SYLVESTER STALLONE

Interview by Mark Walters

I've been very lucky in my life to have met many of my favorite actors.  I've always been a big fan of Sylvester Stallone.  Whether I was watching ROCKY or RAMBO, or some of his other big action pieces like CLIFFHANGER or DEMOLITION MAN, I just had fun watching him play the hero.  Sly in many ways is an American icon.  Needless to say I was pretty stoked about having the chance to sit down with him to discuss ROCKY BALBOA, the final film in the popular series.  The first ROCKY movie was released in 1976, and received two Academy Award nominations.  It has since become one of the most beloved movies of all time, and with good reason.  Now 30 years later, Stallone is returning to the ring for one last fight.  His new film has met with both enthusiasm and criticism, and much concern over his current age.  We talked about that and much more during the interview.  I found Sly to be a humble and very honest man, who sincerely hopes people will enjoy this new film.  Here are some of the things he had to say:


MARK: How ya doing?

SLY: Very good.  Yeah, we're on the last leg, and then I go back and do The Tonight Show tomorrow.  It's been a very nice week.  It's nice to go out and promote something you enjoy, and not have to lie for seven hours a day, like we usually have to do... and we're not fooling anybody.

MARK: This is pretty cyclical, thirty years later.

SLY: Yeah, in a film sense I guess it's like a minor miracle.

MARK: Yeah?

SLY: Or like a major miracle, to be able to have the opportunity to bookend it.  Because I really wasn't satisfied, I feel I let a lot of people down with ROCKY V, I really did.  I've gone through a lot of ups and downs myself.  To just put all of this into a film, maybe that's what made the first one work.  Because it didn't deal with boxing, you know, it dealt with the issues of him just coping with life.  And then the metaphor at the end is the boxing.

MARK: Well it's not often you see a series of films... like you say, sometimes as films go on, and they make sequels, they get... not as good as the first one.  But this is like a rare opportunity to say "We're going to fix that.  We're going to make it the way we want to make it, and end it the right way."

SLY: And do you think it worked?

MARK: I think it was great.

SLY: Well, I think that only happens because of a lot of time passed, different marriages, had kids, had problems with kids.  And then, you know, you start to get a little weight.  And you say "What is important now?"  And one thing I realized, the older I get, the more difficult life becomes.  It's not easier, it's more difficult.  I thought "Oh no man, all the problems... we put in our dues, forget it!"  No one told me.  This part hurts, that thing hurts, a son is like yelling at you, it's like "God!"  How do you cope with that last third of your life.  So Rocky says, "I just want to replace old pain with new pain."  It's always pain, you're never free of it.

MARK: I really like the fact that Rocky is not motivated by money, and in this movie you've got this great idea that he's got this restaurant named after Adrian.  Where did that idea come from, did you visit any restaurants that maybe kind of sparked that idea for you on the story?

SLY: I did visit Jack Dempsey's restaurant when I was 12 years old, and he had that mural of him fighting Jess Willard.  And he would sit behind the cash register and tell stories.  So here I go, 48 years later, I go "Hmm... Jack Dempsey's restaurant."  But it was called Rocky's.  I was like "No, Rocky's, no."  And the I was arguing with the production designer, and he was like "Don't call it Adrian's."  And I was like "Yeah man, Adrian's."  Rocky wouldn't have a restaurant with Opera... but she would.

MARK: Well when you think about it, you know, even though Adrian is not in the movie, she's very much a part of the movie because of the way you wrote it in there.  I think that's brilliant.

SLY: Thank you.  Thank you very much.  Yeah, I have to show it to her soon.

MARK: Was Talia (Shire) upset?

SLY: A little bit.  (laughter)  I told her "Here's the good news, I think I figured out the story.  I think it works, it really works.  Bad news is... we start off at your gravesite."  Actually she was really great, she's very supportive, once she understood.  She comes from a very film-literate family.  So she gets it.  She understood.

MARK: Well it seems like the people in the movie... they don't get it.  It's like Rocky is not not doing this for the publicity, he's not doing it for the money, he's doing it for himself.  And then everyone starts calling him a joke.  And so it really kind of creates that emotional impact of "Man I gotta do this, because I've just got to prove to everybody" that you know, it's like you said, there is stuff left in the basement.

SLY: Some people have to purge themselves physically.  You know, you say "Why do they run through the desert for 110 miles, it's insane."  They come through, they're dying, their skin is boiling.  There's something much more deep working there.  They need that.  Rocky doesn't go to a therapist, he doesn't paint, he doesn't write.  How does he get that?  This is how he expresses himself.  And really feeling... I don't know whether it's guilt or whatever, but that's what I was trying to convey in the beast.  There's a beast, and he's just got to beat it out of him.

MARK: I think you really handled the age thing very gracefully in this film.

SLY: Thank you.

MARK: Now considering this is you getting in the ring 30 years after the first time you got in the ring, is it a lot harder taking those hits every now and then?

