Nineteen eighty-six marked the height of Dolph Lundgren's powers. Following his triumphant portrayal of Ivan Drago in Rocky IV, Hollywood pundits touted Lundgren as the Swedish Schwarzenegger. With his girlfriend, the flat-topped Jamaican actress Grace Jones, he formed a muscle-bound glamour couple that paparazzi could hardly resist. Therefore, it made little sense that Lundgren would follow a rookie producer into a small African kingdom to make a B-movie called Red Scorpion.
It didn't make any sense, except that the film's producer was Jack Abramoff--the same Jack Abramoff who bilked Indian tribes of $80 million and brought down the most powerful House Republican in the process. But, long before his siren song seduced congressmen like Tom DeLay onto the ethical shoals, it tempted the Scandinavian Adonis to abandon his burgeoning stardom for what seemed like a big-ticket production. Abramoff's winning quality was that he thought big and took others there with him. When he put together a production, even on his maiden film, he didn't just sign up a major studio. He signed up foreign investors to help cover his ambitious budget. He even signed up a foreign army to make the action scenes seem real. As he mulled the Red Scorpion offer, Lundgren got a tempting taste of Abramoff's largesse, when, thanks to the producer, he starred in his very own grip-and-grin photo-op with the president of the United States. "In [Lundgren's] living room somewhere, there is a photo of him with Ronald Reagan," the movie's production manager, Avi Kleinberger, told me.
Last spring, Kleinberger ran into Lundgren at the Cannes Film Festival. They began discussing the Abramoff scandal, which had just begun to spill into the international press. As the rest of the world expressed shock at Abramoff's venality, Lundgren shrugged. "Look, he was always connected with politicians, and you just had a feeling about the guy," he told Kleinberger. "I knew it was going to end badly for him."
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