A day in the life of Dolph Lundgren: The actor and director discusses his new film 'Castle Falls'
December 3, 2021
Dolph Lundgren is a busy man these days.
In addition to reprising roles in two film franchises (the upcoming sequels for Aquaman and The Expendables), Lundgren starred in, directed and produced his new film, Castle Falls. His sixth directorial effort, Castle Falls teams Lundgren with actor and martial artist Scott Adkins (Zero Dark Thirty, X-Men Origins: Wolverine). A largely contained action-thriller, the film centers around an abandoned hospital in Alabama that’s scheduled to be demolished. Unknown to most, a gang leader stashed three million dollars in the building, and now three desperate parties race to get it before the scheduled demolition. With a great ticking clock (courtesy of screenwriter Andrew Knauer) and strong emotional through-lines for its characters, Castle Falls is a gritty, working-class film that despite the far-from-most-of-our-reality concept, is easy to connect with, especially in these difficult times.
I had the opportunity to discuss the film's origins and his involvement with Lundgren via Zoom from the production of Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom (currently shooting in Greece).
“I was about to do this other film with Scott Adkins and it fell through,” Lundgren says. "I was looking for a two-hander. I read a bunch of scripts and this one came across my desk. It didn’t really have two main characters, but I decided I could make the guard a little bit more important and give him a backstory about his daughter and I added all that [in]. And the fact that it was set in a building that was about to be demolished at a certain time, I thought was good. It made me think that I could shoot this on a tough schedule — a short schedule — which I did: Seventeen days. So with all of those inputs, the fact that I know Scott Adkins is a good guy, he’s a great fighter; I know him, he’s not gonna mess around or give me trouble. Then I decided to do it.”
But as with most things in Hollywood over the past couple of years, COVID played a part, as well.
“We were shut down in March last year, which was right when it started,” Lundgren admits. “Then we picked it back up in October last year and finished seventeen days later in early November.”
The thing with most action films is that they're usually in a rush to get to the action. One of the things that really distinguishes Castle Falls is that, especially in the first act, we really get to take our time and get to know the characters; get involved and connect with them that amps up the drama. It’s not until almost the midpoint, where it really kicks in.
Lundgren admits that was in thanks both to the script and his approach to the material.
“It was a bit like that in the script, but I decided to put my money towards the end of the movie because, you know, we only had so many resources. And I wanted to do ‘a day in the life’. I wanted to do a day in the life of most of the characters. I always liked that in movies. It could be only ten minutes of following somebody getting up in the morning, whatever, you know,” he laughs. “That kind of connects you with them. So I wanted to do that for the main characters. And then I took out a couple of action beats that were in the first act ‘cause I thought they were a little too brutal. It didn’t build. I wanted to build that more so later in the movie; you’re more invested, like you said, and then I don’t have to…” he laughs again. “My resources: I didn’t want to spread them out too much, so I could do it more towards the end.”
It's an effective approach. The action hits harder and feels more like real life. You’re not dropped into an action film — you’re dropped into this gritty, neorealistic drama that then turns into an action film.
“Thank you,” Lundgren says. “Those are the types of movies I like. Clint Eastwood does that quite a bit. He’s very smart. He knows that when the movie starts — you’re hoping — you have about 10, 15 or 20 minutes where you will actually absorb a lot of character development without getting antsy. Like Unforgiven, you know, there’s no big shootout immediately. It’s a guy and his kids and some hogs,” he laughs, “and you know, slowly you get into that. Those movies are always, to me, the best. So I’m trying to do that. I might direct something next year as well and I’m going to try to stick to that and keep that in mind. It’s really about the people. If you don’t care about the people, then it doesn’t matter how much action you throw in there,” he shrugs, “it doesn’t matter. People have seen it all already.”
There’s also a reflection of the working class and working-class problems that these characters have that you don’t also see so much in action films. All the characters in Castle Falls need money; even the villains. This is interesting because they’re all desperate to get this money and you even see the villain's side of it; it makes them more three-dimensional. Reminiscent of Lundgren's character in Creed II, Ivan Drago — he was more complicated and human in that one than he was in Rocky IV. I, for one, was curious if that itself was an inspiration; if Lundgren took a cue from one of his most famous roles.
“Yeah, I did,” Lundgren replies. “I was lucky. I’d say the last four years I was lucky because James Wan wanted me in Aquaman, which was playing a political figure, really. It’s a guy who’s trying to negotiate deals with people and it didn’t really have too much action. In the second one, I have a little more action. And I did scenes with Willem Dafoe and Nicole Kidman and people like that. And then I got into Creed II and that director, Steven Caple, he was very much into this ‘day in the life’ of somebody who has nothing, who lives in the projects, and obviously, he told me why: Because that’s how he grew up. That’s why I think you’re right that as soon as I could feel that, I really responded to that as an actor and as an artist. I respond to the hardship, to coming from a place of pain, and to find that place in the characters. So I’m trying to include that now when I work as a director. Because once you find that — everyone has it — and actors are always vulnerable and they always have something in there, that if you can connect with that, then you can really go anywhere.”
I admit to Lundgren that after watching Creed II, it felt like Ivan and his son's story wasn't over. With the success of Cobra Kai, I wonder if there've been any rumblings about a potential cable series with the Dragos? It just seems like such an obvious idea to me that I’m just so curious…
And Lundgren doesn't disappoint. After smiling knowingly, he throws his head back and laughs.
“You’re on the money,” he admits. “It has been discussed. I don’t know what’s happening to it now, but MGM was interested to do it, so we’ll see.”
While that's on the back burner, Lundgren is keeping busy.
“I have this other script that I’ve sort of had for like ten years or more,” Lundgren says. “It’s about immigration. It’s set on the border. It’s a thriller but it’s got immigration, police corruption, cartels — things like that. And I’ve had it for a while, but it’s in the news a lot now because it’s a big issue. So I’m trying to put that together in California, on the border, like in March probably. I hope. I’m working on the script right now. Just the stuff we’re talking about; I need some more of that. So I’m trying to figure that out.”
You mean the gritty, real-life quality to it? I say.
“Yeah, and to see both sides of a very difficult question,” Lundgren continues. “What do we do about immigration? Is it legal, is it illegal? Is it human, is it inhuman? There are all of those questions in there, but nobody really has the answer. I don’t have to give the answer, I just want to do something that’s set in that world because I’m an immigrant, so I kind of understand where people are coming from.”
Like Eastwood and Scorsese, that honest and sophisticated approach of simply starting the conversation treats the audience with respect, rather than forcing an answer upon them. Castle Falls treats the average action audience with just such respect, saying ‘You’re smart enough to go on this journey. We can take our time and hear all the sides from all the characters.’
“Well put. Thank you,” Lundgren says. “I’m glad you feel that way.”
Castle Falls will be available in Theaters and On Demand and Digital Dec. 3.
Written by: Edwin CannistraciEdwin Cannistraci is a professional screenwriter. His comedy specs PIERRE PIERRE and O’GUNN both sold with more than one A-list actor and director attached. In addition, he’s successfully pitched feature scripts, TV pilots and has landed various assignment jobs for Universal, Warner Bros, Paramount and Disney.