Sylvester Stallone does not have warm and fuzzy memories of his first meeting with his Rocky IV co-star Dolph Lundgren back in the 1980s. The actor-director recently told Cannes audiences that when he first met Lundgren — who played Rocky Balboa’s nemesis, Ivan Drago, in the 1985 Rocky sequel — he “hated him immediately.”
Stallone, who was at Cannes to promote his upcoming sequel Rambo V: Last Blood, admitted that his negative thoughts about his future co-star may have stemmed from the fact that he was “literally perfect” and “indestructible,” per Vulture. But he was also exactly the type of guy he needed to play Rocky’s rival.
Not only was the 6-foot-5-inch Lundgren a superhuman specimen, but he nearly did Stallone in during production of the fourth film in the Rocky franchise. During his Cannes appearance, the 72-year-old actor revealed that Dolph Lundgren nearly killed him during the filming of their epic fight scene in the movie.
“He hit me so hard he almost stopped my heart. I told him, ‘Why don’t we just do it? Just try to knock me out. Really cut loose as hard as you can.’ That was a really stupid thing to say. Next thing I know, I’m on a low-altitude plane to the emergency room, and I’m in intensive care for four days. And there are all these nuns around.”
During a previous panel discussion, “An Evening With Sylvester Stallone,” posted on YouTube, the Rocky star admitted that he encouraged Dolph Lundgren to really try and knock him out in the fight scene. Still, the blow came so hard that Stallone felt like he had been in a car crash.
“He hit my heart so hard that it banged against my ribs and started to swell, and that usually happens in car accidents. So I was hit by a truck!” Stallone said.
Dolph Lundgren reportedly had no idea he really hurt Stallone until a producer called to tell him the bad news.
Rocky fans will forever remember Dolph Lundgren’s performance as cold-hearted Russian boxer Ivan Drago and his chilling line — “If he dies, he dies” — after he learned that his opponent Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) was in critical condition after their fight.
While it’s hard to imagine anyone else in the role, Lundgren told Men’s Health he was just “one of 5,000 other guys doing a cattle call audition” and that when he was cast in the movie, he had never even seen a film camera before.
Sylvester Stallone previously told The Hollywood Reporter that he originally had a completely different Ivan Drago in mind, but when Lundgren walked in to audition he “changed the whole concept.” Stallone said he originally pictured Drago as am animal-like “man-beast,” but then “supernatural uber-Viking” Dolph Lundgren walked in. Stallone said he imagined that Lundgren emulated what people may look like in 500 years: “Genetically perfect, engineered to be the athlete of the future.”
Despite his love-hate relationship with his co-star, Sylvester Stallone ultimately trained hard with Dolph Lundgren for five months for the Rocky IV movie. Lundgren’s fame from the film paved the way for subsequent lead roles as He-Man in Masters of the Universe (1987) and Frank Castle in Marvel’s The Punisher (1989). And nearly three decades after their fateful audition meeting, Dolph Lundgren came face-to-face with Sylvester Stallone again in the film The Expendables. In 2018, Lundgren reprised his role as Ivan Drago in the film Creed II.