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


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”


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.”




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