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Sylvester Stallone Interview

Film star Sylvester Stallone is well known for his portrayal of classic film characters like Rocky and Rambo. His latest film is The Expendables and he was recently in the capital to speak about it, as well as violence in films, affording Bruce and Arnold, and bringing back the action hero.

At the screening last week there was a massive round of applause before the film even started, and as each star name appeared there were whoops of joy. To what extent does that level of excitement and expectation bring extra challenges or responsibilities to do something really special with The Expendables?
Sylvester Stallone (SS): It’s a lot of pressure because sometimes you come to a film and you know you’ve got a major turkey and it’s not even Thanksgiving. It’s bad. This time this is the other end of it, where there’s a great expectancy and you think, geez, I didn’t expect this when we started making this. You begin to say is this going to live up to its idea? It’s kind of complex. You are damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

Do stars still matter as much, because few films have been flogged on star potential like this one.
SS: Yes, stars don’t matter that much. They really don’t. Concept matters, the overall originality, or reinterpretation of really classic situations, like Star Wars would go back to… What is the really famous philosopher who did ‘The Hero with a Thousand Faces’? Joseph Campbell. There are all variations on that. When we started out, Dolph and I, they’d put you in a film and they would surround you with kind of like just guys, then they would develop a character, but you can’t do that today.

There is a lot at stake today, where you went from 400 films a year, now down to 250, maybe 150? Then when you get down to studios, maybe even less? The stakes are very, very high… a science on what they make. So, there is no more, oh I’ve got a gut feeling. I’m going to take a chance – I know everyone says no, but I’m going to try new. That’s gone. So, it’s all scientific. Every actor is weighed against what he’s going to bring in for the territory. It’s like a math project, it really is.

How does your faith inform the career choices you make, and do you feel the need to justify the violence in your films?
SS: Well, I’ve made a lot of career mistakes. A lot. Actually, a lot of personal ones, too. I never started out to be an action actor. I was an ensemble actor. Rocky was an ensemble. F.I.S.T was ensemble. Paradise Alley was ensemble. Then along came First Blood and there was a beginning of something unusual, once all the dialogue was cut out of it, it was a completely visual film. I believe that the violence is very justifiable. The one thing in my films [is] I only kill people who need to be killed. Killers killing killers.

Let me just put it this way: the ones that deserve to get it, they get it good, and the ones that go after women, really get it. They say, oh, isn’t that overkill? I’m not going to have a man sitting there and really having his way with a woman and tearing her apart and just wrecking her life and just shoot him with a bullet. That’s too civilized. He’s going to feel real pain. And I think the audience has that cathartic feeling. Now, if you did that in every scene then it’s a horror film. I don’t feel guilty about it at all – but if you want me to, I will!

It’s an old-fashioned film in many ways, where men are real men and you could argue that women are victims…
SS: Well, they are kind of victims, sort of…

Well, you could argue there’s something slightly prehistoric about it…
SS: No! Well us? Yeah, definitely! Are you kidding? We were like headwaiters at the Last Supper. Yes, we had a dinosaur as a house pet. We’re old… Well, I am. As for the women as being victims, it’s like a throwback to the ‘80s. I wanted to use that kind of set-up, whereas a woman had this passion, she was a patriot, she was like earlier Sophia Loren.

The paternal theme harks back to Rocky Balboa. In The Expendables there is almost a paternal angle to your relationship with Jason’s character, Lee Christmas. Is that intentional?
SS: It’s very intentional. You have to be age-appropriate and he would be like the protege. He is like that fella who I confide in and will eventually take over. I tease him about his love life and taking things too seriously – something like a father and son would do. But it’s not by accident… I try to always deal with redemption. I think everyone in this room, everyone on the planet has a regret that that one moment they made the wrong decision, which sometimes just never gets your life back on course. That theme from Rocky Balboa to Rambo, it just haunts me - maybe I’m just mono-minded or limited, but it’s inextinguishable.

Sly, it’s the elephant in the room, age and the action star. In the last two films, Rocky and Rambo there was a sense of closure that you’re saying goodbye to your characters. There wasn’t that feeling with The Expendables. Are we going to see more action films from you and Dolph, or is enough, enough and time to move onto movies that are a bit more mind than muscle?
SS: I don’t know. You see I’ve done my ‘mind movies’ and probably I don’t think people are really that interested in seeing me do that anymore – I think I’m past my prime doing dramatic films. I’m very proud of the drama in Rocky Balboa. It’s about as deep as I can go. I would much rather just direct dramas, but Expendables, I’d like to go on.

Why to do think people fell out of love with the action hero, and do you think this film will bring the idea of the action hero back?
SS: Every generation, including mine, has to find their own heroes – I didn’t identify with John Wayne. Way too early. I was with James Dean. You have to find your own heroes, and this generation has defined superheroes as their heroes. That’s why we’re kind of a novelty. That’s the way it is. Films change. Look at music – it’s unrecognisable from 20 years ago, but that’s just the way it is. And then maybe it will go retro. Only Jason’s current, which is really lucky for us.

Such a stellar cast, if you could have paid this lot in the ‘80s, it would have cost you everything you’ve ever owned. How did you go about paying for it now? Did you call some favours in? Was it mate’s rates?
SS: A lot of it was crime. I mean I could never afford Bruce and Arnold – it would be like the whole budget of the movie. You know, Jason is a lot of money, but he’s well worth it. I mean, seriously, £100 a week, unbelievable, plus free fax paper - what do you want? You’re absolutely right. It would have been totally impossible. I’d say one of the reasons they didn’t do was because everybody back then wanted their price. Things have changed, I mean, prices are dropping drastically. You’re lucky to get work. So, looking at people who were getting 10 million, now they’re down to like two – and they’re going like, thank you. This was done really low budget. Some of these guys literally almost worked for nothing – meaning me. It’s just the way it is. Maybe it’s come to fruition that this never could have be done back then, that’s all. I certainly couldn’t have got Arnold and Bruce back then – not a chance. Never. Just too expensive and too busy.

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Content updated: 26/06/2019 12:57

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