SLY: Yeah, a lot harder.

MARK: Yeah?

SLY: Yeah.

MARK: Shut down the camera?

SLY: Can't get outta the way!  Wait until you see, when you see the outtakes you'll actually see Antonio (Tarver) coming up and hooking me, blasting me, and then he starts laughing in hysterics.  Then he said "What are you crazy?!"  And I said "Look, I just couldn't get out of the way, I didn't want to get hit."  Just slow.  You see it coming, you go "Move head... head, move... move."

Stallone talks about filming the impressive climactic fight

SLY: We were following the Hopkins/Taylor fight, World Championship Middle-weight fight, HBO, and Oscar De La Hoya presented it, so right before they had their fight we'd come in and use those 10,000 people, so those are real.  We get into the ring and that's the real ref.  And we'd tell people after the Hopkins fight "If you want to stick around and watch Rocky get decimated by Mason Dixon" and they'd go "Yeah!"  And the weigh-in was a real weigh-in.  We just dropped the banners, but that's exactly the real way.  Those were all real press in the front row... those are the guys.  So we tried to just literally find the fight, get there a day behind and just follow them, and just use their venues.  So we were not creating anything new.  It was just literally stepping in, put the cameras in the same spot, and let's try to blur reality here.

MARK: So was there an added level of pressure, having that many people watching you film?

SLY: You take your robe off, you're like "Oh man."

MARK: "Man I hope I look good!"

SLY: Wonder if I didn't have too much salt that day.

MARK: But it sure did seem like they were into it.

SLY: It was amazing.  They had people stay, stay, for hours... that was a fantastic crowd.

MARK: Yeah.

SLY: Yeah, those were people, a lot of them had seen all the ROCKYs and they were gonna be... it was unbelievable.

Stallone talks about the effect of that classically inspirational theme

SLY: It makes the hair on the back of my neck go up.  I was there during the re-recording of that.  The first time Bill (Conti) had 13 instruments or 14, and he maybe had twelve hours to do the whole score... there was no money, he had to do the whole score in one day.  This time we had like 100 pieces, and like me there with 100 people it was just "Whew!"  Just blows your hair off... unbelievable.  And I have to give him all the credit in the world.  I think ROCKY, probably... it may have worked, but I'm not sure, without his music, I'm not sure if it would've worked nearly.  That contemporary "Bum bum wha", you know that 70's, "boom boom, boom boom boo boo"... I don't know.

MARK: I think sometime people underestimate the power of a score.

SLY: Oh man, that, it's one of the... I'd say "How do you do this Bill?"  Very rarely is there a score that's just... it's not too far, then again it's noble.  It's his score, he did it perfect.

Has he seen any advance reaction from screening crowds?

SLY: I only had one screening, and the first screening was much longer, and has a different ending.  That was in Sam's Town one time in Vegas.  That was it.  The rest was like a "friends and family" screening, which was like, everybody was...

MARK: "That's nice honey."

SLY: Yeah it was "That was a good film."

MARK: There's been a lot of rumors, maybe you could dispel them right now, as to maybe there would be another ROCKY movie after this.

SLY: No!

MARK: Do you feel like you've said everything you want to say?

SLY: Oh yeah, this to me, this is the best thing that could be associated with Rocky, I can't do any better.

MARK: Yeah.

SLY: No, I don't think so... and I know so.

MARK: Seems like the perfect way to cap it.

SLY: What more could you do?  No, this is it.

How about RAMBO 4?

SLY: Okay, well, I've written the script for it, and it's supposed to go sometime next year or there might be a film in front of it, I'm not sure.  The main thing is, like this story, finding something that is more than just violence and random acts.  There's some interesting stories about Burma, on the border, it's like Vietnam or worse... actually it's worse, because it's been going on for like 65 years.  I think there's some way we can like assert fiction into reality.  Use that format but also be respectful of what's going on over there, and not just use that.  Anyway, it deals with these Christian organizations that are always going in there to bring medicine at great personal harm, because the small Christian area... it's just mayhem, it really is.  And I thought what if they were just taken hostage back across the border.  Now you can tell a story about what's going on in there, and also have an interesting action line.  But I'd much more... I'd be happier if it was set somewhere like... Orlando.  (laughter)  Amusement park, stuck on a ferris wheel for two hours, that's my idea.  It's tough, Rambo is tough, really tough, really hard.  That's where it is right now.  I've written it, and it works, but I'm not so sure if you really want to play that close to actual politics, because I got burnt on the one before.  On RAMBO III, not that it was a wonderful film, but it was at Afghanistan, and that was Russia's Vietnam.  And sure enough, three weeks or two weeks before the movie, Gorbechev comes over, kisses Nancy Reagan on the cheek, the cold war is over, and now I'm the bad guy.  I tell ya, I walked into rooms, and the press was like "Booooooo."  In Australia they're booing me.  I was like "Three weeks ago you hated them, now I'm the bad guy."  So you gotta be careful.

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