The seven-foot monster from the movie Predator stands just inside The Sharper Image in midtown Manhattan. Around its neck is a sign: please do not touch. But that doesn't stop Dolph Lundgren. Just seven inches shorter, he pokes it and asks, ''Hmm, what does this do?'' as stunned clerks hang back afraid to scold him.
Powering up the HealthRider, the Swedish-born Lundgren, 36, says, ''I could row my way to Oxford.'' He could probably match minds with the dons there, too. A former engineering student who won a Fulbright scholarship to study at M.I.T., Dolph is dressed for the gym (he works out religiously) but says he's no longer suited for muscle roles. His body and being Grace Jones' boy toy helped him to his 1985 success in Rocky IV and such top sirloin roles as 1992's Universal Soldier. But now, while Geena Davis and John Travolta are pumping up to bolster their careers, Lundgren is focusing on character roles. ''Everyone knows I can do action,'' he says. ''I want to move ahead.''
So he signed on to play Johnny Mnemonic's psychotic street preacher, and started Group of Eight, a theater troupe in New York, where he has lived since marrying fashion designer Anette Qviberg last year. ''I don't think many beefcakes try theater,'' he notes, ''but somebody once said the easiest thing to do is have simple ambition.''
Turning serious actor isn't easy if you're as hard and chiseled as an ice sculpture. Mnemonic was supposed to show his range; alas, his big monologue was cut. ''There are always going to be people who don't believe you,'' Lundgren sighs. He'll get another shot at stretching his talent in October as a G-man in The Shooter. ''It's not your standard kick- 'em-shoot-'em movie,'' executive producer Daniel Sladek says. ''It's Dolph's first major acting role.''