Dolph Lundgren Discusses His Latest Film, “Skin Trade”

The Action Star On His New Movie and His Efforts to Help Fight Human Trafficking

May 08, 2015 Web Exclusive
Bookmark and Share


In Skin Trade, Dolph Lundgren plays American cop Nick Cassidy, who travels to Bangkok to take down a sex trafficking syndicate run by a violent crime lord. While there on his revenge mission, Nick’s efforts become entangled with those of an undercover detective played by martial arts star Tony Jaa. It’s an action-packed film with a supporting cast of cool, cult actors, including Ron Perlman, Peter Weller, and Michael Jai White.

Dolph Lundgren began his acting career with a small role in the 1985 James Bond movie, A View To A Kill. Standing at a muscular 6’5”, Lundgren was a formidable on-screen presence. His second film would be his breakthrough: Lundgren was cast as Ivan Drago, the imposing Soviet fighter who exchanges blows with Sylvester Stallone in Rocky IV. The rookie actor’s career exploded. He became an action film staple and an icon of the genre, with starring roles in films such as Universal Soldier, Masters of the Universe, and The Expendables. Since the turn of the century, Lundgren has found work behind the camera, as well. Lundgren is not only the star of his latest film, Skin Trade, but writer and producer.

We chatted with Lundgren about his new movie and his personal efforts to help fight human trafficking.

Austin Trunick [Under the Radar]: A lot of people are going to look at this film just as an action movie, but it’s dealing with subject matter that seems important to you. Was part of the reason you made Skin Trade to raise awareness of sex trafficking?

Dolph Lundgren: I got really interested in the subject matter. Even before the movie started, I started looking around for ways to help. I finally found this organization in L.A. that I’m working with now called CAST [The Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking]. They help a lot of survivors, and to rescue people from human trafficking and sex trafficking, and then they help them to work their way back into society here in America. Hopefully I can do more things in the future, as well.

Can you tell me about the work you’re doing with CAST?

I’ve only worked with them for six or seven months now, but I help them raise money and help raise awareness. There are events I’m going to where funds are being raised for [fighting] human trafficking, amongst other things. On the 21st of May, a premiere of Skin Trade is being done to support CAST and their human trafficking efforts. There’s another thing called BLUEcause, where people can bid on doing activities with celebrities, and I auction workouts. [Laughs] That money is going to CAST. So, that’s kind of what I do.

You were inspired to write this story by a newspaper article you read about human trafficking.

Yeah. I read an article about girls who were being trafficked from Mexico to the U.S., and they were left at the border by the traffickers. They died in this van, from heat exhaustion and suffocation. There was a similar incident in Thailand, as well. So, yeah, that was part of the inspiration for the script.

How long did the idea dwell inside your head before you started writing a story around it?

I had it for a couple of years. I did a three-act structure, and then I did the screenplay—this is way back, like six, seven, or eight years ago. The screenplay had various locations. For a while I was going to shoot in Russia, and I was over there in Moscow, looking for locations, financing, and actors, and so forth. That didn’t work out, so then I was in Southeast Asia a couple years back working on something else. I ran into somebody who was interested in financing the movie, and so I switched it to Southeast Asia.

I imagine that’s where Tony Jaa came in.

Yes, that’s correct.

Tony’s a big star in Asia, but here in the U.S. he’s still only really known by more hardcore action and martial arts movie fans. Do you feel he’s overdue for a breakthrough with U.S. audiences?

He feels that way. [Laughs] He’s a talented, very interesting guy. I think he could play more dramatic roles, too. He really wants to feature his fighting abilities, but if you look at Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, and Jet Li, those stars—they’ve got this charisma that you need. The fighting isn’t enough. I think he has that, and we brought some of that out in this movie. You see some of it, but I think he can do even better. So yeah, I think he could break through.

Were you a fan of his Thai films before working on this project?

I hadn’t seen any of them. I watched some of them because I was over there working on another film, and I was made aware of him. He’s a really great fighter, and it’s unusual these days to do your own stunts the way he does. And, you know, he has personality. But I did see many of them after that: Ong Bak, The Protector… They’re pretty cool.

Your supporting cast has Ron Perlman, Peter Weller, and Michael Jai White—it’s a cool group of actors. Did you have input in the casting?

Yes, I did. We went through a lot of different names, but what was cool is that people responded fairly well to the material.

Ron [Perlman] was great. And also, he’s a big guy, so physically he looks formidable. Jai, of course—he’s also a great fighter. And Peter Weller came in late, but he turned out to be a great addition. I loved working with him. He’s such a great actor. He’s one of those oldschool guys, like Chris Walken—where everything he does is interesting.

