Action and Adventure Cinema, wrote “Lundgren is limited by his size and dead pan delivery: though often compared to Arnold (Schwarzenegger), he has less range.”
For someone who’s had such a difficult time convincing critics of his merit, he’s one of the few action stars who gets respect (and real fear) from his audience. In 2009, three armed and masked burglars broke into Lundgren’s home in Marbella, Spain, tied up his wife, and went about ransacking the place. But then one of them noticed a Lundgren family photo in the bedroom and recognized the action star. He alerted his cohorts, and they made the unanimous decision to flee the crime scene immediately. Apparently they were less concerned with Lundgren’s wooden acting than his ability to break their collective faces. Perhaps they were afraid of ending up like Apollo Creed, who Lundgren famously “killed” in the 1985 film Rocky IV.
To be fair, it’s not completely irrational to be terrified by Lundgren. As Roger Moore, who worked with Lundgren in the James Bond film View To a Kill, once said “Dolph is larger than Denmark.” That’s hyperbole, but just slightly. Lundgren, a native of Stockholm, Sweden, stands at a golem-like 6 foot 5 inches and weighs in at around 250 pounds of pure neck-snapping muscle. Oh, and he also has a black belt in Kyokushin kaikan karate. While filming Rocky IV, he punched Sylvester Stallone so hard that he sent Sly to intensive care for nine days. If that’s not intimidating enough, he’s also smart. Lundgren has a masters in chemical engineering from the University of Sydney, and speaks five languages (Swedish, English, German, French and Japanese). He also dated musician Grace Jones during the 1980s, hung out at the infamous den of disco iniquity Studio 54, and lived in New York City when it was fun and dangerous.
Lundgren’s life has admittedly sometimes been more interesting than his movies. But in recent years, Lundgren has been on the verge of something like a comeback. He was the most two-dimensional part of 2010’s all-star action epic The Expendables, and he returns for the sequel, The Expendables 2, this Friday, August 17. It may not be thought-provoking cinema, but Lundgren’s performance should keep his house safe from burglars for at least another year.
I called Lundgren as he was waiting in LAX to board a flight to Madrid, as part of his world Expendables 2 media tour. He was soft-spoken, humble, and quick to laugh, particularly at himself. In other words, the exact opposite of every movie character he’s ever played.
Men’s Health: Expendables 2 has a lot of stars, and presumably a lot of egos. Did everybody get along?
Dolph Lundgren: Oh yeah. There was just a core group that worked together on most of the movie. It was Sly (Stallone) and me and Jason (Statham) and Terry (Crews) and Randy (Couture) and the Chinese guy, Jet Li. We were the ones working all the time. When guys like Bruce (Willis) and Arnold (Schwarzenegger) came in, it was just for a week or two. But everybody was excited to be part of a team and in a big movie. Some of these guys, like Chuck Norris, haven’t done a film in like seven years. So nobody came with big egos.
MH: Just big entourages?
DL: A few guys had that. They’d show up with a lot of people, especially Arnold and Chuck. Bodyguards and entourages, all that stuff.
MH: I understand the former Governator having bodyguards. But what does Chuck Norris need bodyguards for? I thought he could kill a guy with his pinkie.
DL: (Laughs.) I don’t know about that. Having bodyguards is just part of being famous, I think.
MH: How many bodyguards do you have?
MH: Because you don’t need them, or you could crack somebody’s spine just by staring at them?
DL: (Laughs.) I’m not that good.
MH: Among action stars, is there cheating?
DL: Cheating how?
MH: Like steroids. I talked to Charlie Sheen and he said he used steroids while he was making Major League. And that was a baseball movie.
DL: (Laughs.) That’s funny. Charlie took steroids? That’s probably the mildest form of drug he ever took. No, I like Charlie. I like him a lot. He’s a nice guy. But him saying he took steroids, that’s like me claiming I took aspirin. Anyway, what’s your question?
MH: Are steroids common in action movies? Part of the job requires having big, rippling, cinematic muscles. It must be tempting for some of these stars.
DL: Oh sure. It never was for me, because I was already a big guy when I started making movies. I didn’t need to be any bigger. So steroids didn’t make any sense. But if you’re a regular-sized actor and you’re in a movie where you’re supposed to be some pumped-up guy who takes his shirt off, yeah, steroids make sense.
MH: You’ve seen it?
DL: Well, I… (long pause.) I haven’t witnessed the injections personally. But I recognize when it’s happening. You know which guys are doing steroids and which ones aren’t.
