Why 'Bad Boys' Star Alexander Ludwig Has to Say No to Stunts (Sometimes)
[This story contains spoilers for Bad Boys for Life.]
At 6 feet, 2 inches tall and 200-plus pounds, Alexander Ludwig understands why he’s often tasked with playing warriors, soldiers and athletes. But, oddly enough, it was Bad Boys for Life that gave him the rare chance to play against type, while still leaning into his physicality that Dwayne Johnson helped fine-tune via a custom workout plan. Ludwig’s character, Dorn, is the comedic tech guy on the Miami Police Department’s elite team of young cops known as AMMO. In other words, he’s Mike Lowrey’s (Will Smith) Q or Benji Dunn, and due to a tragic past, he’s afraid of his own strength, which is why he opts to stay behind a computer screen unless he’s absolutely needed.
Heat Vision breakdown
If you take a look at Ludwig’s social media, you’ll quickly notice that he’s an adventurous type who jumps out of airplanes, races down mountains and swims with sharks. One would think this lack of fear would result in him becoming the next death-defying actor a la Tom Cruise, but Ludwig brings up a little-known reason for why there aren’t more Tom Cruises in Hollywood.
“There are stunties [stunt performers] who get an adjustment for when they do a big stunt, and they have to make a living, too,” Ludwig tells The Hollywood Reporter. “There have been times on Vikings or something where I would really want to do a stunt, but a stunty would say, ‘Yeah, dude, I really want this adjustment.’ And I’d be like, ‘No problem, you take it.’”
When reports started circling that Creed II would feature Ivan Drago’s son as Adonis Creed’s main antagonist, a number of people suggested Ludwig for the role, given his size and resemblance to Ivan Drago himself, Dolph Lundgren. As it turned out, Ludwig did in fact discuss the role with Sylvester Stallone.
“I actually Skyped with Sly Stallone for that role,” Ludwig recalls. “I think the film turned out spectacular, but it didn’t even get to the point where I was really fighting for that role at all. It was more that they wanted a professional fighter for that role [Florian Munteanu]. But, there was certainly a conversation, and the fact that I even got to Skype with Sly was amazing.”
In the following conversation with THR, Ludwig also discusses the Miami PD “cop college” he enrolled in as part of his Bad Boys for Life training, the fitness guidance he received from Johnson as well as Jerry Bruckheimer’s trainer, and additional details regarding his Creed II conversation with Stallone.
Is it a bizarre feeling when you become a part of a franchise you likely watched growing up?
It is a totally surreal feeling. I must’ve watched Bad Boys II a hundred times, and of course, I’ve admired Will and Martin [Lawrence]’s careers from afar for years and years. They were some of the reasons why I became an actor in the first place. Just getting to work with them was truly one of the greatest gifts of my life. Collectively, they’re such consummate professionals on- and off-set. They have some of the biggest hearts of anybody I’ve ever worked with, truly. They’re such amazing guys, and they welcomed us with open arms.
A thousand percent. When I signed on to the show, I originally expected it to be a 10-episode cable drama series. That meant I would’ve had work for four or five months out of the year, and then I’d be able to do a movie like a Bad Boys or something like that. Because I don’t think anybody expected Vikings to have the global success that it did, they upped it to a 20-episode series, which meant that I was completely plucked out of any other opportunities. That being said, I’m so grateful for the job; it was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. But it definitely made it difficult to do anything close to this magnitude, because a role like this requires a lot of time and attention.
I really appreciated how Dorn was written against type. Obviously, you and the character have the physicality of someone who would typically be in the field alongside Mike Lowrey, but Dorn, for the most part, was the Q or Benji Dunn of this movie. Excluding Dorn’s arc for a moment, were you excited to play a character who went against the type of characters you’re usually asked to play?
I loved that aspect of the story so much, and that’s why I connected with that character. It’s very easy to look at me in a certain light or physicality, and being able to play against type was such a phenomenal challenge and experience. Once I saw the AMMO team on paper and I saw that everybody had their thing as part of this elite unit, I noticed this opportunity to really lean into that and make him the comic relief of the group in a lot of ways. To me, that was the best challenge. I’d never played a role like that ever, and I don’t know when I’ll ever get another chance to do that. Physically, I noticed that the bigger he was, the funnier it was going to be that he was in the van. So, in the short period of time that I had, I decided to pack on 25-plus pounds for the role. If he was just some normal Army dude, it wasn’t going to be as funny as if he was this caged animal that you find him as down the road. I’m very grateful that I got to work with Jerry Bruckheimer’s trainer, Jørgen de Mey, rather extensively. Believe it or not, I worked with Dwayne Johnson when I was 15 years old [on 2009's Race to Witch Mountain], and he’s obviously one of the most physical actors there’s ever been. As you can see on his Instagram, he’s always at the gym. So, I shot him an email and was like, “Dude, if you have any tips, I could really use them right now.” And being the humble kind of guy that he is, he sent me this huge workout plan. So, that was tremendously helpful. I got trained by Jørgen and Dwayne. (Laughs.)
