Dolph Lundgren Confronts His Younger Self in New Old Spice Spot
We chat with the action star about his tiny CGI Muscles and how portraying comic book icons like Frank Castle and King Nereus shaped his life.
Talk to a comic book geek of a certain age, and they will light up whenever 1989's The Punisher gets mentioned. The Dolph Lundgren action flick never saw a theatrical release in the United States, but it made some serious noise in the direct market when it was plopped on video shelves a year later. Marvel movies were slim pickings. The MCU was decades away. All we had cinematically were the Captain America serial and Howard the Duck, and maybe you could consider the Red Sonja film in that lineup as well.
Frank Castle, though, was a major attraction in the early nineties. His ongoing solo title was right up there with the X-Men, Spider-Man, and Ghost Rider. It was a strange time, but The Punisher delivered for kids craving big guns and even bigger pouches. And for the most part, so did the movie. A perfect adaptation? No. But show me one of those. They don't exist.
At this point, Lundgren has portrayed numerous comic book, or comic book adjacent, characters. For James Wan, he played King Nereus in Aquaman and will return later this year for the sequel. He's contained the power of Grayskull as He-Man in Masters of the Universe, fought alongside and against Jean-Claude Van Damme in Universal Soldier, gone twelve rounds with the Italian Stallion in Rocky IV, and survived three Expendables movies with a fourth one still to come.
The imprint he's left on the cultural imagination is immense, and we were delighted to discover that the cultural imagination has also made a significant impact on Dolph Lundgren. Jumping onto Zoom, we chatted with the action icon about his new Old Spice commercials. Yes, Old Spice. The company has transformed Lundgren into his younger self, using Deepfake technology, which provides us a trip down memory lane and some serious laughs.
Lundgren is deeply amused by what Old Spice has concocted. It's a goofy experience and surreal, but the company has provided an homage told with humor and love. We begin our conversation by discussing what it's like to witness this approximation and how their products have helped him over the years. The discussion quickly moves into his shooting experiences, and while he can't say much about the forthcoming Aquaman 2, we do get into a loving banter about The Punisher.
This conversation was edited for length and clarity, but if you want to hear the entire thing, you can hop over to our Patreon. There you'll find the unlocked episode featuring the unedited audio from this conversation as well as countless other interviews with notable comic book creators.
Brad: Growing up, Old Spice represented a particular brand of masculinity. But in recent years, they've injected this tremendous sense of humor into their brand. I'm wondering what it was like to play with your own self-image in their playground?
Dolph: Well, that's a good question. Yeah, my dad used to use it in Sweden when I was a kid. I remember he had the deodorant spray. You had that white sort of after-shave that you shook out of a metal bottle or whatever it was. I've used the stick deodorant, because I like the fragrance. It's sort of sporty and it doesn't overwhelm anything else. Then they approached me last year and said they wanted to do a deep fake thing of me as an 80s action star. I thought it was funny. I've seen their commercials, like you said, they're humorous. I think making a little fun of yourself, poking fun about my career and what I used to do, it's okay. It was kind of an eerie experience to see that person take shape.
Brad: Yeah, sure.
Dolph: It's not me, but it looks like me. So it's weird. Technology is amazing these days.
Brad: Just as a fan of yours, growing up watching your movies. Seeing that version of Dolph Lundgren come back to life, it's weird for me. I can't even imagine what it's like for you.
Dolph: Well, the only thing I complained about, was the size of the muscles. [Laughter] They made it part of the campaign. Because, I used to be pretty buff back in those days. 240, 250 pounds. But yeah, he's okay, that kid. [Pointing at the poster behind him, featuring new CGI Dolph] He's doing all right.
Brad: I'm wondering about your relationship with these products like Old Spice. Do you put a lot of prep into your exercise routine before you would go into it? Would you apply things like this beforehand?
Dolph: Well look, I care about how I smell. So yeah, I do put it on in the morning, even if I go to the gym. Then after showering, of course. On the film set, sometimes you're very close to other actors. So, I think it's out of respect. You want to smell fresh. So yeah, it's part of my routine. I'm not totally obsessed with it, but I keep up with it on sets, yeah.
Brad: Well, that's what I was wondering about, with going on set and performing. That respect that you would have for a fellow actor by putting on body spray, underarm deodorant, whatever. When I go into work, I'm making sure that I've got my underarm deodorant on [laughter].
Brad: Do you have a specific preparation going into a set, for your body?
Dolph: Well, no. Usually, either I train before I show up in the morning. Or I shower anyways. So that's part of the preparation. Then obviously, depending on the scene you're doing. If you're crawling around a muddy ditch, maybe you don't need to put a lot of deodorant. But if you're close to all the people, then it's more needed.
As you were talking, it made me remember when I did Rocky IV. I think I went to box with [Sylvester] Stallone, one of the first sessions we had. Because we trained for five months, twice a day. Weights in the morning, boxing in the afternoon. In the boxing ring, you get tight, you get in close together. I remember he was wearing some cologne and I remember I was impressed. It was like, okay. I thought, "Okay, that's pretty cool." Because I was 25, 26 years old and he was 10 years older than me. I think I absorbed some of that.
Brad: Uh-huh. Cool.
Dolph: It was out of respect for me and for everybody else.
Brad: I love that. As part of Comic Book Couple's Counseling, obviously we're super excited for you to return to Aquaman 2 with King Nereus. I'm wondering what your experience has been bringing that character back to life with James Wan and playing in his playground?
