Rocky IV

by Richard Luck

What have Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Chuck Norris, Kurt Russell, Patrick Swayze, John Travolta, Tom Cruise, Liam Neeson, Val Kilmer, Mel Gibson, Matt Dillon, Jesse Ventura and ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper got in common? That’s right, they all auditioned for the role of Rocky IV’s Soviet superman Ivan Drago.

All of which begs another question – why, having run the rule over pretty much everyone in the known world, did Sylvester Stallone end up plumping for some bloke from Stockholm called Dolph Lundgren? Ask the man himself and he struggles for an answer. “I really don’t know. I think that after the success of Mr T’s Clubber Lang character in Rocky III, he was under a lot of pressure to up the stakes for the fourth movie. I can only imagine that’s why he met with so many big stars. Then maybe he decided that an unknown was the way to go. That might explain how I got cast because I was completely unknown at the time!”

An international karate champion who’d come to America to further his studies as a chemical engineer, Lundgren’s keen to point out that his casting didn’t happen overnight. “Between the first audition and getting the role, I’d say about six months went by. For me, the key moment was when I first met with Sly. Up until that point, the fear was that I was too tall and lean for the part. Sylvester [who also wrote and directed the movie] wasn’t really that worried about the height. He was more concerned that I needed to gain more muscle, so off to the gym I went.”

Released just as the Cold War was beginning to thaw, Rocky IV pits Stallone’s Italian Stallion clash against Lundgren’s blond behemoth. Of course, when forces as big as capitalism and communism square off on the canvas, you can’t pull your punches. Indeed, the leading man insisted that his co-star do nothing of the sort.

“Sly wanted the boxing scenes to be as realistic as possible,” says Lundgren with a smile. “I think he was sensitive to some of the criticism that had been leveled at the earlier Rocky films about the fight scenes being theatrical. So when we began shooting the big showdown, he demanded that I land my body punches. We’d shot three takes of the round where Drago pounds Rocky in the ribs when Sly started to feel unwell. Being a tough guy, he waved it off and we finished the day’s shooting. Then the moment I arrive on-set the next day, I’m told that Sylvester’s been rushed to hospital. It turns out that when I caught him in the chest, his heart slammed up against his breastbone and the bruising caused his blood pressure to rocket. He was out of action for over a week. After that, we decided to go a little easier on each other!”

So then, just as Ivan Drago did for Rocky Balboa’s best friend Apollo Creed, Dolph Lundgren almost put a stop to Sylvester Stallone.

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