Red Scorpion has one of the most notorious and compelling behind-the-scenes production stories in motion picture history. Involving the sneaky and dirty former Washington D.C. lobbyist Jack Abramoff and allegations that the film's funding came from South African apartheid money, Red Scorpion remains as controversial today as it did on it's initial release some twenty-five years ago. It's a incredible document of the Reagan era with it's '80s decadence and cold war ideals.
TV STORE ONLINE: So how did you come to get cast in Red Scorpion (1989)?
They came to me with this poster that had me on it looking a bit like Ivan Drago
from Rocky IV
(1985). I read the script, and I thought it was quite good. It was an interesting story about a Russian soldier who basically accepts a mission and then changes his mind because he realizes that he's not doing the right thing morally--he's torn between doing his duty as a soldier and his moral duty as a human being. I liked the film's concept very much.
TV STORE ONLINE: There were some scenes that were in the original script that never made the final cut of the film right?
LUNDGREN: Yeah, you're right. I do remember, there was an alternate opening to the film. Originally, I think it opened with this sequence where my character is in Russia training in the snow. I believe that got cut due to the budget issues. Also, I believe there were some changes to the ending of the film, but at this time I can't recall what those may have been.
TV STORE ONLINE: Red Scorpion is one of my favorite films, but I'm also a huge fan of that film you did with Perry Lang and John Sayles called Men Of War (1994). There's an interesting bit in Red Scorpion where this kid walks up to your character and says, "Hey G.I. JOE, do you have a piece of chewing gum?" In Men Of War, actor B.D. Wong gets asked the exact same question by a kid as well. Was that something that was in the script, or was it some sort of homage to Red Scorpion by John Sayles or a pure coincidence?
LUNDGREN: I remember both of those scenes, but I think it was just by chance. John Sayles is a clever guy, and maybe he had seen Red Scorpion beforehand, but I doubt it. I think you're just a clever guy that caught that. More clever than any of us cause I didn't catch it.
TV STORE ONLINE: How was it working with the notorious Joseph Zito as your director?
LUNDGREN: Zito was great. He was a really interesting guy. Very charming, and very smart. I mean I was a kid of sorts when we shot the film. I wasn't very film smart, but I was really into playing this character and I really didn't know what I was doing. I was still learning. Zito was a very experienced guy and that helped a lot.
TV STORE ONLINE: And the film was written by Jack Abramoff. He was around down there in South Africa while you were shooting the film wasn't he?
LUNDGREN: Yeah, he was. Zito, I remember him functioning more as a producer on the film than a director. He and Abramoff were kind of running the show down there for sure.
TV STORE ONLINE: Red Scorpion on the surface is very much a basic three-act movie. And while that second act or the middle section of the film slows the film a bit, I just adore that stuff you're doing with the elder bushman in the film. There's great chemistry there, don't you think?
Yeah. I thought the script for Red Scorpion was quite good. It's a bit of an epic. It reminds me of some of the big films of the '50s and '60s like The Ten Commandments
(1956) or something. Obviously, I'm not comparing Red Scorpion to The Ten Commandments
. But maybe you could compare it to Spartacus
(1960) or something. The movies
back then weren't as quick, and the audience had patience to sit through three acts. So with Red Scorpion
you have the patience to sit through that middle with the bushman, you sit through the tattoo sequence, the hunt, and unlike any other action film of the '80s you actually see the lead character's transformation. It's a memorable film.
That bushman was a 90-year-old guy. He wasn't an actor. He didn't speak English. He didn't speak Afrikaans. He spoke "Click" language. So we had to have two interpreters. One to go from English to Afrikaans, and then another to go from Afrikaans to "Click". It slowed things down. Because when Zito would be directing, he'd tell the interpreter to have the bushman walk to the right, and he'd walk to the left or stops and didn't go on time. That's what I remember the most. There were a lot of problems prior to shooting the film. We changed shooting locations a couple times. I was there in South Africa for months waiting before we even started to shoot. Another thing that I really remember about shooting Red Scorpion is just the Namibia landscape. Also those bushman. Because those people just live out in the middle of this dry land, and there's nothing out there, but somehow they manage to do it. It's pretty cool. Barefoot too.
Red Scorpion is one of those films where it features a lead character that has this great arc. And by today's standards, that's something that's pretty hard to find.
TV STORE ONLINE: That scene where you take the bushman by the arm and the two of you walk through that carnage in that village is pretty incredible.
LUNDGREN: Thanks, man.
