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The Underdog

Sylvester Stallone returns to the big screen in The Expendables, where the action hero fights against all odds to overcome the bad guys.
Marshall Fine
From the Print Edition:
Sylvester Stallone, July/August 2010

(continued from page 1)

As Stallone points out, his first paying job as an actor was in 1970-which means that, as of 2010, he's been in the business for 40 years. But in all that time, a Sylvester Stallone character had never uttered those words.

"It was an ad lib," Stallone says, lighting up an OpusX and leaning back in a chair behind a rugged wooden desk in his production company's office, one nicely appointed floor of a nondescript building in Beverly Hills, within a couple of blocks of the Beverly Hilton. "I just thought it was important to demystify the Rambo and Rocky legend as being unbeatable. Just because you get your ass kicked doesn't mean you're over. And the audience gets that."

Not surprisingly, The Expendables, which Stallone co-wrote, directed and stars in, is an underdog story. At the age of 63, with a career that's had more ups and downs than a Six Flags roller coaster since "Rocky" won the Oscar for best picture in 1977, Stallone still feels like an underdog.

"That's my journey in life-along with choosing the darkest, least traveled road," Stallone says. "I wish that things could be handed to me. I wish a great script would come in with financing and everything else in place. But it ain't happening. For me, everything has been do-it-yourself. And it hasn't stopped yet. I'm still basically generating projects for myself. I'd rather have someone else generating them for me. But that's not my thing, apparently."

Stallone knows he doesn't have the box-office juice he had from the late 1970s through the early 1990s. He's at least a generation removed (if not more) from the largest demographic of the movie-going audience, the one that only knows his movies from cable and home video. And he's battling other perceptions as well: that he can't compete at the box office with the younger action stars because his core audience has aged to the point that it doesn't go to the movies anymore. The fact that his last couple of non-Rocky or Rambo films went straight to DVD doesn't help.

"I read the little digs from other people: ‘the ancient Stallone,' ‘the aging stallion,' that sort of thing," he says with a shrug.

But the underdog still believes that there's an audience out there who wants what he has to offer. And he's been right lately: He had international hits with his returns in Rocky Balboa (his sixth Rocky film, 2006) and Rambo (the fourth in that series) in 2008.

Now Stallone has aimed straight for the action-movie audience with The Expendables. To do so, he's assembled an all-star cast representing a variety of fighting disciplines. Along with pro-wrestling star Austin, Stallone has Hong Kong martial arts master Jet Li, British action star Jason Statham, mixed-martial arts champion Randy Couture, the mammoth Dolph Lundgren and wild cards Mickey Rourke and Eric Roberts.

Stallone never meant to be an action hero. Now he needs an action hit-the kind he's best known for-to open up possibilities for future projects he'd like to direct (if not necessarily act in).

"If The Expendables is a hit, opportunities will present themselves," Stallone says. "You have to be very sensitive about the opportunities you're given. They're few and far between and diminishing quickly. You don't get many second chances. If this were baseball, it would be two strikes and you're out."

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Comments   1 comment(s)

stantine972 October 9, 2010 9:01pm ET

Mr Stallone, I have enjoyed you through your whole career and still look forward to your next project. Thank you. Keep the movies coming and thanks for actually smoking a cigar for the cover of "Cigar Aficionado" magazine. Cigar Aficionado, thank you for interviewing a cigar smoker.

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