That’s right, we bad,” crow mock machos Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor as they swagger fearfully into their first lockup in Stir Crazy. That’s before they meet Erland van Lidth de Jeude, who was cast as Grossberger, the scowling, bullet-headed mass murderer whose bulk makes such movie heavies as Bluto, Chewbacca and even Marlon Brando look like flyweights. That’s right. Erland is Mr. Bad, nay, Lord Bad these days, and a memorable draw who has helped Stir Crazy gross $78 million as the comedy smash of the year. But, amazingly, acting is just one of many accomplishments that seem as outsize as Erland’s Dutch name—and his 6’6″, 380-pound physique. At 26, van Lidth de Jeude is an MIT graduate with a 160 genius-level IQ, a wrestler who was an alternate on the 1976 U.S. Olympic team, and a promising operatic singer.
“I’ve spent my life breaking stereotypes,” understates Erland. “The film career just fell into my lap, but I enjoy singing more than anything.” Indeed, van Lidth de Jeude’s prison-house rendition of Down in the Valley is an unexpectedly haunting moment in Stir Crazy. His brother, Phil (“He’s just a little guy—6’5″ and 285”), is a baritone recently heard with Chicago’s Lyric Opera. And while Erland earns his living ($1,200 a week average) as a New York computer consultant, he also exercises his own bass baritone in twice weekly lessons and sings often at Asti’s Restaurant, a Greenwich Village opera hangout. He needs training, but his voice is expectably strong.
By other measures, his strength is not to be disregarded. His stats are daunting: neck, 22½”; chest, 64″; biceps, 23″; waist, 54″; thigh, 34″; and calf, 26″. Tested for “explosive horsepower” at the Squaw Valley Olympic Training Center three years ago, Erland says he “totally blew away their concepts of the limits of human strength” by destroying the record 3 horsepower with a mark of 4.31. Absentmindedly rushing to answer a phone, he once tore a door off its hinges. After breaking several lifting machines in gyms, he has ordered a special one for home workouts. Luckily, “It takes a lot to get me angry,” says Erland. “I had to learn to control my feelings. I literally have the power of death. I was raised not to unleash that kind of anger.”
Born in Holland (his ancestors were minor nobility with the title “Jonkheer”), Erland emigrated at 3½ and grew up in New Hampshire and Connecticut. His father, an engineer-businessman, and his Dutch East Indies-born mother, now a fledgling novelist, encouraged his wide interests. “We were different from the other kids,” Erland remembers. “We had more respect for our elders and were raised to be achievers.” Already 6’5″ and 300 pounds at 15, Erland excelled as a high school footballer and shot-putter. He began wrestling at MIT, and after his 1977 graduation landed his first movie role as the fearsome “Terror” in the 1979 gang flick The Wanderers. He recently left for Sri Lanka and Bo Derek’s version of Tarzan. He doesn’t have to shave his skull this time, but he does attempt to rape Jane.
At home, Erland is a freewheeling bachelor who shares a SoHo loft with two buddies. He lists “parties and ice cream” as two passions, then grins: “One of my favorite hobbies is picking up women.” Not literally. “I want women who have talent, ambition, intelligence, plus someone into the physical side of life, like athletics,” he says. “That’s hard to find.” Yes, but then, Erland is hard to miss.