I appreciated the fact that the filmmakers took the time to introduce a tragic backstory for Dorn that explained why he preferred to stay out of the field. How deep did you dig into this backstory in order to understand the psychology of someone who’s afraid of their own strength?
I went pretty deep. Everybody’s process in acting is different, and there’s definitely no right or wrong way to do it. I excel when I prepare. I break down the story extensively, and I go really deep into character study and each specific scene. For Dorn, we had lengthy conversations with the directors [Bilall Fallah, Adil El Arbi], the writers, Will and Martin about where he came from, what his backstory was and what led him to remove himself from the field. All of the really important things that made the character shine on paper ended up making it into the film, and I’m really grateful for that. I think everybody saw what a touching backstory Dorn had. It’s also not in-your-face, which I love. They really didn’t shove this storyline down your throat. It’s more for the audience to pick up the pieces where they may and determine what his life was like back then.
For me, that is what made the character pop off the screen. This whole time, he’s this reluctant gem of a human being who just wants to be the tech guy. He just wants to do his thing and help out where he can. You can tell he’s got a really good heart, but suddenly, when his family is in danger, he is going to come to the aid of them. To me, that was the huge payoff for that character. One thing I love about the Bad Boys franchise is that it’s grounded in its action. Obviously there are heightened parts of it, but every explosion you see in Bad Boys is a real explosion. We did this for real. That also meant that for Will and Martin’s characters to rely on this young elite group of cops, we needed to look and feel like we knew exactly what we were doing. All of the producers knew that, so they set us up with the Miami PD and the SWAT team there. There were people who were actually on active duty, as well as undercover people, too. We worked extensively together on special ops training and how one would communicate in certain circumstances and how one would operate in certain situations. So, it was really important for me that I got that right. After the premiere, the same cop that had been teaching me everything came up to me and said, “Dude, you did us proud.” That, to me, was such a great feeling; it was such a gift. It’s so funny because a lot of the stuff that we ended up working on — like the little lingos and dialects here and there — were things that developed as we were shooting. It wasn’t necessarily scripted, and those were the things that the audience connected with the most. A lot of the stuff that people really liked about the film developed as a result of the extensive work we had done before we started shooting.
You also have a long take with a choreographed series of John Wick-ian moves. Can you talk about the work that went into that?
It’s so funny you say that because that’s a term we actually used: “This is Dorn’s John Wick moment.” For that, we had an amazing stunt team that stressed “rehearsal, rehearsal, rehearsal.” Fortunately for me, I’m no stranger to that. I really understand how choreographing a stunt scene works. But two things were different for me in that situation. I wanted certain movements and lingo of mine to be authentic to how these highly trained police officers and undercover cops would operate in a situation like that. There’s a word that I yelled called “transition,” which is something they would actually say when they’re changing weapons in a gunfight. That wasn’t scripted. I asked them beforehand if they would say anything there, and they told me what they would say there. It ended up making the movie, and I thought it was amazing. The other thing I hadn't been used to was using guns. I’ve used them a bunch, but not in such close proximity to other actors. That was a challenge in its own right. You want the scene to look amazing, but not at the expense of anybody, obviously. Even with blanks, you need to be really careful with how far away you are from certain actors, and making sure that a shell won’t eject into their face or even just the blast of the blank won’t hurt anybody else around you. There’s a lot to think about when you do a sequence like that, but I was super-excited to be able to do it.
When you work on a Will Smith or Robert Downey Jr. set, the amenities are often a cut above most movie sets. In the past, Smith has brought in some of the finest local food trucks and even hosted some elaborate dinner parties for his castmates and crew. Did Bad Boys for Life have its own luxuries?
Oh, my gosh, absolutely. Will is just as much of a movie star offscreen as he is onscreen. He really knows how to treat his cast and crew. I would arrive at my trailer, and there’d be a note and a gift from him. I’d go knock on his door, and I would be like, “Will, what are you doing, man? Me being here is enough of a gift. You don’t have to do this. I’m just grateful for this opportunity, and I want to give it the best I can.” But that’s the kind of man that he is. He set up this gym for the entire crew and cast to use at the studio. It was a world-class gym that was equipped with cryofreeze and everything, but what I really loved about it was that he decked it out with multiple copies of his favorite books. And anybody could take one of the books if they wanted to. If you know Will, he’s one of the most well-read people that I’ve ever met. He’s really mastered his humanity in a sense. I immediately took notes of every book he had there and read as many as I possibly could at the time.
