"I’d like men to think about evolving into something more sophisticated, more seductive. To explore the possibility of an entirely new masculinity." – Fashion designer Hedi Slimane

“I just want someone I can hold on to/ I want muscles.” – Singer Diana Ross

The night before we talk, Dolph Lundgren tells me, he appeared on a Swedish TV show. “One of those late-night talks shows where they always throw a curveball at the guests,” he explains.

“I was sitting there in my suit talking about stuff and the guy starts talking about fitness. And he pulled out these two chin bars onto the stage in front of the audience and said: ‘We’re going to do a chin contest.’

“So, there I am ending up doing chins to prove myself.”

He pauses, thinks about that and then adds: “It wasn’t like solving differential equations.”

True, but how did you do anyway Dolph? “I did OK, actually. They cut out after 10. Still, if I hadn’t been working out it would have been kind of embarrassing not to be able to do one.”

It is, I accept, more than possible that you haven’t thought about Dolph Lundgren since the 1980s. Back in the day he was the Russian villain Ivan Drago in the Rocky movies and appeared in a loin cloth and not much else in the live-action (you can take the quotation marks around live action as read) version of He-Man.

But that was then. Apart from the odd appearance in an Expendables sequel or two (which are themselves pretty niche), his IMDB listing is full of what we used to call straight-to-video titles such as Puncture Wounds, Silent Trigger and Sharknado 5: Global Swarming.

And yet suddenly Lundgren is back in fashion, with roles in two full-on, proper Hollywood movies. Right now, he’s back in cinemas as an older Ivan Drago in the latest Rocky iteration, Creed II. And next month he turns up as King Nereus in the new underwater superhero movie Aquaman next month.

He wasn’t sure about taking a role in the former. “I didn’t want to mess with that character,” he says. “It’s a bit of an iconic character and I did it many many years ago.

“But the script turned out to be very good and it uses how I’ve aged and how the franchise has changed and I thought it was a good marriage.

And the result is very different from the original movies. “Yes it is. Both films are directed by young African-American directors. So, It’s more more urban, it’s younger it’s very modern, very character driven. I like that.”

With these roles, it feels, he admits, like he’s been given another chance. “I’ve done a lot of work on myself and I’m trying to put out a lot of good energy out into the universe. And yeah, maybe the energy is bouncing back now, and I get a chance to express myself a little bit. Still in the action adventure realm, but with good directors and more interesting characters.

“It feels exciting. It could be the beginning of a nice second act.”

Lundgren is 61 now. He lives in Los Angeles these days. That might not surprise you given the way he talks. But he’s smarter – intellectually and emotionally – than his image might suggest.

He has just been on a trip to London to take his youngest daughter to boarding school there. But when we talk he is still in Sweden, his homeland. A good place, perhaps, for him to take stock of the first act of his life. The days growing up under the shadow of an abusive father, his wild days with Grace Jones and an unexpected movie stardom that was not what he had been planning. Fame, fatherhood, divorce, therapy. They’re all part of the story.

Talking about all of this Lundgren makes for entertaining, wryly amusing company. He doesn’t shy away from the damage wrought on him and by him, but he has a kind of Californian hippy laissez faire attitude to it all now.

It is fair to say that, back when he first became a star, some of us never really looked beyond the muscles. To be honest, it was something of a revelation to me to read Grace Jones’s autobiography and learn that before they met Lundgren had a degree and a master’s in chemical engineering and had won a Fulbright scholarship to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston. A road not taken in the end.

There’s a mind there that has been ignored by most of us. “Hah, yeah, it gets ignored a lot,” he laughs.

“I think I have suffered from that inner confusion,” he adds. “Did I do the right thing? Why do people look at me in a certain way? And then, of course, you look at Ivan Drago. As a character he’s a guy in red shorts who beats people up. You look at He-Man. His outfit is the size of a stamp. He carries a huge sword and he chops people up. I understand why people look at me in a certain way.

“I look back now at what I looked like when I was that age and I’m a little bit amazed. Wow, I look unreal. And this was before Photoshop.

“People couldn’t imagine that guy was a Fulbright scholar and I understand. I couldn’t have imagined it either.”

Who was that young science student? A boy whose life had been shaped by his father in many ways.

Karl Johan Hugo Lundgren was an engineer who had also spent time in the military. You can see the influence of the father on the son’s choices. Perhaps in the circumstances that is not a surprise.

“He was a very strong man. He was a big guy. He was an officer and a gentleman in some ways,” Lundgren says. “He was a snappy dresser. He was a scholar.

“And he also had a really dark side.”

The stain of that is something Lundgren himself has been dealing with all his life. Dealing with mental and physical abuse.

“When he got older, when the dark forces came, he took it out on me and my mom. He beat me a lot. And my mom too.”

He understands things more now, he says. His father had been abused as a child himself. “As a young boy you try to handle that. I had a lot of trauma. I still have some.”

The teenage Lundgren channelled some of his rage into boxing and martial arts and later acting. “But like somebody said, you hijack the emotion and you take it and use it. I don’t react from that place, which I did a lot in the past.”

