DRAGO FAM­ILY VAL­UES

Men's Health (UK) - - Contents - WORDS BY AMOS BARSHAD – PHOTOGRAPHY BY BEN WATTS

Dolph Lund­gren and Flo­rian Munteanu – his on-screen son in Creed II – share what it takes to stay in shape at any age

IVAN DRAGO, THE LETHAL SOVIET BOXER FROM ROCKY IV, IS BACK. AND IN CREED II, HE’S BROUGHT ALONG HIS EQUALLY RUTH­LESS SON. MH MET DOLPH LUND­GREN AND FLO­RIAN MUNTEANU TO TALK MUSCLEBUILDING IN YOUR SIX­TIES AND LEAV­ING BODY FAT ON THE CAN­VAS. THERE’S MORE TO THIS ON-SCREEN FAM­ILY THAN IRON STRENGTH

It’s a sunny af­ter­noon, and two men sit on a bench out­side a bar in Brook­lyn. They’re the im­age of fa­ther and son, and that’s what they are – of a sort, at least. The younger man is Flo­rian Munteanu. He’s 28, a boxer and fit­ness model born in Ger­many to a fam­ily who had fled Ni­co­lae Ceaușescu’s Com­mu­nist Ro­ma­nia. The older man is Dolph Lund­gren. He’s 61, a bulky Swedish nerd and veteran of Hol­ly­wood’s 1980s “ac­tion wars”.

In the 1985 film Rocky IV, Lund­gren played boxer Ivan Drago, the USSR’S seem­ingly in­de­struc­tible killing ma­chine. The movie was re­leased in the last throes of the Cold War and, as a riff on re­alpoli­tik, it was huge in ev­ery way: buf­foon­ish, xeno­pho­bic but ut­terly thrilling. And Drago – built like a tank, nearly mute, al­ways glis­ten­ing – per­fectly em­bod­ied Amer­i­can fears of Rus­sian evil. He was death from above (Lund­gren is 6ft 5in), pre­ci­sion-crafted in a lab by white­clad Soviet sci­en­tists. Un­for­giv­ably, he killed Apollo Creed in the ring and broke Rocky’s heart. But the rea­son he has re­mained in our con­scious­ness more than three decades later is that his very im­age sowed fear. Ivan Drago was pure cin­ema “bad­die”.

In Creed II – the eighth film in the Rocky fran­chise – Drago is back and, this time, he’s brought along his son, Vik­tor (Munteanu). In a de­vel­op­ment both com­pelling and stupidly in­evitable, Vik­tor will fight Michael B Jor­dan’s Ado­nis Creed, Apollo’s son. Our global con­flicts, our ideals of strength, our re­la­tion­ships with our dads: what hasn’t changed since the mo­ment Apollo hit the can­vas? More than 40 years since the first Rocky film, these os­ten­si­bly two-di­men­sional char­ac­ters are here to grap­ple with all of these revo­lu­tions.

The two large men sit side by side, Munteanu in a vintage Chicago Bulls hoody, Lund­gren wear­ing a tight, white T-shirt and Bud­dhist prayer beads. It feels as if their combined breadth could block out the sun. In Creed II, their char­ac­ters’ re­la­tion­ship is tor­tured; in real life, they have an eas­ier rap­port. Lund­gren talks Munteanu into down­ing tequila shots, which leads to a con­ver­sa­tion about a re­cent night out. “Re­mem­ber the singer from the Rus­sian restau­rant?” Munteanu says. “She’s still tex­ting me!” Then Lund­gren tries to goad Munteanu into or­der­ing a “sloppy Joe”, a minced beef sand­wich that clearly doesn’t ap­peal to him. Munteanu ends up opt­ing for a blue cheese burger, which he pa­tiently waits to eat un­til the bar­tender brings him a fork and a knife.

Soon af­ter they were cast, Lund­gren and Munteanu started work­ing out in Los An­ge­les. “When you train to­gether,” Lund­gren says, “you de­velop a very pure re­spect for the per­son.” These ses­sions re­minded Munteanu of his youth in Mu­nich, where he’d go to gyms with his dad, an ob­ses­sive box­ing fan. “I felt I was back in the past with my fa­ther again.”

Lund­gren was the same age as Munteanu is now when he ap­peared in Rocky IV. The ac­tors’ age dif­fer­ence in­spired him to push harder. “If I could match him in some­thing,” Lund­gren says, “it was enough for me. As I was watch­ing Flo­rian, I was think­ing, ‘There’ll be a day when you won’t be able to do this.’ Be­ing a phys­i­cal per­son is a big part of my life. It’s great to see some­body who can be that, too, and has a bright fu­ture ahead of him.”