MH: You can tell just by looking?
DL: Oh yeah. It’s pretty obvious. You can see the difference. There’s a soft roundness to steroid muscles that you don’t get when you’re lifting weights or doing martial arts or things like that. I don’t judge anybody. Everybody has their own life and people do what they want. It’s like smoking pot. If you experiment with it, it doesn’t mean you’re the devil, and it doesn’t mean you’ve ruined your body. It just means you tried it.
MH: What about ‘roid rage?
DL: Is that a real thing? I haven’t really seen it.
MH: There aren’t a lot of journalists on steroids, so I have no idea.
DL: I really don’t know. Most of these guys I’ve worked with are really professional and nice. If taking steroids makes you angry, then I don’t know anybody who takes steroids. You watch some of these guys and you realize how they got to where they are. It’s because they treat people well. Like with Arnold (Schwarzenegger). We have this scene in the beginning of the film, where we cut him loose and save him. There’s one line where he turns to me and goes (with a thick Austrian accent) “Cut me loose, Frankenstein.” We do the scene and afterwards he comes to me and says, “I’m really sorry, I didn’t write that line.”
MH: He thought he hurt your feelings? That’s sweet.
DL: I said, “Don’t worry about it, Arnold.”
MH: You’re old friends with a lot of these guys, right? Stallone obviously.
DL: Yeah, I’ve known him since the Rocky movie. We’ve been friends for 27 years.
MH: And you used to drink with Mickey Rourke back in the 80s?
DL: I knew him pretty well because I owned a club for awhile on Sunset in Los Angeles called Black and Blue. I opened it with Frank Stallone, Sly’s brother, and Mickey used to come there a lot. There was definitely some drinking happening. (Laughs.)
MH: Any stories you can share?
DL: I shouldn’t.
MH: But in general, what were the go-go 80s like? Was it non-stop Bright Lights, Big City debauchery?
DL: Pretty much. It was crazy. I was young, and there weren’t a lot of consequences. Especially in New York, when I was dating Grace Jones for a few years and we were hanging out in the clubs.
MH: Like Studio 54?
DL: Yeah. That and the Limelight, which was like a church converted to a club. I came on the scene right at the end of the disco era and the party era.
MH: Those of us who weren’t there, it gets built up in our imagination and becomes larger than life. Was it as wild as we think?
DL: Well that depends. What do you think?
MH: I think everybody at Studio 54 was doing cocaine off Mick Jagger’s genitals.
DL: (Laughs.) I didn’t see that, no.
MH: But there were drugs? Lots and lots of drugs?
DL: Well sure. Drugs wasn’t so frowned upon at that time. It was a very social thing. If somebody did drugs at the table, nobody even looked at them twice. It was okay. People didn’t care.
MH: Did you personally do drugs?
DL: Not me as much. When I met Grace (Jones), I was training pretty hard. I’d be in the gym twice a day, sometimes more. That was my thing.
MH: Did you feel like equals with Grace, or just her eye candy?
DL: Oh, I was definitely eye candy. I was her boy toy. That’s how I felt and that’s how people looked at me. I mean, she treated me with respect, but I never felt comfortable. As soon as I got cast in Rocky IV and moved to LA and got my own place, we started drifting apart. Because it wasn’t meant to happen that way.
MH: You weren’t supposed to be as famous as her?
DL: And I don’t think I was. But we were on more equal footing after Rocky. And it was unexpected and hard to deal with for both of us. Our relationship lasted for four years, but as soon as I got even a modicum of fame, we were doomed.
MH: Aside from the drugs and club-hopping, was New York in the ’80s as dangerous as its reputation?
DL: Absolutely. In those pre-Giuliani days, the city had the highest murder rate in the country, and maybe the world. I remember when I first flew to New York and went to a party with Grace. She asked me to get something from her bag, lipstick or something, and I reached in and felt around and I pulled out a little pistol. It looked like a toy gun, but it was real. It was like a Derringer pocket pistol, a two shot .32 or .38, something like that. I asked her “What’s that?” And she was like, “Oh, it’s fine. Some friend gave it to me.” I asked her why, and she told me she’d been robbed a few times. People had broken into her apartment, tied her up and stolen everything.
MH: Tied her up?
MH: Are you kidding? People broke into Grace Jones’ apartment and then tied her up with ropes?
DL: That’s what she said.