Well, yes. The fact is that his father’s violence shaped much of his life for years, decades even. “I was angry with him and I had plans to take revenge physically on him,” Lundgren admits. “But I never carried those through because it just didn’t make any sense and by the time I was a martial artist I had other values of respect and a little more wisdom when it came to violence.

“I forgave him early on and I still forgive him, and I meditate for what he did.”

He goes off at a tangent for a moment. “I think when you look at somebody who bumps into you or cuts you off in LA traffic it’s easy to say ‘hey, F you, man.’

“You think you want to kill that person. You don’t even know them.

“And then, when I take a deep breath, I realise: ‘Hang on a second, that’s why we have wars, that’s why young men and young women are being blown to pieces all over the place because people don’t take time and take a breath and say: ‘well, maybe it wasn’t that guy’s fault. Maybe he had a bad day. And he wasn’t doing it to me. It wasn’t personal.”

He is candid when he talks about the impact his father’s behaviour had on his own when he himself became a father with his now ex-wife Anette Qviberg. Because what does it mean when an abusive man is your paternal role model?

“Yeah, it was difficult for me. Luckily, I had two daughters. There’s no sense of competition. But, yeah, I didn’t handle it well. I mean. I was always loving to them. I never beat them or anything.

“But I did abuse myself. I was drinking too much. I was absent a lot early on in their upbringing and it was because I was dealing with my own demons.

“But at some point, about 10 years ago I started doing therapy and I started meditating I became wiser about what had happened, and I went back to them and I spoke to them and also my ex-wife and I asked for forgiveness. I told them about my dad and they started crying.

“Now they understand that, yes, a big strong guy like their dad can make mistakes too. You can ask for forgiveness for things you’ve done.”

Of course, before Lundgren even became a father you also need to factor in fame and success into the mix. Unexpected fame it must be said. “I don’t know why it happened that quickly, but it did.”

Lundgren met Grace Jones in Australia and soon was accompanying her to Studio 54, hanging out with Andy Warhol and trying out for a role in the James Bond movie A View to a Kill because his girlfriend already had a role in it. Next thing he knew he was cast in Rocky IV as Ivan “I must break you Drago.

“Somebody said: ‘You got famous overnight.’ And I said; ‘No, I got famous in 90 minutes. The movie lasted 90 minutes. When I walked in nobody cared about me. They were taking pictures of Grace Jones and trying to get me out of the way, so I wouldn’t block the view.

“And then as I was coming out people were taking pictures of me and it took me years to get over that. It’s not like I’d been an actor waiting tables dreaming of success. I’d been at MIT in Boston a year and a half before that deciding to give up my scholarship.”

At the time his life was one of sex, drugs and disco in the days before Aids started cutting swathes through the people he knew. He’s talked before of Jones’s appetites: for drugs and group sex. The partying lifestyle led to inevitable clashes with Sylvester Stallone who was acting and directing Rocky IV and wanted his co-star to turn up early and bright-eyed (preferably not chemically assisted).

Lundgren was being pulled in two directions and in the end his relationship with Jones was pulled apart.

That said, Jones has nothing but good things to say about Lundgren in her 2016 memoir. In fact, there’s a line in it, I remind him, where she writes: “I would say Dolph saved my life.”

“Shit, really? I haven’t read it. Wow. That’s beautiful,” he says. “You know, I didn’t think I was in it.

“Why did I save her life? Well, I know what happened was she met this young man, a young student karate fighter in Australia, and two years later he was a movie star. I don’t know why it happened so quickly, but it did. It put a lot of strain on the relationship and we broke up a year later.

“I think she suffered a lot for that. And I didn’t know how to save it. I wasn’t smart enough and it fell apart and at that point she went through a lot of problems. And I did help her a few times when she was in trouble.”

These days Dolph Lundgren might start the day with meditation and some cardio before breakfast and maybe weights later in the day. He’s older now. He had hip surgery in June and he’s doing physio for that too.

“I don’t push myself physically the way I used to do. Apart from that I try to eat every four hours, so I don’t snack too much. If’ I’m filming I’m on set, if not I try to chill out with my two daughters.”

I wonder what his definition of masculinity is now? What, Dolph, should a man be? “A man? Oh boy. Well, I think it’s a number of things. He’s certainly an individual who has to be strong and protective and caring about the people around him and at the same time he has to be loving and understanding and compassionate and, I think, forgiving. Otherwise, you can’t forgive other people. You end up fighting all the time and that’s dangerous for yourself and for the world.”

And yet the movies – and let’s be honest, his movies – prefer the fighting to the forgiving. “Yeah, you’re right. A lot of films I’ve been in portray violence and revenge in a sort of cartoonish way where it’s portrayed as something you have to do and there are no consequences to it. No negative consequences.

“But both of the films I’ve got coming out this year, Aquaman and Creed 2 I’ve been lucky. I was fortunate enough to play characters who are dealing with that situation, with that struggle within. Both Drago and the king I play in Aquaman are asking: ‘Should I forgive? Should I break the cycle of violence?’ And I think both characters make the right choice.

“I tried to hone in on that part of the characters because that’s how I look at life now.”

Creed II is in cinemas now. Aquaman goes on general release on December 12.