Fam­ily Matters

This Brook­lyn bar is a long way from where ei­ther of them started. Munteanu was dis­cov­ered by a Bucharest-based en­tre­pre­neur called Ed­uard Irimia, the founder of a mixed mar­tial arts league called Su­perkom­bat Fight­ing Cham­pi­onship. Irimia has long tried to brand Munteanu as “Big Nasty” and, look­ing into the ac­tor’s in­tense, green eyes, framed by his buzz cut, you un­der­stand why. Yet, in per­son, the im­pres­sion he makes is far more of warm earnest­ness than of cold in­tim­i­da­tion. His In­sta­gram feed fea­tures at least three photos taken in front of the same bit of LA an­gel-wing street art. When I ask him how he finds Amer­i­can food, he an­swers, “I like it. For ex­am­ple, I like cheeses­teaks.”

Lund­gren spent his teenage years in Stock­holm, im­mersed in mar­tial arts and dif­fer­en­tial cal­cu­lus. His fa­ther, a gov­ern­ment en­gi­neer, pushed him into in­tel­lec­tual over­achieve­ment – but he was also full of rage and phys­i­cally abu­sive. “My fa­ther had prob­lems at work, and he took it out on the fam­ily,” Lund­gren says. “Mostly me and my mum. The oth­ers, he never touched. I loved him and, in many ways, I still em­u­late him. But there was a pe­riod when I re­ally wanted to hurt him.”

In his twen­ties, Lund­gren grad­u­ated from Swe­den’s Royal In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy with a de­gree in chem­i­cal en­gi­neer­ing, then con­tin­ued his stud­ies at the Univer­sity of Syd­ney. There, he spent his evenings work­ing as a se­cu­rity guard at rock con­certs. One night, pop star and rad­i­cal aes­thete Grace Jones played a show in town. She spotted the ge­nius-brawler and took him up to her ho­tel suite. Soon, he was ac­com­pa­ny­ing her to down­town New York, where he met Andy Warhol, David Bowie and Michael Jack­son. Gianni Ver­sace made him a pair of leather trousers. He par­tied at the now leg­endary night­clubs Stu­dio 54, the Lime­light and the Tun­nel, where – if the sto­ries are to be be­lieved – deal­ers would brazenly pass around menus list­ing the drugs on sale in the VIP rooms.

Lund­gren had won a pres­ti­gious Ful­bright schol­ar­ship for a PHD pro­gramme at the Mas­sachusetts In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy. This was the cul­mi­na­tion of his fa­ther’s dream. But the world that Jones, his first real girl­friend, had re­vealed to him was too thrilling to leave be­hind. So, he stayed in New York. Then, he landed his role in Rocky IV, which sud­denly made him fa­mous. “I was thrown into the busi­ness very quickly,” he says. “It was a shock. And the af­ter­shocks con­tin­ued for seven, eight, nine years.”

“I wanted to re­live the night­mare Drago felt”

Lund­gren was cast in film af­ter film – as He-man in Mas­ters of the Uni­verse (1987), as an un­dead Viet­nam veteran in Univer­sal Sol­dier (1992) – de­spite, as he ad­mits, not be­ing a nat­u­ral ac­tor. “I didn’t know what I was do­ing. I had no skills,” he says. “But I made big money. I could go to Paris and meet a dif­fer­ent young lady ev­ery night if I wanted.” And amid the suc­cess, he’d never truly worked through his anger at his fa­ther. “By the time I was strong enough to get back at him for what he did to me, there was no rea­son to do so. To beat up an old man? For what hap­pened years be­fore?”

Munteanu’s fam­ily was end­lessly sup­port­ive. His mother was a lawyer, his fa­ther a der­ma­tol­o­gist. Seek­ing the op­por­tu­ni­ties of west­ern Europe, they left the Ro­ma­nian city of Târgu Mureș with­out in­form­ing any mem­bers of their ex­tended fam­ily. “Un­der com­mu­nism, you lived a cen­sored life,” Munteanu says with a shrug. “They fled by foot and car. They had de­cided they didn’t want to have chil­dren un­der those cir­cum­stances. Af­ter the dic­ta­tor was mur­dered and they were safe, they had me.” Munteanu was born in the au­tumn of 1990, ten months af­ter Ro­ma­nian army gen­er­als car­ried out a coup and ex­e­cuted Ceaușescu by fir­ing squad.

In 2003, long af­ter the fall of the Iron Cur­tain, the Mun­teanus man­aged to track down ev­ery last miss­ing rel­a­tive. “Since then, we’ve had big reunions,” Munteanu says. “I have 43 male and fe­male cousins!” His fam­ily fled the Soviet-aligned Eastern bloc for West Ger­many in 1985, the same year Rocky IV was re­leased. It’s per­haps ironic that he will now get his big break play­ing the son of pop cul­ture’s ul­ti­mate Soviet vil­lain.