Dolph: Well look, James Wan is such a great director. He's a genius. He's a lot of fun to work with. I had a bigger role this time. So I worked on it quite a bit. I prepared for three months before. Because I also had Expendables , I was doing at the same time. So I had to be prepared for both characters. But, it's a terrific script. A great project. It's fun for me to play this sort of political figure. I'm the father-in-law of Aquaman. Nicole Kidman's his mother, so she's my in-law.
Dolph: It's a different role for me than many other films I've done. It's a little more than just beating people up and kicking ass. This is a little more sophisticated, so I really enjoy it. Yeah.
Brad: With the original film, what I enjoyed so much about your performance was that you did bring that air of royalty to that character. That sense of history. I'm excited to hear that you get more to do with Nereus in Aquaman 2.
Dolph: Yeah, thanks. Yeah, I was excited too. It's a really great script, but with Warner Bros., I can't say anything, but I think people are going to like it. I think it has more dramatic weight than the first one. It's just more exciting.
Brad: The first movie of yours that I ever saw was, The Punisher. I remember going to my mother and telling her, "We have to go to Blockbuster Video." Actually, I think it was Video Library at the time. "We have to go today! It's Tuesday, the movie is out." And we raced out to it.
I've grown up with your Punisher, and I think that movie has had an interesting history within the pop culture landscape. I think people are coming around to that movie being pretty darn good. I'm wondering if you have a fond memory of The Punisher? Or do you not think about it too often? Because it was a big moment for Marvel Comics fans.
Dolph: Yeah. Look, I had seen the comic back in the day when it was the late 80s. But it was a crazy shoot. It was produced by Robert Kamen, who wrote The Karate Kid, and he did Taken recently. He wrote a really good script. But then the studio was messing around with it. I was a little frustrated in the production. But it did have some great action scenes in it. You're right, if I do a Comic-Con, there are always people that want The Punisher, the action figure signed, and they want the poster and the pictures. Because there's something about that version. I haven't seen the other versions. Not because I don't want to, but I just haven't seen them. But yeah, I thought it was interesting. They used a lot of the Mad Max folks.
Brad: Aw, yeah.
Dolph: From Australia, for the costumes and the action. It was a tough shoot though, because no CGI in those days. I wore this costume that had these heavy two-pound boots. I had to throw kicks and fight these Japanese guys from Tokyo who thought they were in a real fight with me. They thought they were there to fight me for real. I remember that when they both died, they cried. Because they had to tell their families that they got killed. But it was just a movie. But it was a bizarre experience. But, I think, on the whole, I'm fond of that picture, really fond.
Brad: Well, my wife and I revisited all three Punisher films during Lockdown. Our conclusion was that yours was the superior one.
Dolph: Oh really?
Brad: Yeah. I mean, again, it meant a lot to me as a little one, so thank you for that, that's a factor.
Brad: I'm curious though, you've now played so many different types of characters. And you've played lots of characters that exist in that superhero, comic book realm. I'm wondering if you have a relationship with comic books in your life? Or if comic book stories or even comic strips have had an impact on you throughout your lifetime?
Dolph: Yeah, when I was a kid, I read a lot of comic books and comic strips. There was The Phantom.
Brad: Aw, Yeah.
Dolph: There was Superman, of course. Batman. All the World War II G.I. Joe-type comic books. Because this is in the 60s where it was just around the corner. But then cinematically, I was a really big fan of comic book movies. When I do go to a Comic-Con, like you said, and I look at all these 8 x 10s.
Dolph: It's all Drago and He-Man. The Punisher. Gunnar Jensen. Now you've got Aquaman and King Nereus. Yeah, there are all of these comic book characters. But I think what I do feel attraction to is this story, the hero's journey. The hero's journey is usually in a comic book form. Which is kind of what my life has been like. A small town in Sweden. A lot of hardships when I was a kid. Trying to fight against the odds. I think that's where I'm attracted to the comic book world. Because it really is sort of a world where I think people look for answers and clues to their own lives.
Dolph: How to move forward. I think that's my attraction to it.
Brad: What my wife Lisa and I do, when we discuss comic books and comic book movies is, we try to find ourselves in those stories. It's amazing what lessons you can pull out. What perspectives you can travel in when you read comic book stories or watch comic book movies. Or movies in general, or narratives in general. As a creator - and you've directed several movies now, Castle Falls, not too long ago. What has it been for you to bring about these types of stories? What do you find out about yourself when you are creating?
Dolph: Look, I've directed a few films and obviously acted in many of them. But there's that sort of karma. There are characters you play and there's a certain synchronicity. There's a certain relationship and you end up tracking your own life a little bit through the characters you play. So I suppose you examine your own life through these characters to some degree.
If you're directing, then you have many characters that are on different paths. Life is a mystery. What is it all about? Why are we here? These are questions that you have to face when you're directing and when you're acting. I think probably that's why I was interested in it. Because when I was a kid, I was very aware of death. Aware of the mystery of life and all of those things. I was always dreaming about things like that. Which I think everybody, maybe to some degree are. But I've been lucky enough to be able to express those things through characters I've played. Through movies, I direct.
Brad: Hmm. Yeah, cool. To bring it back to the Old Spice commercial, a bit.
Brad: Now looking at yourself as a character, Dolph Lundgren, this animated adventurer. What is it like to then contribute to this weird realm?
Dolph: Well look, my dad wore Old Spice when I was a kid. I've worn it because I like the smell and my fiance loves it. So that helps. It's a fresh kind of athletic scent that doesn't take over too much. But, I don't know, it's a strange experience.
Brad: Yeah, it must be surreal. Well, Dolph, this has been a lovely chat. Thank you for hanging out with me today. You don't even know what it means to me. So thank you.
Dolph: Ah, thank you so much.
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