'Creed II' Star Dolph Lundgren On Drago's Redemption And His Role In 'Aquaman' [Interview]

By Rocky IV, Sylvester Stallone had to go bigger and bigger to find worthy opponents for Rocky Balboa. After defeating Apollo Creed in a rematch in Rocky II, he discovered Mr. T to play the street tough Clubber Lang in Rocky III. For Rocky IV, Stallone cast Dolph Lundgren as the Russian contender Ivan Drago to tower over both himself and Apollo Creed.

33 years later, the Dragos return in Creed II. Now Ivan has a son, Viktor, a boxer who wants to challenge Adonis Creed for the title. The Dragos come to Philadelphia and Ivan even confronts Rocky decades after their Russia bout.

Lundgren spoke with /Film by phone last week to discuss the return of Ivan Drago in Creed II. The film shows a father/son story paralleled with Adonis and Rocky, but it turns out there was even more to the Drago story that didn't even make the final cut. 

Did you ever think you would play Drago again?

Nope. No, actually in my head I had this notion of not wanting to play him, actually to do the opposite of Sly Stallone, not do another seven appearances as that character but just leave him back in the '80s and his red trunks, just be done with it.

That was really your first role, save for a scene in A View to A Kill. How different was it to play him after 30+ years of acting experience?

It was a huge difference. To make a good film, you need a good script and a good director. We had a great script and a great director. We had a really fantastic script that I read in January this year. It sort of blew away any doubt that I had that they would make him a one dimensional Russian bad guy. Also, Steven Caple was very protective of all the character arcs. For me, it was sort of surreal in a way to be up in the ring with Stallone again and speak Russian and have 2000 extras cheer when I showed up as Ivan Drago. It was warm and a nice feeling. On some levels, it was a challenge because I wanted to do something really good and powerful. I've lived a full life, 30 years of living and family and divorce and too much drinking and career problems and injuries and doubts. A lot of things have happened to me since 1985 that I can draw on to play this guy who obviously has a lot of issues that he's dealing with.

For 30 years, other people have been asking you to say, "I must break you." Were you happy to read a new twist on that line in the script?

[Laughs] Very, very happy. I think in the film it's even off screen. I say, "Break him" in Russian. I think it's off camera. Yeah, it's not just a new take on the line but I think the audience are a little more sophisticated now. Back in the '80s, you have to be Soviet bad guy. I don't think Americans would like to see multi-layered soviets. It was a nuclear standoff and there was no room for that. Now, people are ready for more complexity. I really enjoyed playing somebody who, at first in the film, you don't like him. Then you start understanding what happened to this man and you understand why he's doing what he's doing. There's not too much blame left at the end actually. There's a lot more redemption and forgiveness there at the end.

There was "break him" and there was also "My son will break your boy."

That's a good scene because that's early in the arc where as far as the audience knows, Drago has not changed. He's holding onto the past. It was fun to say those lines but it was different. When I said it the first time, it was a little more of a one-liner the way it was written. It was just walk up to Rocky, hit your mark and say the line. Now, that particular line, "My boy will break your boy," came as part of a three page scene where it just kind of flows into it.

Do you think Ivan has any remorse for killing a man in the ring?

He has, lots. He had remorse for it and I think the way it was described in the script is that he does tell Rocky, "I did not mean for your friend to die." That line was taken out but I think he had remorse. He was a young man and obviously had to sort of take the blame off himself, a natural reaction. You want to blame other people, especially for something painful. So he blames it on Apollo, Apollo was just not strong enough to survive. You get in the ring in boxing, you get hurt, you get hurt. I think that's how Drago thinks about it but I think inside he's sorry about it. At the end there was a scene where me and Rocky kind of make up and I also make amends with Adonis for his father. There was a locker room scene that is not in the picture. I don't know if it was too soft or it was too much maybe, or maybe it's left for Creed III. I don't know.

Did you film that scene?

Yes, it was shot and it's very emotional. At the end, after the fight, Adonis and Rocky are walking back and they see Ivan taking the wraps off his son's hands and kind of comforting him. He's feeling bad for losing. I leave the room and Adonis walks in and talks to my son. I come back in and we have a moment, me and Adonis, and then I have a moment with Rocky after that. That was taken off. Maybe it was too much or maybe it was too emotional or too soft. Maybe redemption comes next time around.

Was Creed II a lot easier physically than Rocky IV since you didn't have to train to be in fighting shape?

Yes, it was easier. I trained to be big enough to push my son around in some of the scenes in the movie and still look formidable to some extent physically, but it was easier physically. I handed that torch over to Florian and he had to suffer and do two weeks of boxing 12 hours a day that Stallone and I did back in the day. It was a relief not to have to do that actually.

And we'll see you as King Nereus in Aquaman?

Yeah, I liked playing Nereus. It's another father figure believe it or not. I'm playing Amber Heard's father. She's a handful in the movie and I'm trying to actually keep her alive and keep the alliance alive. It was kind of an interesting movie.  Even though I was hanging in wires, I was sort of playing a political figure which I haven't done before either.

Think he'll be back for Aquaman 2?

I don't know. I guess it all depends on how the film does. If it does, I don't know if they want to bring King Nereus back. I haven't seen the picture either. I hadn't seen Creed II until last night.