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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 6)

"At the time, I felt I was abandoning the call to be an actor who could play diverse roles. I wanted to do more movies like F.I.S.T or Cop Land. I chose a hard path. But it's a path I've been happy in because I'm making modern mythology."

As Stallone talks about his career, the distance between who he thought he would be and what he became seems to gape. Rocky, after all, earned him not only an Oscar nomination for screenwriting but for acting as well. At one point early on, critic Roger Ebert predicted that Stallone could have the same power on screen as Marlon Brando.

But to Stallone's chagrin, once the trail had been blazed-with multiple Rocky and Rambo films-it was hard to find the off-ramp. Whenever he would try something different-whether it was a romantic comedy (Rhinestone) opposite Dolly Parton (in which Stallone actually sang) or a slapstick comedy (Stop or My Mom Will Shoot), audiences avoided his films. When he'd strap on a gun and give a serious beatdown to some vicious bad guy, the crowds would flock-worldwide. And when he put on the gloves as Rocky or put on the headband as Rambo, the box office would explode.

"I've made films I'm not proud of," Stallone says. "I knew going in they weren't right for me. There's a school of thought that an actor should be as diverse and facile as possible. So you get that mindset: ‘I've got to do something different.' Or certain representation will say, ‘Hey, let's give something different a chance.' The money is good and you go in with honorable intentions.

"But the audience expects certain kinds of films out of certain actors. I made the mistake of going too far off the beaten path. John Wayne knew what his audience wanted; he never would have made Stop or My Mom Will Shoot. People underestimate the relationship certain actors have with their audience. When you mock that by doing something so far off-center, they let you know. Someone once said that if you give an audience what it wants, you'll be around for a long time. And if you give them what you want, you'll wind up broke."

Given his choice, Stallone says, "I would like to have done a few more dramas." He had opportunities: The list of titles he turned down-Coming Home, Witness, Romancing the Stone, to name a few-might have altered his direction.

Stallone expected a career course-correction when he made James Mangold's 1998 Cop Land, as part of an ensemble that included Robert De Niro, Ray Liotta, Harvey Keitel and Michael Rapaport. The film, a drama about police corruption, cast Stallone as a deaf, small-town sheriff in a New Jersey suburb that was home to some of New York's most corrupt cops. But despite laudatory reviews-which made note of Stallone's subtle performance and the fact that he gained 40 pounds to look less buff for the role-the film disappeared without leaving much of a ripple.

Since then, his output has been steady but spotty: a couple of films that didn't do well in release (Get Carter, Driven), a couple more that went straight to video (D-Tox and Avenging Angelo), a voice-acting role in a computer-animated cartoon (Antz) and one as a villain in a kids' 3-D movie (Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over). And he cohosted a short-lived reality-TV series, "The Contender," a boxing tournament that was marred by the suicide of one of the competitors.

The bright spots of the past decade have come from old friends: Rocky Balboa in 2006, and Rambo, an international hit in 2008. Even then, Stallone had to do a significant sell-job to convince financiers to give him money to put himself both in front of the camera and in the director's chair.

"Even with the naïveté and youth that went into getting the first Rocky made, it was a lot harder to get someone to let me do Rocky Balboa at 60," he says. "No one was willing to take a gamble on that sequel."

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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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