INTERVIEW WITH SYLVESTER STALLONE
By Serge Rakhlin
Recently winning the 2016 Golden Globe Award for “Best performance by an actor in a supporting role” for his role as “Rocky Balboa” in the film Creed, Sylvester Stallone has also been nominated for an Oscar.
DID YOU AT ANY POINT IN THE LAST 15 OR 20 YEARS THINK YOU WOULD INHABIT THIS CHARACTER AGAIN? HOW DID THIS WHOLE THING COME TOGETHER?
Well, after Rocky Five, I was kind of sad how that turned out and I made it my life’s quest to do just one more. And it’s not easy for a sixty year old boxer to get financing (Stallone is 69 years old now – S.R.), who is following a fifteen year old film that wasn’t as successful, meaning Rocky Five. So when that was done and complete, I thought that was it. We had a mission accomplished and I was happy about it and I put it to rest and thought this is the highlight of my career. Rocky is done and done well. And then this fellow came in from Oakland who had ambition who wasn’t even born until after Rocky Four [Laughs]. And he knew the movies better than me and I thought I can’t do this because what he was asking was to go into a very dark place, at least for Rocky, and it was something I wasn’t familiar with. So I said, I don’t think I can do justice to your screenplay. Then he does Fruitvale Station and wins award to award and this is what he wants to do and is being offered all sorts of wonderful jobs by the studios. Then he wants to do Creed. So I realized that his heart was really into this as much as mine when I was 29 years old doing the first [movie]. So my wife goes, don’t be such a coward and I went. Well maybe someone else can get sick and I will help them, [Laughs] and I said, I just don’t want to know if people want to see Rocky like that. And that’s when it dawned on me. I said it’s not about Rocky, it’s about “Creed”, the new character, and I am there supporting him. And once I made that adjustment I went, oh right, it’s not Rocky, it’s about this young man’s journey. And my journey is pretty much over. And then I was really very grateful to him.
SO THIS TIME YOU ARE ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE ROPES. HOW MUCH DID YOU ENJOY THAT AND WERE YOU AT ANY TIME WISHING YOU COULD PUT ON THE GLOVES?
Yes. It’s true. It’s tough to take the gloves off mentally, but your body goes: don’t do that anyway, [laughs] don’t do that anymore. So yes, I was very excited when I saw that what Michael B. Jordan doing was extraordinary and I think he trained harder than I had ever trained and he performed really well. Quite often, those fights, especially the couple ones in the gym, got out of hand and they were real. I realized that he had accepted the fighter’s mentality. But being behind the ropes…I don’t enjoy it anymore. I just am grateful and try to be as real as I can in this role. [I thought] You are his father now, you are his protector, and then it became wonderful.
ROCKY’S MANTRA IS – ONE STEP AT A TIME, ONE PUNCH AT A TIME, ONE ROUND AT A TIME. BUT WHAT IS SYLVESTER STALLONE’S MANTRA IN LIFE?
[Laughs] Oh my God! Well, let’s say it’s more like ten steps at a time and then nine of them are wrong, so it’s hard to say what my mantra is, but try not to be afraid of anything. Just try to do things now in acting or writing, or directing that you are afraid of, that are different. Cause I was very afraid of this, very afraid and I postponed it for two years and then I said, you know, why am I afraid and then something happened. So my thing is: “without fear.”
ALL OVER THE WORLD, PEOPLE THINK YOU ARE ROCKY OR RAMBO. BUT YOU ARE SO MUCH MORE THAN THAT. YOU WRITE AND DIRECT AND YOU ARE AN AMAZING PAINTER. CAN YOU PLEASE TALK ABOUT THIS OTHER ASPECT OF YOUR LIFE?
