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Dolph Lundgren | WANTED MAN

Written By:

Laura Potier
dolph lundgren and christina villa in wanted man

Rising to fame as human-mountain and Soviet boxer Drago in Rocky IV, and as an icy Bond villain in A View to a Kill – both films released in 1985 –, Swedish actor and martial artist Dolph Lundgren would go on to become a mainstay of the action genre in the 1990s, a peer of B-movie legends Steven Seagal and Jean-Claude Van Damme. Since, Lundgren has continued acting, as well as producing, writing, and directing.

In recent years, he’s starred in a number of massive blockbusters that include The Expendables films, which reunited him with Sylvester Stallone, and a key role in the DCEU’s Aquaman movies. This year however, he returns as a multi-hyphenate force: as director, co-writer, producer, and star of Wanted Man, a timely action thriller that showcases Lundgren’s enduring talent for enacting a good fight scene.

In Wanted Man, Lundgren is Johansen, an ageing detective whose outdated policing methods have dragged his department into the middle of a public relations crisis. To save his job and get himself out of the media limelight, he is sent to Mexico to extradite a female witness (Christina Villa) to the murders of two DEA agents. Once there, not only does he have his worldview challenged, but he finds that forces on both sides of the border are now gunning for him and his charge.

Ahead of the film’s release, STARBURST spoke with Dolph Lundgren about his work on the picture, which comes to cinemas and on demand on January 19th.

dolph lundgren in wanted man, courtesy of quiver distribution

As co-writer, from where did you draw inspiration for this script?

Dolph Lundgren: Originally, it was developed about fifteen years ago and was inspired by this Clint Eastwood picture called Gauntlet, where he brings a prisoner across state lines. And I thought, why not instead have the story be about bringing someone over from Mexico? And then, I got caught up with a bunch of other projects, until a couple of years ago – immigration was such a hot topic, so maybe I’ll bring the script back.

Until later, when I was at a party and there was somebody there, this guy I know who’d had too many drinks and went on this rant about immigration. I was listening to him, thinking “that’s an interesting character” – to start with a character who was misinformed and evolve him into somebody that realises he’s wrong and works to change his attitude. It was with that in mind that we finished the script.

As well as undocumented immigration, Wanted Man touches on prescient topics like police brutality and corruption. As a Swedish actor living in the US, how does your background influence the lens through which you view these issues?

Dolph Lundgren: First of all, I am an immigrant, so I understand that feeling of wanting to be an American. I also know people who have made that journey across the border, so I know that part of it, too. I think not being from here, you can be more objective and more dispassionate about it. People here are so worked up over immigration, and while I can see both sides of the argument, I think… let’s just say that the way in which the movie ends, that’s my view on the matter. I try to see the issue with compassion.

A big part of your character’s journey comes from his knowing Christina Villa’s character. This being her first lead role, what made Christina the perfect counterpoint to your character, and how did the casting come about?

Dolph Lundgren: It was a very hard character to cast. I didn’t realise that at first, but when we started the casting process, I realised that I needed somebody who could play all those emotional moments: losing your best friend, being on the run, having your life in danger… and I wanted her to speak fluent Spanish. And that’s difficult because a lot of Hispanic actors that I was shown didn’t speak Spanish that well. I went through a long casting process before I found her. I also wanted somebody that you could believe is this character; she’s not too glamorous, and she has a certain street-smart quality to her. I was glad when we found her, and what I like about hers and mine’s characters’ relationship is that it doesn’t become a romantic relationship, necessarily. There’s a little feeling maybe, at the end, but it wasn’t about that. Them making out in a motel while people are out there hunting and shooting at them, that would have been the cheap version of this film.

Throughout the film, there are several conversations that happen in Spanish, that are not subtitled and therefore the viewers are not privy to. Then at other times, it is captioned in English. What went behind that decision?

Dolph Lundgren: I wasn’t sure about that at first. I decided that when Johanssen is around, he doesn’t understand and so the viewer doesn’t either. Then when he isn’t around and there’s a more intimate conversation that doesn’t involve him, and has information that we need to know, then I would put the subtitles on there.

dolph lundgren and christina villa in wanted man

You were involved at every level of this film. With everything going on, what was your biggest challenge?

Dolph Lundgren: I wish I’d been more involved in the producing. I was very involved in the directing and acting, and writing… I’m not a big fan of writing, I prefer to rewrite stuff. I wish I’d done more of the producing, because we’d decided to go down to New Mexico to shoot the Mexican scenes. But we had big problems on location, and I hadn’t been involved in hiring the people there. So next time, I’m going to be more of a producer and look at the budget and everything in detail. With a small movie, the margins of error are very tight. Otherwise though, it was a big effort and I’d love to do it again.

Your career has centred on the action genre. As a director, what keeps you coming back to action films?

Dolph Lundgren: I’ve directed eight movies, and all of them have some action component. I think part of it is that it’s part of my brand, and part of who I am. People like to see me do things on film physically, to move, and it tends to work in the story context… I’ve done movies as an actor, like Aquaman, where my character is more of a political figure.

And as a director, it would be hard for me – unless I wrote a great script like Sideways, about wine-tasting in Northern California – not to have some form of action and get that project made. But then, would I be the best director to do that? A new script I’m working on is a dark comedy set in LA – it has action in it, but it’s more character-driven.

I think eventually, as I get older, I will do more character-driven stuff and less action. The guy I look up to is Clint Eastwood, where in his 70s and 80s he ended up doing films like Gran Torino – it’s a super character-driven story, but he still whips out his rifle and goes to town.

Wanted Man releases in cinemas and on-demand from January 19th. Watch the trailer below:

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Laura Potier

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