hen cameras rolled on “The Expendables” back in 2009, director and star Sylvester Stallone had assembled a crack team of action icons that made Arnie’s crew in “Predator” look meek and retiring by comparison. And many of them weren’t shy about getting embroiled in high-profile feuds.
Martial arts star Jet Li, who rose to global fame in the ’90s, fell out with his close friend Jackie Chan after the latter felt he was making fun of him in “High Risk;” Eric Roberts took his family feud with sister Julia public in 2002 when he dissed her Oscar-winning performance in “Erin Brockovich.” WWE legend Steve Austin also joined the team, a gruff competitor who was no stranger to epic feuds.
His long-running rivalry with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is regarded by many fans as one of the greatest of all time, and he also revealed that there was real-life animosity between him and Vince McMahon. Randy Couture, coming from the world of UFC, also had a high-profile spat with the sport’s president, Dana White.
Then you had the potential square-ups between the movies contingent of ’80s stars: Stallone himself; Dolph Lundgren, brought in from the cold for his biggest role in years; and Stallone’s old rival Arnold Schwarzenegger, appearing onscreen with Sly for the first time in a cameo. Add to the mix the famously prickly Bruce Willis and outspoken Mickey Rourke, and you had a cast with the potential to cause more problems for each other than the bad guys.
With that amount of testosterone and big egos, it was of little surprise to learn recently that tempers flared between Stallone and Lundgren. Their fraught relationship dates all the way back to “Rocky IV,” so here’s how it all unfolded.
The Expendables beef
Earlier this year, Dolph Lundgren sat down with Graham Bensinger to discuss his up-and-down relationship with Sylvester Stallone. Several major outlets picked up on the interview, particularly the revelation that tensions on “The Expendables” set rose so high that Lundgren was almost pushed to his limit:
“He was very harsh on me in a scene in Expendables 1, where he kinda yelled at me in front of the whole crew and had me do about 20 takes on a scene… It was like, ‘My grandmother could do it better than that. What the f***, what are you doing?’ You know, basically in front of everybody. And there was press there that day too, international press.”
We don’t know Stallone’s version of events yet, but it’s possible that Lundgren gets a bit sensitive about these kinds of things due to the power dynamic in their relationship. In the same interview, he spoke about how often Stallone was his “boss” and he was able to stand up to him as equals on “Creed II” regarding script changes. Nevertheless, Stallone’s directorial approach that day on “The Expendables” left Lundgren feeling ready to throw one of Ivan Drago’s big haymakers at him:
They patched it up and went on the star together in two sequels and the upcoming fourth movie in “The Expendables” franchise, but it wasn’t the first time they’d butted heads.
Origin of the beef?
Tensions between Sylvester Stallone and Dolph Lundgren go back to their days working together on “Rocky IV.” Lundgren, who had been persuaded by his partner Grace Jones to ditch his Fulbright Scholarship at MIT to pursue a career in acting, beat 5000 other actors to the role of Ivan Drago and totally changed the way Stallone thought about the near-invincible Russian fighter. He told the Hollywood Reporter:
“I was seeing the Russian Drago as this Man-Beast, almost animal-like, unbeatable… Then this supernatural uber Viking walked in. I said, ‘This is what people may look like in 500 hundred years. Genetically perfect, engineered to be the athlete of the future.”
Drago’s wife was played by Lundgren’s fellow Scandanavian Brigitte Nielsen, who also happened to be married to Stallone. According to Lundgren, she was unhappy with some aspects of their relationship and used him to make her husband jealous, resulting in a warning from Sly to back off.
If that story is true, then you have to wonder if the friction added a little extra spice to their fight scenes together. Stallone already had a reputation for being physically demanding on himself and his actors in the “Rocky” movies, and Carl Weathers had already threatened to quit after encountering Lundgren’s power in the ring while filming Apollo Creed’s fatal bout with the Russian fighter.
When it came to Rocky’s revenge mission to Moscow to face Drago, Stallone instructed Lundgren to really let it rip. Lundgren responded by putting Stallone in hospital for over a week with a swollen heart after a particularly vicious uppercut to the ribcage. The Swedish actor saw the funny side: “All I did was obey orders… He was the boss. I did what he told me.
Dolph Lundgren has acknowledged that Sylvester Stallone apologized for the way he treated him on “The Expendables” set. In his interview with Graham Bensinger, Lundgren put it down to Stallone being a “crazy Italian” and went on to say how much he loved and respected him. Their relationship may be fraught, but it seems that their fates and fortunes are intrinsically linked. Lundgren has made an appearance on Stallone’s “The Family Stallone” show, and the evident tension between them gave their scenes together in “Creed II” an extra dimension, something approaching the palpable antagonism of Paul Newman and Steve McQueen in “The Towering Inferno.”
More friction emerged last year when Stallone went on an angry Twitter rant slamming the prospect of a “Drago” spinoff movie, venting at producer Irwin Winkler on Instagram (in a post he since deleted):
“Another Heartbreaker… Just found this out… ONCE AGAIN, this PATHETIC 94 year old PRODUCER and HIS MORONIC USELESS VULTURE CHILDREN, Charles And David, are once again picking clean THE BONES of another wonderful character I created without even telling me… [I] APOLOGIZE to the FANS, I never wanted ROCKY characters to be exploited by these parasites.”
He then turned his attention to Dolph Lundgren, who calmly responded by telling Stallone and everyone else to chill out because the potential project was only in the very early stages of development at that point. He also noted that he was under the impression that Stallone would be on board “as a producer or even as an actor.” It remains to be seen whether Stallone would go for that; in the meantime, we’ll just have to wait to see what happens in the next episode of the Stallone & Lundgren show.