I was somewhat dyslexic as a kid, so school work and reading was very difficult. And back then, they didn’t know the word dyslexic; they just thought you were a little dumb [laughs]. And so I started painting and painting led into writing because I said if I could paint the image when I think about a story, then I can’t write it until I can see it. So I would paint Rocky first and then write the screenplay because then I knew what he looked like, instead of just writing: the man is fighting. I don’t know what to say – does he have blonde hair and blue eyes, this or that? So it all sort of came as a child, but I never thought I would end up doing it for a living at all. [In Life], don’t just be an actor. Just try everything until you have exhausted all your artistic abilities and just keep going without fear. Just don’t be afraid to fail.
LOOKING BACK ON YOUR LIFE FROM THIS POINT, WHAT WOULD YOU HAVE DONE DIFFERENTLY, BOTH IN YOUR CAREER AND IN YOUR LIFE?
If we could all rewrite our life, my God! You know, unfortunately, we are not born with wisdom and wisdom usually comes with mistakes and you go okay, now I know [laughs].That sort of thing. So, I would have approached my private relationships totally different and looked for less competitive circumstances. Sometimes you get married and you are with someone where you go: oh that’s a very exciting dynamic, but that can turn into warfare, [laughs]. It’s just too much. But I think, especially in my film career, that I started out a certain way and something presented itself that I was on fence about. But it was the birth of a different kind of action film and it was almost an accident. I realized First Blood was something that I had never seen before; the character spoke visually for the whole movie and was just a different kind of character. And next thing I know, I am kind of intrigued by this. I didn’t do enough dramatic stuff, so I kind of started to go with this, and it’s almost finished now. It’s a kind of a twenty year period of these interesting action films that represented the 80s and 90s that went away. It’s not being done anymore. And I just became kind of captivated. If I have just one kind of regret, I wish that I had been maybe a little bit more versatile and challenged myself in different areas.
YOU MENTIONED THAT ADONIS BECOMES LIKE ROCKY’S CHILD. SO CAN YOU PLEASE TALK ABOUT LOVE IN GENERAL AND THE LOVE YOU HAVE FOR YOUR CHILDREN?
Well, yeah it is. Love has the ability to take you to heaven and unfortunately take you to hell at the same time. Yet it’s the one thing I think is a necessary component to make life worthwhile and worth living. It might not even be a person, but love of whatever you are doing and something that just consumes you. And children… it’s very complicated, at least with the way I have had children, it’s been quite a journey. And I have learned that you are so educated in some ways and so foolish in others because you try to be the best parent you can and I find myself really paying attention to my children now and just letting them grow on their own and not be so dominating. It’s wonderful because I learned, especially when you have three daughters, you never win, ever [laughs]. So I surrender and I raised this flag like I surrender and my life has been so joyous. They go, I love you daddy… and I go, I love you too. [laughter]. And it’s perfect. So to answer you, children can drive you crazy but they can also drive you to ecstasy with pride and they can make you smile. They do everything, but there is a point where you have to let go and hope you have done the right job raising them and just sit back and watch the show begin, meaning their life. It’s very much like what we tried to accomplish with Creed. At the beginning, Adonis literally has been reborn and that’s why I hope there is another film, because I want to see where Ryan (director Coogler) wants to take him. Not where I want to take him, but where Ryan wants to take him.
BOXERS FIGHT TO WIN. WHAT DOES WINNING MEAN TO YOU?
There are different levels of winning. Going back to Rocky One, he realizes that no matter how much he prepares, he can’t win. He just can’t win. The other fellow is that much superior. So winning, to me, is setting goals that you think you can accomplish. That is a win, and not being so ambitious that you set yourself up for failure. For example, when I want to do something, I want to be the greatest Shakespearian actor. I can’t [laughs]. It’s just not going to happen, so why am I attempting to do this? Winning to me is being able to accomplish a goal that is within your abilities, and to strive for that. Don’t be envious of another man’s abilities because he is superior. You may be superior in another way, but not in his way. So winning to me is adjusting your goals to your ability.
YOU GAINED A LOT OF WISDOM IN YOUR PAST RELATIONSHIPS AND YOU ARE OBVIOUSLY NOW A VERY HAPPILY MARRIED MAN. CAN YOU TELL ME WHAT YOUR WIFE BRINGS TO THE MARRIAGE THAT MAKES YOU HAPPY?