MH: That’s insane. Was she robbed by Snidely Whiplash?
DL: (Laughs.) It sounds silly, but it was real, and it was scary. She told me about what happened and I was like “Screw that. It’s not going to happen to me.” The next time we left New York, cause you couldn’t buy guns in New York City…
MH: You couldn’t?
DL: Well, you could, but it was difficult. I went to Colorado and bought a couple of guns. And then I walked around New York all the time with two guns hidden on my body. One in an ankle holster and the other strapped to my chest.
MH: You were like an undercover cop.
DL: And it was all illegal. You weren’t allowed to have concealed weapons in the state of New York. So I was always nervous that I’d be caught. It’s funny, part of me was afraid of the cops, and the other part was afraid of being mugged. It wasn’t a nice feeling.
MH: But what were the odds you were actually going to be frisked by a cop?
DL: It happened all the time. Not getting frisked, but we got pulled over by the cops all the time, and they’d search the limo. I was so lucky I never got caught. If I got sent to jail, that would have ended everything. My career would’ve been over. But it was worth the risk. I knew this guy who’d been robbed at gunpoint outside of our building in the West Village. They took everything, including his underwear.
MH: No. That’s not true.
DL: It is true! He came up nude.
MH: That’s literally the weirdest thing I’ve ever heard.
DL: That was the neighborhood back then. It’s a very gay neighborhood, or at least it was when I lived there.
DL: Of course I didn’t know what was going on. I made some money modeling and I bought this black motorcycle. I used to drive around the neighborhood with no shirt.
MH: Oh boy.
DL: It was like, “Wow, people are so friendly here.” I made so many new friends.
MH: I’m sure you did.
DL: It wasn’t exactly the Swedish countryside, that’s for sure.
MH: But you weren’t a complete innocent, right? You imbibed.
DL: I did like to drink. I could do fifteen shots of tequila and then go work out at the gym the next day.
MH: How is that possible?
DL: I was young. In those days, I could sleep for two hours and be fine. You just go for a long run or do an intense workout and sweat it out.
MH: Did you ever go to the gym and think, “I’m still a little drunk from last night?”
DL: All the time.
MH: What’s it like working out drunk?
DL: In my twenties, it was easy. But I couldn’t do that now. As you get older, it gets harder. Your body changes, and you just don’t snap back as quickly. I could’ve been much worse back then. My acting career pulled me back. When you’re making one or two movies a year, you can’t get too wild, because you’ve got responsibilities.
MH: Because you had to be soberish for work the next day, or because the paparazzi might take less than flattering photos of you?
DL: Not really the paparazzi. They were around a little bit in my time, but not like it is now. When they took a picture, they had to use real film, and then they had to go home and develop it, and then bring it in person to the newspapers and try to sell it. It was a long, complicated process. People didn’t have iPhones, they didn’t have cameras in their watches and everything else, like they do today.
MH: Everybody’s paparazzi these days.
DL: It’s true. When you’re a kid and you become famous quickly, you want to see what happens. And you can’t do that with all this social media. It’s very hard to deal with. I was lucky. All I had to do was make sure I looked good and stayed in shape for my films. That was it. There was no Internet to worry about.
MH: There are so many ways to get caught now.
DL: There really are. If somebody famous cheats on their husband or girlfriend, there’ll be plenty of coverage of it the next day. That Twilight girl, Kristen Stewart, if she’d had that affair with her director back in the ’80s, she would have gotten away with it.
MH: You’re probably right.
DL: You can’t do that stuff today. I feel sorry for these young kids now. Human behavior is human behavior. It’s almost like we expect them to be perfect, and everybody’s surprised and disappointed when we find out they’re not. They’re like everybody else.
MH: Let’s talk about martial arts. You’ve been involved in karate for awhile, right?
DL: Most of my life.
MH: How young were you when you started? Were you karate chopping out of the womb?
DL: Not that young. My dad was an officer in Sweden, and when his career started to fall apart, he took it out on his family.
MH: You mean emotional abuse or-?
DL: I mean physical violence. My dad was really tough. I got beat up a lot as a kid. And that pushed me into contact sports.
MH: Because you needed to defend yourself?
DL: Yeah. It could get bad. I’d go to school with bruises and be embarrassed by them. I was always trying to hide scars from my friends.
MH: That’s horrible.
