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Stallone II

After years of muscling his way across the screen, Sylvester Stallone seeks a different label: serious actor.

"I did ["Saturday Night Live"] because it will do more to change my image than anything else," Sylvester Stallone said after viewing his Sepetmber 27, 1997, TV appearance for the first time. "Millions of people watch this show. They'll think of me differently." Changing his public image is one of Stallone's top priorities. He no longer simply wants to be seen as Rambo, or remembered for his multiple Rocky movies. His decision to take on the part of the 40-pounds overweight Freddy Heflin in Copland last year wasn't about playing a character. It was a carefully chosen role aimed at transforming his image. He wants to shed the constraints of the sculpted, physical action heroes that he milked for 20 years. Instead, he wants to return to his roots as a serious actor. In truth, his Copland performance echoed his first major role in Rocky, the career-launching low-budget movie that turned Stallone's name into Hollywood gold.

Stallone doesn't regret the way Rocky took over his life. In fact, it's his favorite role. It doesn't hurt that it also gave him extraordinary wealth and freedom and a place in cinematic history for the successful marketing of the sequel genre. Yet there's a nostalgia that creeps into Stallone's voice today when he talks about his wishes to return to serious acting, to serious roles that don't depend on flexing his muscles and flying through the air with danger all around.

Regret is probably too strong a word for his assessment of some of the movies he has made since 1980. But there are some titles on the list that he's on record as despising in one form or another: Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot, Judge Dredd, Assassins, Daylight and even the last in his Rocky series. His published comments on those films alone would fill a Worst Nightmares list for most any actor working today.

What seems evident is that Stallone has reached a point in his life where he is scrutinizing almost everything about his past, not just his choices of movies, but his personal life as well. Call it a mid-life course correction, or just the onset of a more mature wisdom. On "Larry King Live," for instance, Stallone recently said that he'd "made tremendous mistakes in my private life where I'm trying to rectify things."

In his Miami mansion, a glittering array of rooms filled with almost-over-the-top baroque treasures and priceless paintings, Stallone is quick to show off one tiny person who is helping mend the past: Sophia Rose, his 18-month-old daughter. Jennifer Flavin, whom Sylvester married last May in London, is also ever-present, being mom and lady of the manor, making sure everything is running right. Even the house, however, isn't safe from the scrutiny of what is right or not right about his life. The Miami digs went on the market last fall for $27 million. Stallone isn't saying where they'll move, but he admits to wanting more time in Los Angeles, while keeping a home "somewhere on the East Coast," probably somewhere less visible than Miami, but with plenty of golf courses to serve his obsession with the little white ball.

When all is said and done, the 51-year-old Stallone knows he will never be able to totally abandon the fighting-against-the-odds character of Rocky. In truth, the challenge to overcome the obstacles is what makes him tick. He often cites the profound feelings of inadequacy that he grew up with, and thus, the glorified hero and the accolades it provides is salve for the struggles of his earlier life. At the same time, Stallone sees himself as a consummate actor, a professional who take can take on any role, be it a serious drama or a comedy. He only wants to be able to assume all sides of his on-screen characters and to be offered serious roles that stretch him as an actor. But in the end, he yearns for a place in cinematic lore beyond Rocky and Rambo.

The desire is honest. You can hear it in his words and see it in his eyes. In his den, a dark, wood-paneled room filled with leather-bound books, leather chairs and rare Bedouin rifles hanging high on the walls, there is a small, homespun knit pillow inscribed with what truly must be Stallone's words to live by: "He lived life on his own terms. He fought his wars. He lost a few. But he never quit."

In a comprehensive interview late last year with Cigar Aficionado, Stallone discussed his life, from cigars to golf to new movies to another retelling of the Rocky legend.

Cigar Aficionado: There are humidors everywhere here. You clearly love cigars. Tell me what about them attracts you.

Stallone: I smoked cigarettes for many years, probably from the time I was about 12 years old. I remember up until the time I was doing Rocky I, I had a cigarette when I was in the ring. That's how bad the addiction was. Finally, I said, "This is only going to bring an early death." There also came a point when I thought that cigarettes looked somewhat silly on adults. Yet I have always been drawn to the idea of an oral fixation, and also feeling somewhat more relaxed with something smoking in my hand.

I was doing the movie F.I.S.T. and it seemed that the character should appropriately be smoking a cigar. So I started, in 1977. I had a neophyte's approach to smoking, but I enjoyed it. It was very odd, but as soon as I had a cigar in my hand, it would catapult me much faster into the character's sensibility than without the cigar. I guess that's very odd. But it makes a cigar an unusual tool. A cigar does that because we've grown up seeing cigars as having a connotation of power or prestige, or at least the man who smokes them seems to be very glamorous and almost monolithic compared to a cigarette smoker. A guy who smokes a cigar seems to be a very confident human being. After that point, I went back to cigarettes once or twice and then I quit totally. Cleaned out my lungs for three years and then went back to smoking cigars intelligently, for lack of a better term, from a connoisseur's point of view.