It was a huge challenge for a lot of people to get this film done, but for me, this was really refreshing compared to working on Vikings and being out in the elements with non-stop days of shooting three scenes, having tons of dialogue and banging them out because time is money and you don’t have a choice. On Bad Boys, we really had space to play and to develop. I’d come to set, and then I’d go have a meeting with Will where we’d talk about how to make a scene better. That kind of freedom was something that I hadn’t really experienced before, and it was really, really refreshing.
Drones are a big part of this movie as both a camera choice and a plot device. And anyone who has watched Smith’s YouTube channel knows how much he loves drone camera footage. Do you know if he championed them to be used as much as they were?
I’m not sure, but I’m almost positive that he was involved in that decision. It all served to show the divide between the old school and the new school. Back in the day, Mike and Marcus would just bust into a building, but now, the AMMO team would use a drone. As you said, it was a genius plot device to show how different AMMO’s set of skills are from the original Bad Boys and how they conduct their police work. Will is very involved in making these decisions, and I would say that he definitely championed the idea of doing as much as we could to show the difference between the two groups.
You’re already an adventurous type as you jump out of planes, throw yourself down mountains and hang out in frozen lakes. When you see Tom Cruise and Keanu Reeves doing their own stunts and fight choreography to such extremes, does that compel you to want to do as many of your own stunts as possible?
(Laughs) Absolutely, but never at the expense of the story. I love doing that stuff, but I can do all that when I’m not working or when I’m not on a contract. If it made sense to do it, then hell yeah. For example, Tom Cruise hanging off a plane during Mission: Impossible — hell yeah. Sign me up. When are you ever going to get the chance to do that? Or, Christian Bale in the Dark Knight suit, standing on top of a building and looking over the entire city? Yeah, nobody’s doing that, and I have to do that. That’s what’s amazing about this job; you get to do things that nobody on the planet would ever get the chance to do. That being said, there are stunties who get an adjustment for when they do a big stunt, and they have to make a living, too. There have been times on Vikings or something where I would really want to do a stunt, but a stunty would say, “Yeah, dude, I really want this adjustment.” And I’d be like, “No problem, you take it.” So, it just depends on the situation. I don’t know about Keanu, but I think Tom is a certified stuntman. Down the road, that is something I’d love to do. I’m a sucker for action films; it’s not the only thing I want to do, but I do love everything that comes with that world.
Forgive me for the giant left turn, but when it was reported that Ivan Drago’s son would be the main antagonist in Creed II, I was one of several people who immediately suggested you for the role. Were you able to get in the room for that, at the very least?
Wow, you’re not gonna believe this, but I actually Skyped with Sly Stallone for that role. It’s so funny you said that. The funny thing about this business — and it’s a great lesson in life — is that you’ve gotta be grateful for where you are. You throw your hat in the ring for this or that, and whatever happens, happens. I think the film turned out spectacular, but it didn’t even get to the point where I was really fighting for that role at all. It was more that they wanted a professional fighter [Florian Munteanu] for that role. But there was certainly a conversation, and the fact that I even got to Skype with Sly was amazing. He’s an incredible guy, and I absolutely loved his performance in the first Creed. The ones that I never expect are always the ones that I end up doing. There are so many movies where I’m like, “Oh, I’m perfect for this,” and Creed II was probably one of them. It totally made sense; I could see it happening, and then it didn't happen. But, then, something like Bad Boys comes along and I’m like, “No way. I just don’t see it. I’m still gonna give my best performance and put my best foot forward.” And then it happened. It’s just so funny how the world works, and I’m just grateful for the way it’s all happened. The jobs I’ve done in the past led to another job that led to another job. Had I done Creed, I might never have done Bad Boys. So, I think it happens the way it’s supposed to happen, but I really appreciate you saying that.
Can you tell me about your upcoming show Heels?
Mike O’Malley is our showrunner, and he is just a tremendous writer. I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited to play a character — he jumps off the page. He’s this totally eccentric boy from Georgia who’s just trying to get out of his hometown and make something of himself. He has so many flaws, and I’m really excited to dive into that character.
Bad Boys for Life is now available for purchase on digital. The Blu-ray will be available Apr 21.
by Pamela McClintock