DL: I discovered martial arts, first judo and then karate, and I became quite good at it, because I had something to prove. And more than anything, I needed to feel safe. That was when I was about 14, I think. And by 19 or 20 I was a champion. I was competing in karate tournaments in Tokyo and Australia. I had my 3rd Dan black belt by the time I was 21.
MH: Everything I know about karate comes from the Karate Kid.
DL: (Laughs.) It’s not that far off.
MH: It’s not? You had a Mr. Miyagi?
DL: Oh yeah, yeah, absolutely. The reason they did it like that in Karate Kid is that’s how it is in real life.
MH: You had an old Asian mentor who taught you about karate by tricking you into waxing his car?
DL: Well no, not that exactly. It’s like being an apprentice for a tailor. It’s a very intricate and complicated craft, and there are various ways to do it, so you find a master and you watch them and study them and learn their technique. My sensei was a British karate champion named Brian Fitkin. He was my mentor and because I had a hard relationship with my dad, he became a father figure to me. He trained me and made me a champion. I’m still friends with him. In fact, I’m going to Sweden next week to train with him.
MH: You started doing this stuff for real, and then you have to pretend in the movies. Is it more difficult to pull your punches?
DL: You’re talking about what happened with Stallone?
MH: When you almost killed him with an uppercut to the chest?
DL: (Laughs.) I had no idea! Okay, here’s what happened. When I got cast in Rocky IV, I had never seen a film camera before. And here I was in this boxing movie. I knew I’d signed on to play a Russian fighter, but I didn’t know what the hell that meant. I’d never fought anyone in a movie before. I’d fought plenty of people in the ring, but not for a movie.
MH: It’s a different skill.
DL: Especially twenty five years ago. There was no CGI. It had to look like you hit the guy. Now, you could be twenty feet away, and they can fix it in the editing room. Obviously there is a way, with camera angles, the way you position yourself, so it looks like you’re pummeling each other when you’re really not. And it helped that I was quite a good karate man. I could adopt very easily to that.
MH: You don’t actually hit the other person in karate?
DL: I used to study this other form of karate, like Chuck Norris does, where you just touch them. You touch your opponent in the face, that’s a point. You kick them in the head, that’s another point. You can’t make real contact. And we spent a lot of time training for Rocky. I was with Stallone for five months in LA, twice a day, just working on those scenes. And we got really good at them. I still remember some of the choreography.
MH: Are you kidding?
DL: I’m serious! It’s stuck in my head. It’s like a Shakespeare monologue, I can never get it out. Once you know it, you know it.
MH: So what happened with Stallone? According to him, you hit him so hard that his heart started swelling and he spent over a week at the hospital.
DL: Here’s what I remember. I think we were in Vancouver. We shot the Russia scenes in Vancouver, the part where he goes to Moscow. We were there for two weeks, and obviously we were very well trained. But Stallone had a lot going on. He was directing, writing, doing all kinds of things, getting divorced, all at the same time. The man was under a lot of pressure. Most of the scenes we did together were very choreographed, as I said, and some things we just, you know, improvised.
MH: You improvised fight scenes?
DL: When you spend enough time with each other, you start to know each other’s movements. You can kind of wing it a little bit, maybe throw a few hits the other person wasn’t expecting. So we were filming that scene in the beginning of the movie, when Rocky gets his behind kicked in, and I think that’s when I hit him.
MH: The hit that gave him heart swelling and a blood pressure of 290?
DL: It was that high? Oh my goodness.
MH: That’s what he said.
DL: But he never complained! I never had any idea he was uncomfortable at all. We finished the shoot, and then we said our goodbyes, and we all flew back to LA for a two-week break, and then I found out he’d gone to the hospital. It was news to me.
MH: Did you feel bad?
DL: It wasn’t my fault. I just did what he told me to do.
MH: Rocky IV was your big breakout. When you read the script, did you think, “This is the role I was born to play?”
DL: I didn’t have enough experience to think that. I had not done any films before. I was just one of 5,000 other guys doing a cattle call audition. Then they flew me to LA and I had to audition with some real Russian fighters and wrestlers for screen tests. I didn’t actually see a script until I got the part. And when I read it, I guess I did identify with it. The guy was kind of being used by the communist system and all of that. He was innocent and out of his element. And I understood what that was like, especially being this new kid in Hollywood. You don’t do a lot of thinking. It’s all about “Go here, sit there, stand over there, do this.”
MH: Ivan Drago is kind of a stereotype.
DL: He is, sure.
