In-his-own-words, Dolph Lundgren is "actor, director, producer, martial artist, chemical engineer, and father of two beautiful daughters". Publicly, he is best known for his role as imposing Soviet boxer Ivan Drago in Rocky IV (1985). His physique, the Stallone franchise, and an intriguing stoicism captured a global audience.

Behind the muscles and build was a young man who was coming into his own—identifying his character and values in a business characterized by ego. In and out of the ring, his stance was to stay grounded. Martial arts, a practice that he’d been religiously studying and mastering since his early teens, provided a foundation to face each day with integrity and purpose. Training today is more than his physical being; it’s about strengthening his body by way of the mind with laser-sharp focus and commitment to bettering himself.

We sat down with Dolph at his villa Casa Amarillo in Spain, where he turns the needle introspectively to talk about resilience, philosophy, and rewriting the script that defined his alpha male on-screen persona.
Building resilience
CDLP: How has your martial arts training affected your personality?

DL: Martial arts were—and still are—everything to me, from the age 14 or 15, well even today. I came from a tough upbringing and my dad was abusive to me and my mom. I was always kind of crushed by him, probably because I reminded him of himself in some way… my way out was through martial arts. To try to feel like I was worth something—that's why I started.

I became attracted to the philosophy behind it all. It has to do with bigger issues and how you look at your life. When I turned 30 and eventually got into the movie business, I became sidetracked and stopped competing but I always maintained training. Even today, when I go back to Sweden, I see the same dojo. I train with the same guys, well, they're not all there but some of them are, and my instructor's the same guy. It's been a part of my personality, and part of my life.

CDLP: Beyond your physique, what has martial arts given you in terms of character? What have you gained when it comes to your mind and soul?

DL: You get a feeling of not giving up, of always getting back up. And it's not how hard you hit but it's how hard you can get hit and still get up. That's the guy who's gonna win the fight.

You learn to respect other people and also you see your own limitations so you become quite accepting of other people and you become more peaceful in one way. Because, you know, there's always somebody who can beat you up. Kick your ass somewhere. And you know that it gives you humility as a person… If you're an asshole in the dojo, you're gonna get your ass kicked sooner or later. So, you learn to be respectful and you learn about your own weaknesses and strengths.
Lensed by Jonas Unger in Spain, 2021.
CDLP: You have this interesting contrast, where your characters have been this extremely tough guy, but getting to know you, even a little, you are respectful and a soft, genuine soul.

DL: I could have been probably more destructive if I hadn't taken up martial arts. Because I had a lot of pain from my childhood, from the way I was treated, and, a lot of self loathing, a lot of not feeling confident. Not liking myself. And I think I could have easily continued the cycle of violence.

It’s a journey and you learn things all the time. When you’re 25 years old, you think you’re grown up. When you’re 45, you look back and realize how naive you were. In my life, I always like to learn new things, but the values have always stayed the same. I always knew what felt right. The problem is it gets difficult to hold onto those values in our world. You’re always dealing with egos and narcissists and those who want to bring negativity your way—it’s a struggle.
“A real man has to be emotional and in touch with oneself.”
Dolph Lundgren wearing Heavy Terry Half-Zip Sweatshirt in Grey Melange Dolph Lundgren wearing Heavy Terry Half-Zip Sweatshirt in Grey Melange
Defining ‘good masculinity’
CDLP: What you're describing now is a transformation, for you, but also a transformation of how to be a good man in general. Have you changed your idea about the definition of ‘good masculinity’?

DL: It's a journey, and you learn things all the time. You know when you're 35 you think you're grown up, and then you realize that when you were 35 you were a kid. When you're 45 you think, oh no, I'm over 40, and then when you're 50, you realize, well, I could have done things differently. I was still kind of naïve.

When you're dealing with people who are, you know, narcissistic, egotistical, and mean—they try to destroy you. They try to pull you into the dark side, to negativity. But I had to struggle within myself to always feel like I'm honest. I am respectful of people and do the right thing. I don't have to go to bed regretting something I'd done, or feeling guilty.

You have to be in touch with your emotions. [Men] have this aggressive part of us that we’re always trying to assert ourselves, to make more money. A real man has to be emotional and in touch with oneself. A good man is reliable. A good man is by your side.

Who would you want in a fox hole next to you when the enemy is about to attack? I want that guy. You don’t want him to run. You want him to help you, you want him to be tough, but caring and understanding. It’s a blend that in my view, all good men should have.
Dolph Lundgren in Heavy Terry Hoodie in Poppy Red Dolph Lundgren in Heavy Terry Hoodie in Poppy Red
Training for body and mind
CDLP: You work out continuously. How is that connected to your mind? Has your relationship between body and mind changed over the years?

DL: Look, training is meditative and it's healing because I can relax and I don't have to think about business. I do it for myself to feel good. But what I've changed lately is I don't do it to prove anything anymore, really. Only up until five years ago I was still doing crazy stuff. Like trying to out lift somebody or try to spar with a young guy—to show off. Trying to live up to something.

But now I don't feel I have to live up to it. I mean, I have to live up to it a little bit… But I don't punish myself as much as I used to. Which is a great feeling.

Like they say, if you walk into a gym, 80% of the people lift with their ego… It's much better to lift from your mind… Lately that's what's happened to me. I use it to relax, to stay healthy, and to look good for the films. I don't have to overdo anything or to outdo anybody.
Finding balance
CDLP: So it’s not so much about being the best anymore?

DL: I've been on this strange journey in my life because I've played the alpha male. Always about winning, about beating the opposition—winning the fight. Taking out the bad guys. Whatever it is. But, inside my journey was about trying to find myself, I didn't really realize that.. I was just going on in this fog. Film after film, and workout after workout.

But it was really about trying to be happy and be relaxed, and feel like I love myself. I don't have to have the external world tell me so. But it comes from the inside. That took me a long time to figure out because for many years I didn't like myself at all. And I think that was really tough, for sure.

CDLP: And how are you feeling now?

DL: I feel very lucky that I pulled this off. I came from this little town in Sweden, Spånga, and then moved up north to this even smaller town… Amidst all the craziness of Studio 54, drinking, and partying, and movies... good movies, bad movies, really bad movies, really good movies. Somehow I came out of it sort of okay.
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