Well first of all, she is independent and has created her own life. So what she brings is an independent thought and a sense of honesty where I can’t lie to this person because she knows the truth. For example, when she talked to me about doing this film, she said, either be a man or do it the way it’s written and don’t vacillate and don’t try and change it. Let someone play the sick part and you play someone else. So there’s kind of a nurturing quality that I think women have. It’s just in them and they tend to see the big picture, especially when relating to their husbands or male figures. They tend to know instinctively how to instruct their men and how to protect and guide them. Sometimes you just can’t fight it and there’s a female intuition that tends to know more, whereas a man can get excited about something, but he doesn’t think of the big picture. And I think that women do, and that’s what she [my wife] brings to our marriage; a kind of nurturing truth.
AND WHAT DO YOU LIKE TO DO TOGETHER?
Oh well, it’s embarrassing [laughs]. We play with our little dogs in the backyard. Oh God, I said it! I can’t believe it! You thought I was going to say I like to climb mountains or something [laughs].
IN CREED, ADONIS DOESN’T KNOW HIS FATHER. YOUR PARENTS DIVORCED WHEN YOU WERE A KID. HOW WELL DID YOU KNOW YOUR FATHER AND THE OTHER MEN WHO WERE IMPORTANT IN YOUR LIFE THAT MADE YOU THE MAN THAT YOU BECAME LATER IN LIFE?
Well my father was kind of like Rambo. He was a very tough immigrant so he was a very hard working, rough guy. And I would borrow certain things when I was thinking about Rambo, the certain movements, because he was very physical. But I don’t know if I really ever got to know him because he was more like an older brother and he didn’t act like a father per se. So the male image that really affected me was in cinema. I looked at the films they were making in the 50s where you have Sinbad, Hercules or Achilles, or The Vikings with Kirk Douglas, and Spartacus. I don’t know why but they were a tremendous influence on me. It just touched a nerve. And maybe that’s why I was drawn towards physical roles, because I was so influenced by them when I was ten and eleven, and twelve, and thirteen. Magnificent Seven … my God, after I saw that film, I came home and was jumping from couch to chair, and couch to chair. Literally, it was revolutionary to me.
BECAUSE OF THE ROCKY FILMS, YOU HAVE BECOME SO SYNOYMOUS WITH PHILADELPHIA. WHAT IS IT LIKE COMING BACK HERE AND WHAT ARE THE PARTICULAR MEMORIES THAT YOU HAVE OF THAT FIRST ROCKY? IS IT OF THE STEPS OR THE RUNNING OR PUNCHING THE MEAT? WHAT HAS RESONATED AND STAYED WITH YOU?
Well, it gets me very emotional when I get to the steps because I went there when I was 12 and 13 years old, and there wasn’t much built around there then, just this incredible museum and who would know that I would be coming back to these things fifty years later. That spot is my favorite spot in the world because everything happened there and I feel this magnificent building behind me and look out at that beautiful parkway with these flags and there is an incredible city hall. It just feels so expansive. It’s just a magical place and you go – am I really in Philadelphia or am I in something like city of Oz? It’s a magical place for me. So I have become very, very touched because I feel like up there, you can see all your successes and you can relive your mistakes and all of the joyous moments you had. The sad ones too, and it’s just a very contemplative area for me. Sometimes I go back alone to where Rocky’s house is and that nearly desolate street. It just changed my life and it was at the beginning that I was born that night. So I love that area. Those two spots really, really get me.
WAS IT IMPORTANT TO HAVE THAT MOMENT OF YOU GOING BACK UP THE STAIRS?
At the very end? Yes. Choosing how to play that was important. Do you go up those steps triumphant - or do you go up there as a man who needs this other man to support him? We had seen Rocky run up these steps and now he can’t do it alone. So it was very emotional. Really emotional, and I loved it.