MH: There aren’t a lot of levels to him. Did that bother you? Did you want to give him more emotional depth?
DL: You have to play what’s written. But there’s one scene in the movie where I got to express something. I don’t watch it too much, but sometimes I’ll catch it on late night TV or something. My favorite scene is where Drago’s going to fight Apollo Creed, and he’s down in the bowels of the casino, and his handler comes over and says something in Russian (mumbles Russian gibberish), whatever it is, and then this hydraulic stage starts going up, lifting him into the arena, and he’s revealed to the world, to the audience. When I watch myself in that scene, I know exactly what I was thinking.
MH: Which was?
DL: Terror. But also, trying to appear fierce, trying to look confident and prepared. What Drago was feeling and what I was feeling were so similar in that moment. I was just a kid, trying to look like I belonged there, like I was comfortable, but in my head I was like “What the hell is going on here?” That’s exactly what Drago is thinking in that moment, or at least what’s what I believe he was thinking.
MH: Wow. I’d never thought about Drago having that much complexity.
DL: So there was no acting required there. It’s a nice memory for me. It hasn’t really happened since. Nothing I’ve done in a movie since has been so accurate to my actual emotions at that moment.
MH: Critics haven’t always been kind to you.
DL: (Laughs.) No they have not.
MH: Are they missing the point? Is there such a thing as bad acting in an action movie?
DL: No, there definitely is. I just wasn’t trying hard enough. I didn’t have the skill to translate my personality or make a performance colorful or real enough. And also, within my genre, there’s a certain limitation that comes with the material.
MH: It’s not a genre with a lot of meaty character roles.
DL: Not at all. I got lucky with this Expendables series, because my character has some depth to him. He has some emotions, and there’s some humanity there. You’re never really going to get that in most action movies. But that’s a choice you make. It’s certainly a choice I made. I had ten years in Europe, when my priority was to raise my kids outside of New York and Hollywood, from the early 1990s to 2004, where I really didn’t put that much work into it. I did lots of films, but I, you know….
MH: You phoned it in?
DL: I guess I did. You really have to work hard to create a three-dimensional character. You have to rehearse and explore and take your time. You can’t just fly in from Spain and memorize your lines and do it on the fly.
MH: You’ve said that you could’ve beaten Mike Tyson in a fight. Were you talking about Tyson in his prime, or the Tyson of 2012?
DL: Was I sober when I said that?
MH: I don’t know. You said it in 1988.
DL: There you go. (Laughs.)
MH: Also, I got the quote from the Weekly World News.
DL: Are you kidding me?
MH: You’re telling me they’re not reliable?
DL: For the record, I don’t think I could beat Mike Tyson. Maybe if I could use some karate kicks. I could knee him in the head or something. No, even then, it’s probably a bad idea. And in his world, in boxing, forget about it, no way. Let’s put an end to that rumor right here.
MH: In a battle between you and Iron Mike…
DL: Forget about it. I call uncle.
MH: But your reputation precedes you. There was that incident from a few years ago, when those burglars broke into your house in Spain and saw a photo of you and then got the hell out.
DL: Yeah, right. (Laughs.)
MH: Was that story exaggerated by the press?
DL: It was slightly exaggerated, like everything. They were there, they saw a photo, they did leave. But they did take some of my stuff.
MH: So it was still a robbery?
DL: Yeah. I mean, they returned most of it. They came back later and brought a few things back.
MH: That’s ridiculous!
DL: They were amateurs.
MH: Maybe they read the Mike Tyson story?
DL: Maybe. (Laughs.) It sounds a lot better than it was. It’s not like they turned on their heels and ran. They just…. thought better of it.
MH: When you walk in a room, do people typically shriek in terror?
BL: Oh yeah, constantly. They run the other way. The restaurant just clears out. It’s like a Godzilla movie.
MH: I knew it!
DL: They start screaming in Japanese and run the other way. (Laughs.) No, no, no, not really. It’s pretty much the opposite. I’m nice to people.
MH: You don’t punch them at random?
DL: Never. I think the energy I give off is quite non-confrontational. That’s something you learn from karate. Once you try to be a tough guy, you’ve got to pay up. You’ve got to prove yourself. And that’s exhausting.
MH: Nobody tries to start a fight with you?
DL: Sometimes they do, sure. Movies are a powerful medium. People think you are your character. I’ve had plenty of people who think I’m Drago. They don’t know about the chemical engineering part of my personality. They don’t know about the geek part of my personality.