Be­fore film­ing be­gan for Creed II in Philadel­phia last sum­mer, Lund­gren re­vis­ited his star-mak­ing role. “I wanted to re­live the night­mare he felt,” he says, re­fer­ring to Drago’s cli­mac­tic de­feat to Rocky. Spool­ing out the char­ac­ter’s back­story, Lund­gren imag­ined that Drago had spent the decades since drift­ing, broke and bit­ter – aban­doned by his coun­try, un­able to ac­cept his down­fall. “Ba­si­cally, life turned to hell.”

The shoot was in­tense: 14-hour days spent scowl­ing and nail­ing the ex­act­ing fight chore­og­ra­phy. When it was over, Munteanu had “a lit­tle break­down”. “It

took me a month to be Flo­rian again,” he re­calls. “I was say­ing to Dolph, ‘ We never smiled once in that movie.’” Be­fore film­ing be­gan, the di­rec­tor, Steven Caple Jr, had Munteanu en­gage in a ther­apy ses­sion with an act­ing coach, in which he un­bur­dened him­self of ev­ery painful mo­ment he could re­call. “I had to share all the dark, deep ex­pe­ri­ences I’d lived through. He knew ev­ery­thing.” Caple would later use the real-life in­ci­dents as trig­gers to snap Munteanu into char­ac­ter. When that didn’t work, Munteanu gazed at Lund­gren. “I was look­ing into his eyes,” he says. “I could read the pain on his face. So it was easy for me to de­liver the pain, too.”

That a Swede and a Ro­ma­nian-Ger­man were play­ing Rus­sians proved only slightly prob­lem­atic. They learned their lines pho­net­i­cally. Mean­while, Us-rus­sian re­la­tions haven’t been this chilly since the fall of the USSR. Creed II won’t play as promi­nently on the geopol­i­tics as Rocky IV, but Lund­gren cracks, “I do think that, mar­ket­ing-wise, it’s quite good.” When I ask whether Putin makes a cameo, Munteanu laughs. “He did not come to the fight.”

Closer to Home

Af­ter food at the bar, we say good­bye to Munteanu and slide into the but­tery seats of a black GMC Yukon. The truck crosses the Ed Koch Queens­boro Bridge and moves slowly, yacht-like, through suf­fo­cat­ing mid­town traf­fic. There are a few more ques­tions to ask Lund­gren – more per­sonal ones.

Lund­gren’s fa­ther died in 2000, just as his ca­reer be­gan what he calls a “nose­dive”. For the next decade, he largely starred in straight-to-video schlock. Dur­ing those years, his mar­riage to Anette Qviberg fell apart. They’d raised two daugh­ters in Mar­bella, Spain. Lund­gren knew his con­nec­tion to Hol­ly­wood had frayed, but he was con­cerned less about his ca­reer than about his well­be­ing. When he met Jenny San­der­s­son, his cur­rent part­ner, she pushed him into ther­apy and med­i­ta­tion. He has spo­ken re­peat­edly and openly about how much these have helped.

We glide down 57th Street, head­ing to­wards Lund­gren’s ho­tel on Cen­tral Park South. He thinks back to his first brush with the city, when Grace Jones brought him here. He’d met Stallone and was au­di­tion­ing for Rocky IV, but he hadn’t yet scored the role that would change ev­ery­thing. He’d walk across the city, will­ing him­self to be­come Ivan Drago. War­ren Robert­son, his act­ing coach, had told him: “Don’t move at all. Don’t do any­thing.” So Lund­gren prac­tised be­ing as still as pos­si­ble. He didn’t tell any­one he was up for the part. “I didn’t want them to make fun of me,” he says.

At the screen test, Lund­gren faced off against two other tow­er­ing blonds. The other ac­tors had in­ter­preted Drago as an over-the-top Rus­sian Mr T. Lund­gren laughs, imi­tat­ing their un­con­vinc­ing Slavic accents: “I will ki­i­i­i­i­i­i­i­ill you!” He played it cool. “I was just stand­ing there, fight­ing the urge to do some­thing,” he says. He clicked into char­ac­ter and de­liv­ered the sim­ple, hushed mono­logue, barely talk­ing above a whis­per: “My name is Drago. I’m a fighter from the Soviet Union…” That was it. Stallone called him a cou­ple days later. Lund­gren was with Jones, down in the Vil­lage. Now, he slips into a very good Sly im­per­son­ation: “You got the part, kid.”

“Other ac­tors en­vi­sioned Drago as a Rus­sian Mr T”

DE­SCEND­ING OR­DER

Lund­gren main­tains his mus­cle with bi­ceps curls, bench presses and rows, lad­der­ing the reps: he be­gins with 30, then does 20, then 15, then 10. “Start­ing with 30, you get a lot of blood into your mus­cles, and each set gets eas­ier.”

DRA­GOS’ DEN: LUND­GREN AND MUNTEANU, HIS ON-SCREEN SON

LUND­GREN KEEPS HIS PHYSIQUE FIT FOR A LIFE­TIME ON SCREEN

MUNTEANU BROUGHT REAL-LIFE BOX­ING SKILLS TO HIS ROLE

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