Dolph Lundgren has returned to the Rocky franchise, but his character, Ivan Drago, is not the same man he was 33 years ago. Lundgren’s appearance as the former Russian boxer in the upcoming sequel Creed II shows a new side of his once ominous character, a man who memorably delivered a fatal blow to Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) in 1985’s Rocky IV — and was later beaten in the ring by Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) as payback.
In the new film, Lundgren’s iconic character is shown as an older, beaten-down dad bent on redeeming the Drago family name with a match between his son, Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu) and Apollo’s son, Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan).
While he doesn’t actually have a dad bod, the now-bearded 61-year-old actor looks completely different from the chiseled robotic powerhouse he played in 1985, and his character will be seen in a new light as fans learn more of his painful backstory.
Lundgren told the Hollywood Reporter that while the role of Ivan Drago was his “big break” back in the day, it also pigeonholed him as “a robot” who “has no emotions.” Fans of Rocky IV surely recall Lundgren’s most chilling line as a heartless Ivan Drago learned that Apollo Creed could die from injuries that Drago had laid upon him: “If he dies, he dies.”
Rocky IV director Stallone told THR that he originally had a completely different Ivan Drago in mind — until he met the 6-foot-5-inch Dolph Lundgren in 1985.
“The first time I met Dolph Lundgren, he changed the whole concept. I was seeing the Russian Drago as this Man-Beast, almost animal-like, unbeatable. Then this supernatural uber-Viking walked in. I said, ‘This is what people may look like in 500 hundred years. Genetically perfect, engineered to be the athlete of the future.'”
Stallone trained hard with Lundgren for five months in preparation of the life-changing role, and Rocky IV ultimately shot the Swedish actor to super-stardom, paving the way for lead roles in a series of big-budget films, including playing He-Man in Masters of the Universe(1987) and Frank Castle in Marvel’s The Punisher(1989). But by 1995, Dolph Lundgren struggled to land roles in big screen Hollywood blockbusters, and moved to Spain. The actor told THR that he developed a bit of a drinking problem — and suffered from depression — until Stallone came calling in 2009 to cast him in The Expendables.
Lundgren told THR that when the Creed II script landed in his hands, he instantly envisioned playing Drago as older and worn out, despite the fact that he himself is still in great physical shape. Lundgren said that he pitched the idea to the movie’s director, Steven Caple Jr., who decided to put Drago in baggy clothes.
Dolph Lundgren also talked to Haute Living about the return of his more “broken” character, a man who was shunned by his people when he lost the 1985 fight “in front of Gorbachev and everyone else in the Soviet Union.”
“I wanted Ivan to look really worn out, but I also wanted him to be in good shape, to look powerful. The kind of guy who works too hard, drinks vodka, doesn’t sleep but still is always training so that I looked powerful enough to push my son around, which I do a little bit both in the ring and outside the ring. Steven wanted my wardrobe to be really big, almost like I had lost weight to make me look older and more haggard. It really helps the audience to understand this guy and feel a bit of sympathy for him, I think, but it’s still a bit of a shock when you see the guy.”
The 310-pound action star admitted that seeing himself so physically wrecked was difficult at first.
“I’m not used to looking like [I did in Creed II] or dressing like that. I take care of myself pretty well—training and so forth—and have a great dentist. I think these guys in the Ukraine didn’t have that back in the ’80s, and it shows [in how Ivan looks today].”
Check out Dolph Lundgren as Ivan Drago in Creed II in the clip below.
Creed II hits theaters nationwide on November 21.