CA: Have you used a cigar to help you get into character in other movies?

Stallone: No, it was primarily in F.I.S.T. I smoked it in one or two scenes, but it was eliminated because of directorial editing. I've primarily smoked in my private life. Quite often, early on, people were shocked if I was smoking a cigarette. I actually had people come up and blatantly chastise me on the street about smoking a cigarette. A cigar, however, was held in some kind of civil abeyance and people wouldn't do that. Right away there was less of a stigma.

CA: I asked because I haven't seen you associated with a cigar in the way Bill Cosby or Arnold Schwarzenegger are. They're both quite public with their cigars. But you haven't been. Any particular reason?

Stallone: I don't know whether that's conscious or not, but I feel sometimes that smoking is, believe it or not, more of a private affair. It's something that I look forward to, that I covet. Therefore I will purposely deny myself several cigars during the day so that I look forward to that evening cigar with greater relish. I could never continually smoke--I could but I wouldn't be as excited about that expectation at the end of the day or while playing golf. I know when I play golf--golf for me is equated with cigars--I look forward to smoking. Going to the golf course, I know I'm going to light up there. The smoking isn't going to bother anyone and I can have a good old time.

CA: Do you have any particular place you light up during the round? At the start or the middle?

Stallone: Usually it's right after a good hole. So it can be a long time. Sometimes it'll be like the sixteenth. Sometimes it'll be on the first.

CA: Do you have a favorite cigar?

Stallone: I'm very partial to Fuentes. I think the whole Fuentes package is wonderful, but the [Fuente Fuente] OpusX for some reason seems to push all my buttons.

CA: Any particular thing about it?

Stallone: Well aesthetically, it's beautiful. I collect art, and quite often I'll look at a cigar and if it's blemished or the color isn't quite right or I see some fraying or the lines are not architectural, I'm turned off by it. This seems to have everything. And the band is kind of like a Renaissance filigree. It has a kind of bold, what's the word I'm looking for, almost Inquisitional-type X. The band almost looks like a piece of metal; again, the band is so aesthetically pleasing. I think image has a lot to do with cigars and people don't quite understand enough that there is the aesthetic quality. Just the band says it's not just a cigar. I don't like the [Cuban] Cohiba band. I know that sounds odd, but I don't. Not a lot of thought went into the band.

CA: Why, because it's so modern?

Stallone: I don't like it. The old Partagas were fantastic. Really some great old bands. I wish they'd go back to that more often. That Art Nouveau and that kind of Gibson girl look; I guess it's Neo-Classicism.

CA: Most of the ones you describe are examples of turn-of-the-century lithographic art. Do you like that?

Stallone: It's so good. Compared to a modernizing look, which I think defeats the heritage of a cigar. I think of a cigar as old. I think of it as reaching back into antiquity; though it doesn't go that far back, I think of it as that. And I think it is one of those things like a fine wine that has moved on into the modern era but the beauty of it is ancient. I hate to see the modernization of the cigar. I think there is something very interesting about, like an old bottle of Lafite, looking at the decaying label; it is a lot more exciting than looking at something made an hour ago. I don't care how flashy the label is. I don't like a modern label on wine. I know it's odd, but that's the way I feel.

CA: Is it the tradition then?

Stallone: I'm a traditionalist.

CA: Do you have a perfect metaphor for what a cigar is?

Stallone: I guess you could say that a good cigar is a magic carpet ride. It really transports you to another realm of consciousness where, when a cigar is good and the conversation is good, you are now into a heightened sense of awareness. You are as close as you can get to an altered state without drugs as possible, I believe. I believe that a good cigar, a glass of wine and a good conversation is as close to euphoria as you can get in a legal sense.

CA: Could you elaborate on that scene?

Stallone: The perfect smoking moment? OK. I would probably open a very fine bottle of wine or an Armagnac. And, I'd want to be watching a dramatic film. Not an action film, not a comedy. But a dramatic film. In the darkness of the room, the smoke would slowly filter out in front of the screen, rise up in this very sensual manner. The low light would refract through the wine glass. It's almost like I'm on the outside looking in and I have this constant stimulation of the palate. At both levels, wine and cigars. That to me is the perfect smoking experience. Or to smoke outside at night on a windless evening. Because I think the way the smoke dances on the air is also very appealing to me. I hate for it to blow on the wind out of my lips and it's gone.

CA: That's a problem on the golf course, isn't it?

Stallone: You're right. I usually have a golf cigar. I don't bring the good stuff out there.

CA: You say you are private about your smoking, but are there friends of yours that you share cigars with?

Stallone: Absolutely. When you have another fellow who is involved with the cigar as much as you are, then it's wonderful, kind of like the old peace pipe syndrome or whatever. You seem to be bound almost philosophically and you tend to be much more simpatico with that person. Not as argumentative for some reason.

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