You mentioned that Ron Perlman’s a big guy. Has that been an obstacle for you in your career—finding co-stars who are big enough to look like they could realistically take you on?

Yeah! It has, for sure. And if I’m playing the lead, who do I make the bad guy, you know? And for some reason a lot of actors tend to be short. I don’t know why.

It’s the classic sort of John Wayne syndrome. In all the old John Wayne movies he’d have the same guys a lot, like Victor McLaglen. He used to fight the same guy all the time. He was a big guy. He had leading ladies who were fairly tall, to make it look more normal. He was 6’4”, I think. A lot of the old stars were really tall; like Robert Mitchum, those guys.

In Skin Trade, you have a long, drawn-out, choreographed fight with Tony. How long did you spend working through those scenes together?

It took a long time. They worked on it for a month or two before I got there, and then it all changed … Tony and me, we started working on it together. I think Tony and I worked on it for maybe two weeks, and then we shot it over a week. I learned a lot about how to put these things together. You have to be on top of everything.

I know these are carefully choreographed, but I’m wondering how much freedom you have when you’re the actors doing these fights to come up with your own moves and ideas?

We had a lot of freedom. You know, because I was a producer. I think what we try to do with the director is tell a story within the fight, so it’s not all just mindless punches and kicks. I think in a less sophisticated movie they’ll just fight forever, on this rooftop, that rooftop, the street, on the bus—I mean, it’s okay to do that in a comedy, or whatever. But in a real fight? That’s why the Rocky movies are great: there’s a story within the fights. Who wins, who’s on top at the beginning, and then this changes, and then that one gets injured and the other one takes over; there’s a beginning, middle, and an end to every fight. That’s what you need. You need to figure that out before you throw the moves in there.

I know you and Tony are both professionals when it comes to shooting action scenes, but how battered do you feel after something like that? How long does it take you to recover from shooting a movie with this much action?

You get beat up. You get hit, you fall… you’re basically tired. Your muscles are tired. Yeah, you need recovery time. It took me a week to get over it after that fight. You get cut and things get infected because you’re in the tropics—it’s not easy. Fortunately I’ve done a lot of fights in my career. We wanted people to see me and Tony do a lot of stuff ourselves, but you pay a price. For sure. 

You shot most of the film in Bangkok. When you’re shooting movies abroad, do you take time to get out and see stuff when you’re not working?

Pretty much everywhere I go, I make it my business to arrange a tour with a guide—at least for one day—to learn the history of the place and see the monuments and famous buildings. I like history, you know? I did that in Bangkok early on, but I do it every other place I go, too.

You had such a hand in driving Skin Trade, from writing it, to producing it, to eventually starring in it. Do you have more projects lined up like this one, which are more personal for you?

Yeah. I learned a lot from this picture: what to do, what not to do. You know, I have projects where I just act, that are more like work. I play characters and have fun doing it, but it’s like a gig for hire. And then I have things where I’m more involved. For instance, I have a project that’s a WWI picture. It’s set in 1917, in Europe. I’m from Europe, and I haven’t done much there. I probably haven’t done anything in Sweden at all. It’s a script I’ve had for probably 10 years, but for some reasons it couldn’t get made and I couldn’t get the rights, but now I’m close to getting it made. We’re working on a script re-write right now. That’s something I would direct, as well, and have a little more control than I did on Skin Trade.

But, yeah, that’s something I’m really looking forward to doing, because I like the story and, obviously, it’s set in Sweden and Germany and on the Western Front. It should be cool.

Not too long ago you put out a fitness book titled Train Like An Action Hero. Obviously we’ll need to read the book to get the whole routine, but do you have any quick tips to share?

[Laughs] Well, I think fitness isn’t about a diet, or a quick fix. It’s a lifestyle. It’s how you think … It takes a lifetime effort. People are into these big fads, you know, great abs in 20 minutes. But it’s better adopt a level where you feel comfortable, and it feels easy, and then try to build a little bit and stick with it. I think it’s the fact that it takes a long time that people find hard to accept, but that’s how it is.

***

Skin Trade is now in theaters and available on demand. For more information about the film, check out its website.

You can learn more about CAST at their website



Comments

Submit your comment

Name Required

Email Required, will not be published

URL

Remember my personal information
Notify me of follow-up comments?

Please enter the word you see in the image below:

Jody Williams
February 27th 2016
6:04pm

Bruce Lee was trying to fight sex trafficking of American women in “Enter the Dragon”.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8PGjCWpbt4U  So Dolph is trying to carry on Bruce’s legacy.  In every showing of this film - there has been parts of it edited about sex trafficking.  Watch the WHOLE unedited version from Netflix and you’ll see what I mean.