TV STORE ONLINE: So how much training in pre-production do you have to do in order to prepare yourself to deal with all the explosives and firearms you're working within the film?
LUNDGREN: Well you know those days were quite primitive compared to today. It was almost twenty-five years ago. It was South Africa, so a lot of the guys I was working with and training with were real soldiers. My gun instructor went off on the weekends and killed some people who had tried to blow up a pipe line. You know, some actual terrorists. I did a lot of light firing exercises with these real South African soldiers. They were S.A.S regiments from Rhodesia. It was pretty intense. There was real dynamite going off in Red Scorpion without too much safety concern going on.
TV STORE ONLINE: I'm a huge fan of the film's you've directed as well. In particular, I really love The Russian Specialist aka The Mechanic (2005). I was curious to find out who some of your directorial influences were?
LUNDGREN: I like Eastwood quite a bit. I like his simplicity. He's under estimated in some ways. He kinda worked the indie way up into the big leagues. There are a lot of great directors out there. I like Kurosawa. I like Tony Scott. I really like what he did with Man On Fire (2004). There are a lot of directors that I like. I think when you direct you don't really know your own style. I never had any formal training, but what happens on a set is that you get asked about a hundred questions a day. Then the next thing you know a film is released and you say, "Shit, OK I guess that is my style." I think it takes 5-10 movies before you really find your stride. I don't know. Sometimes I'll see an obscure film that will inspire me, and then I'll watch some of that '60s French new wave stuff as well.
TV STORE ONLINE: So do you have a favorite film?
Jesus, that's a tough one. There are so many. I like Unforgiven
(1993), the Eastwood picture. I really love the rawness of it, and the theme and the style. Plus I like The Godfather
(1972). I love how the frame is wider and it really gives the actor a lot of room to work. I love epic films. Stuff with a hero on a quest. I like those stories where there's that arc where the character is faced with a big choice. The first Rocky
(1976)--film is like that.
TV STORE ONLINE: Going back to Red Scorpion...You did almost all your own stunts on the film as well, right?
LUNDGREN: Jesus, I did so many crazy stunts in that film. It's unbelievable when I think back about it. It would never happen today. Nobody would ever let you do any of that stuff now. They had scorpions crawling on me. They put these little rubbers on their stingers so they were less dangerous. I was bitten by a hyena. I had to have tetanus shot and I remember the trainer was there with a gun. The hyena wasn't supposed to really bite me, but he kept doing it. Finally, I got angry and told the trainer that I would take his fuckin' gun and shoot it if it bit me one more time. It didn't. The trainer broke down into tears, I think it was his pet. I think it bit me a total of three times.
The whole thing was quite hairy. I have quite a few stories like that. Putting cotton into your ears preparing for an explosion that's coming while you're trying to time it so you jump and somersault off of a trampoline into the air, and then fall into the water. Crazy. All of this stuff today would be done via green screen. On the first day of shooting on the film, my double broke his neck in a car accident. This type of filmmaking doesn't happen anymore
TV STORE ONLINE: When Red Scorpion came out initially, there was an interview with you where the interviewer asked you if you would ever have the desire to do a film comedy? Are you still thinking you'd like to do that?
LUNDGREN: Everyone always says that. If it happens it happens. Yeah, why not. But I'm not going to go looking for it. Drama with a little bit of comedy...those characters are kind of fun. But a full blown comedy? I don't know. I guess as long as I keep looking young. Clint Eastwood was my exact age back in 1983, and he's done a few things since so there you go.
TV STORE ONLINE: You've done a great string of amazing film's in your career. How important do you feel Red Scorpion is in terms of your body of work and your legacy?
LUNDGREN: I think it's important. It was a statement of the times as well. It's almost a type of historical document of another time now. It was crazy. I was a kid, and I was on this exotic location for a long time, and it was very real. So it's a good memory for me. It's one of those film's I did when I was younger and not as film smart. It's not your typical 80's action movie in any way. It really holds up. It's got great performances in it. I look back on it now and remember everything fondly.
TV STORE ONLINE: What was it like working with John Woo on Blackjack (1998)?
LUNDGREN: He was a nice guy. I learned so much from him about cameras. He's a perfectionist. It was cool to work with him.
TV STORE ONLINE: So I promised myself I wouldn't ask you about Rocky IV, but I can't resist the chance to ask you...So if there was to be a rematch between Rocky and Ivan Drago, who would win?
LUNDGREN: laughing...Well, Sly's still in really great shape so I don't know. I suppose I'd still have the height and reach advantage, so I suppose I'd still have a shot at it. I don't know, Sly can take a punch.