Few rivalries in cinema are as famous as the one between Rocky Balboa and Ivan Drago. After beating Rocky’s old frenemy Apollo Creed literally to death during a boxing match in Rocky IV, Creed earned the hatred of every fan of the franchise and as such, the final match between Balboa and Drago had everyone in the audience hyped to see the latter fall. It seems Sylvester Stallone was one with the audience in hating Drago, too, and also the guy who played him, Dolph Lundgren.
During a recently interview with Jimmy Fallon, Stallone explained his initial reaction to meeting Lundgren during the audition process for casting the character and said the following:
Let me see if I can relate to you … I wanted in Rocky IV, I really wanted a big, horrible vicious guy, like a primitive, and I couldn’t find him. I was finding giant wrestlers and football players, and then all of the sudden, the doors open, smoke comes in, there’s light, there’s the proceeding hairline and shoulders this wide. Everything is perfect. Even his calves were coming through his clothing. He was muscular.
Indeed, what set Lundgren apart from previous antagonists in the long-running Rocky franchise was the absence of the usual bluster and heavy build found in other boxers looking to take on Rocky. In contrast, with his towering height, supermodel good looks and perfectly sculpted physique, Lundgren looked like someone who had stepped out of a fashion show wearing boxing gloves.
In fact, while auditioning to play the cold and steely Drago, Lundgren reminded Stallone of another unstoppable machine from a recent blockbuster film, with the actor saying:
He was like the real Terminator, and I go, ‘I hate this friggin’ guy.’ He’s just too perfect, too good looking. And if I loathe him, I’m sure the world will. He’s not really, but he looks like something that’s a thousand years in the future. This is not a guy you see waiting on your table.
And now we can’t help but picture Lundgren in a Terminator movie, battling Arnold in an epic matchup that decides the future of the human race.
Despite Stallone’s initial antipathy to Lundgren’s genetically blessed anatomy though, the two went on to become good friends and have appeared together in The Expendables series, in addition to reprising their roles as older versions of Rocky and Drago in Creed II.
The latter film finally managed to add some human depth to the character of Drago as well that had been sorely missing in Rocky IV, with audiences getting to see how losing the fight to Sylvester Stallone‘s protagonist had affected Ivan’s entire life and left him in many ways a broken man dreaming of finding redemption through his son’s boxing prowess.