Throughout a career of playing diverse characters on screen, Dolph Lundgren has gone up against Rocky Balboa, an alien drug dealer, and an army of enemies, but in his latest film, Don't Kill It, Lundgren fights what is possibly his most dangerous opponent yet: a demon that thrives on death. With Don't Kill It now out in select theaters and on VOD, I had the great pleasure of speaking with Lundgren and director Mike Mendez about balancing vicious violence with blood-drenched humor, sequel possibilities, and much more.
Congratulations on Don’t Kill It. Dolph, Jebediah Woodley is such a great character for you. When did you initially find out about this role, and what about playing Jebediah appealed to you?
Dolph Lundgren: I found out about it probably 9–10 months before we shot the film because it was postponed a couple of times, which was actually a good thing because once it all finally came together, I had to get in there and roll off different pages of dialogue and monologues pretty quickly. But I had it all down, because I’d already rehearsed it for the first time it was supposed to happen and the second time. That was a blessing in disguise because the character grew a little bit in me. It was well-written to start with, and then Mike, of course, had some great ideas. But it was fun to talk too much [as Jebediah], to keep running your mouth whether the other characters want to hear it or not. That’s part of what made this guy fun.
Even though it was your first time playing Jebediah, you seemed so comfortable in the role, that it felt like you’ve been playing this character for years. Did it feel like a perfect fit when you first started filming the movie?
Dolph Lundgren: Yeah, it did. It takes nine months for a baby to develop, it takes nine months to develop a character. In my career, whether it’s a big or a small movie, when I’ve worked on something for a long time, like Drago in Rocky IV, they start to take on a life of their own. I noticed that with my role on the show Arrow—I’ve worked on that character [Konstantin Kovar] a lot. Jebediah Woodley is one of those guys that when I’m sitting in my rocking chair one day, thinking back, I’ll remember that guy. He was a fun guy to play.
Mike, coming off of Lavalantula and The Last Heist, what was it about Don't Kill It that made you want to tell this story and bring it to life on screen?
Mike Mendez: It really spoke to my sensibilities. I was coming off of a TV movie, Lavalantula, and it was nice to go back to my roots. When I was growing up, those were the kind of movies that I wanted to make, Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson splatter-fests, and it was nice to be able to embrace that and enjoy the violence. I don't think we get brutal violence on the big screen as much as I'd like to. So this was an opportunity to really play, and to work with someone like Dolph made it all the better and all the more exciting. There was horror, there was comedy, and it had a certain light, fun pace to it that I felt was something I could really sink my teeth into.
This film is a rare bird—it doesn't hold back on the violence at all, but at the same time it's a very funny movie, so it's a great balance of horror and comedy, and it pushes the boundaries in both areas. Was it important for you guys to maintain that balance between the situations being scary and brutal, but also having Jebediah's sense of humor shining through?
Mike Mendez: The comedy was certainly a thing that we all embraced and all felt was important. If it was played too overly serious, the movie might offend people. But oddly enough, as violent as it is, we don't get people walking out, we don't get people who are upset afterwards, we tend to get smiles and high fives. So I feel that it's striking some balance, that even someone who doesn't enjoy violence or doesn't like blood seems to somehow take it in stride. We hit the sweet spot and made an incredibly vicious movie in a delightful way.
Dolph Lundgren: You're right, Mike, and Jebediah has done this so many times, that he trivializes all of this violence—it doesn't mean anything to him.
Mike Mendez: [Laughs] Exactly. He's "been there, done that." Like, "Yeah, this is going to go bad."
Dolph, you and Kristina [Klebe], who plays Agent Evil "Lyn" Pierce (as the locals call her), had a really nice chemistry in this movie that was like a buddy cop element with a hint of romance that really shines through. What was it like working with Kristina to bring that relationship to life?
Dolph Lundgren: Yeah, I just got along with her. Kristina plays her character pretty straight, and because my character's so crazy and colorful, it works quite well. Kristina really loved the part, so she was very accommodating and willing to explore it and work hard.
The town you guys shot in has this Mayberry feel to it, and the community really feels like a small town out of a Stephen King novel or the Silver Bullet adaptation. Where did you guys film, and what was that atmosphere like?
Mike Mendez: That was largely a happy accident. The script that we read took place in Alaska. I've been attached to it for three years, and it really had this Alaskan, 30 Days of Night kind of Fargo snow feel. Then when the movie got green-lit, it was sort of like, "Great, we're shooting in Mississippi." [Laughs.] And I was like, Well, we don't have a big budget, I know we're not going to cover the town in snow and pretend it's Alaska, so I better adapt very quickly.
But, thankfully Mississippi has its own charm, and what's funny is that I had scouted out a town in Mississippi, and when we got there, it was Christmastime, and they were like, "You can't shoot here, this is a big holiday celebration." So we had to find a town another twenty miles out, and they'd never shot a movie or had a movie crew there. It's actually one of the poorest suburbs in America, to be honest. So for them, what a joy.
They say it takes a village, we had the whole town help us make the movie. They were giving us churches and police cars and shutting down streets just because they've got Dolph Lundgren in town, they're stoked. So that was great. We just had a lot of good luck, so that even though things didn't exactly go our way, things fell in place and we could roll with it and make something out of it. The town really had a lot of charm and looked very much like the town on Stranger Things, they both had similar vibes, so that worked out great.
Don't Kill It definitely leaves it open for more Jebediah adventures, so is this a world that both of you would be willing to return to in a potential sequel?
Dolph Lundgren: Yeah, sure. Hopefully we can have a little more planned and get a little more resources next time, but I think so.
Mike Mendez: Yeah, totally. That's the thing that probably means the most to me out of everything, that people are reacting so much to the film, and what we constantly hear is, "Will there be another one?" What more could you ask for? The character, we're finding him at a moment in time. There have been adventures before and there will be adventures afterwards, so I'm hoping we'll find a financial partner that wants to explore that and take that ride, because we'd love to explore that, too.
Is there anything coming up on deck for either of you that you can tease?
Dolph Lundgren: I'm playing a character on Arrow, and doing a couple of other small movies, I've got some stuff I'm producing and directing, some other things I'm trying to put together and maybe another Expendables, so there's some stuff going on.