MH: So that’s not more Weekly World News misreporting? You actually do have a degree in chemical engineering?
DL: I do. Life is stranger than fiction. It’s nice to have stuff that people don’t know about. And it helps when you read a bad review. You can go, “This guy doesn’t have me figured out.” There’s more mystery to you than they understand.
MH: Did you seriously want to be a chemical engineer?
DL: I did, yeah. As much as my dad had a rough side, he was also really smart. He was an engineer as well, and an economist. He worked for the Swedish Parliament. He always told me, “If you want to make it, you have to go to America. You can’t stay in Sweden. You can never excel at anything in a socialist country.” I guess I took that to heart.
MH: Chemical engineering seemed like your only way out?
DL: Going to college was the only way I could afford to travel. And chemical engineering sounded like a reasonable thing to major in. But my heart wasn’t in it. As soon as I came to New York and saw the creative people there, and started doing a little acting and modeling and discovered this whole other expressive side to myself, I couldn’t go back.
MH: Do you still break out the test tubes at a dinner party occasionally?
DL: (Laughs.) Not really. But I can make a really good drink. I’m really good at mixing things together. Fluids and solids of various sorts.
MH: Let’s hear a recipe. What are the ingredients of a Dolph Lundgren signature drink?
DL: Okay, um. (Long pause.) Pour a shot of chilled vodka. Then take a slice of lemon, and put sugar on one side and ground coffee on the other. Then bite into the lemon and shoot the vodka. That’s pretty good. It wakes you up.
MH: We should make it a drinking game for this interview.
DL: Sure, why not.
MH: Every time the word “karate” is mentioned, drink a Dolph Lundgren shot.
DL: (Laughs.) That’s so unfair.
MH: So you apparently have a genius-level IQ.
DL: Do I?
MH: That’s not true? I heard your IQ score is 160.
DL: I don’t know about that. Somebody just put that on the Internet and spread it around.
MH: Actually, I got that number from your publicist.
DL: Oh really? (Laughs.)
MH: But in her defense, she was quoting Entertainment Weekly. It’s not like I got this from Wikipedia.
DL: I got good grades in school, but I’m not sure if I’m smart or if it just means I can study. I’ve never taken one of those IQ tests, and I don’t want to.
MH: Why not?
DL: Who cares? It’s so pointless. As long as you enjoy life and have fun and you’re healthy and happy, that’s what matters.
MH: There’s a cultural cliche that athletes, as a general rule, aren’t especially smart.
DL: Absolutely there is.
MH: Which is probably why your 160 IQ score, even if it’s untrue, gets repeated so often. Because it seems improbable.
DL: I understand that. No one can believe I might have a brain. Because I’m really tall, I’m really blonde, I have big muscles, and kill people for a living. There you go. If anybody’s going to be assumed to be stupid, it’s me. I don’t know what my IQ score is, but I did study for five years at college. And I’m proud of my chemical engineering degree. I haven’t done anything with it, but it’s a card up your sleeve for later in life. It’s nice to have, just in case.
MH: In case of what?
DL: I don’t know. (Laughs.) It’s a safety net.
MH: How old are you?
DL: I’m in my 70s. (Laughs.) No, I’m 54.
MH: What’s the life span of an action star? How long can you get away with doing movies like The Expendables?
DL: It depends. I don’t want to be doing this forever, running around with a machine gun. I never envisioned that. But I tend to think of my life in five-year installments.
MH: How do you mean?
DL: I think five years in advance. That seems to be enough. When you’re planning where your kids are going to school or whether to buy real estate, five years usually seems like a good time frame. Where do I want to be in five years? Well, five years from now, I think I’ll still be doing this. How old is Clint Eastwood now?
MH: 82, I think.
DL: So he was… (long pause) 54 in 1984. He was the same age I am now in 1984, when I was bopping around New York City with Grace Jones, covered in concealed weapons and no idea what I was doing with my life. Back then, I didn’t even want to be an actor. But I’ve done 50 movies since then. So I think, he was my age then. And he’s still working in film. He’s done some amazing things since then, some of his best work.
MH: That gives you hope?
DL: That gives me tremendous hope. Maybe I won’t be doing backflips when I’m 82. Maybe I won’t be jumping out of moving trains, shirtless and firing a machine gun. But if I’m making films at all, in any capacity, I’ll be happy.
(This story originally appeared, in a slightly different form, on MensHealth.com.)