After years of muscling his way across the screen, Sylvester Stallone seeks a different label: serious actor.
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CA: How so?
Stallone: Basically, you illuminate each other. "That's a good idea. Listen to this one. Listen to that one." There's nothing more frustrating than having a guest over who asks for a cigar since I'm smoking one. You naturally bring out a rare one because you want to impress him. They take three or four drags, but the first time it goes out, they put it in the ashtray and never lift it again. Let's just say this is equivalent to pulling my tooth out with a tractor. Or removing my kidney through my nose. It is that painful. I can't take my eyes off the cigar in the ashtray for the rest of the evening. And I'm going, "Does this individual know that this is like throwing down the gauntlet?"
CA: That's true. I wouldn't want to get you in that mood. What about a film like Copland? Did DeNiro and Keitel smoke cigars with you? Did you guys share some cigar moments there, too?
Stallone: Well, we definitely shared cigars, we shared the enjoyment of them. I know Bob is a big cigar lover and a connoisseur of wine and spirits, and the same with Harvey. When he gets a good cigar he's in hog heaven. People who smoke cigars tend to be much more patient than cigarette smokers because you have to nurture a cigar along. You don't just flick it and start a new one. Sometimes a cigar does not function perfectly and it takes a little bit of coaxing. Many people don't have the perseverance and the patience. They just flick it like a cigarette. I notice that. Some of the actors I work with are in a much more hyper mood. They'll reach for a cigarette and in the evening they'll go for a cigar. I can always tell the kind of moods they're in by their smoking choice.
CA: Do you prefer different sizes of cigar at different times of the day?
Stallone: Yes. Absolutely. During the day I like a small cigar. Maybe a robusto. That would be the biggest, by far. Fifty gauge would be like top of the line. Actually that's a bit big. What was the size I showed you and you said, "That's a pretty good cigar."? It was wrapped in cedar.
CA: That's a corona. A Romeo y Julieta Cedros.
Stallone: What size is that?
CA: It's approximately a six and a half by 42.
Stallone: Six and a half by 42. That's a wonderful daytime cigar.
CA: Yes it is. It's a pretty robust cigar, too.
Stallone: It's a very robust cigar. It's a quick fix until you can smoke your nine and a half or nine and a quarter incher at night.
CA: The old two-hour cigar routine.
Stallone: Two hours. It's called the Gandhi cigar. You can watch the entire film of Gandhi and still have a bit left, so it's a Gandhi smoke.
CA: Let's go on to golf here. After all, Cigar Aficionado is about enjoying oneself. When did you first start playing golf?
Stallone: Five years ago. I was curious about the game. I wasn't excited at first. I was actually quite miffed by the fact that so many people were attracted by this odd game that had been stigmatized for years as being an old man's sport. So having played polo for years I thought I'd just try to burst this myth--what could warrant hours and hours of television every week? Who's watching this? I didn't know one golfer. So I went out there and I proceeded to make a fool of myself the first two days. I bent the hozzle on a 3-wood and a 5-wood, which is pretty hard to do. I was atrocious. But the instructor kept saying, "Oh, that's wonderful, Mr. Stallone. That's wonderful." I was literally digging elephant graves. A family of five could live in one of my divots. That's how bad it was. What happened was I became captivated by my ineptness, my inability to function properly. I was outraged by the way my body rebelled and refused to cooperate. I said, "I feed you, I clothe you, I bathe you and I ask you to do one thing--hit this stupid white sphere, and you betray me over and over." So it came to me doing battle--me against me.
CA: I can imagine. You've had a good relationship with that body. You've been athletic, this should be easy. Right?
Stallone: Exactly. I couldn't understand it. I thought I'd done sports eminently more complex: polo, downhill skiing and boxing--not even close. There is no more precise sport in the world. And I think that is the fascination. There is a psychological dependency that happens with golf. That's really why it does bear definition by so many different quarters. In other words, there are probably more books written on golf than any other sport.
CA: Thoughtful books.
Stallone: Yes. They're like philosophies. And you realize that golf is completely psychological. One hundred percent.
CA: You've been quoted as saying that it's like a window on the personality of a person. Do you see that every time with every person you play with?
Stallone: One hundred percent. I've played with the finest pros in the world and I've played with people who seriously should have their arms amputated. They are that dangerous to their fellow man. I mean they're hitting ball washers. How do you hit a driver and the ball goes behind you? I've seen them hit ducks on the course, trees. Horrifying. I mean truly dangerous. You want to lay flat on the ground every time they hit.
CA: What about their behavior, is that a window on them, too?
Stallone: The behavior. I have no tolerance for people who make a living, a very good living, in a multitude of professions and then come out on the course and absolutely have the audacity to believe they are going to bring this course to its knees, and they're shocked, angered and outraged when they miss a 20-foot, left-to-right, downhill, breaking-against-the-grain putt. I said, "Are you out of your mind? Do you really think that you're going to make that?" Or they're stuck in wet sand and they wonder why they top the ball--excuse me, a pro couldn't make that shot. So that bothers me and I tend to never play with them again. I'd rather play alone. Because the most beautiful part of the game is I don't do this for a living. Imagine if that putt was for the house. The kids' college education. Your future, your insurance, your reputation. Your card, your tour card. That's pressure. But we're doing it for nothing. We get to go home and go back to our well-paying job. So what is there to be angry about? Why should there be temper tantrums? This is a perfect time where I think people have an opportunity to learn control. Don't give in to it. Who doesn't want to go crazy and smash the club? But it's a poor carpenter who blames his tools, that's all I can say.
CA: You've started bringing a hitting net on set. Do you find that is an easy release between scenes or at the end of the day?
Stallone: It's the ultimate release, but I've had to curtail that because I've started looking forward to that more than performing in the film. After a while even my putter ended up on the set. You're sitting there between takes practicing your hip release. I thought, "I can't do this," because it's not something you just turn off. I mean, an extraordinary shot on the course can leave you in a euphoric state for hours and hours. And just the opposite is true, too. I thought, "You can't be hitting them in the net for an hour and a half and then turn off the golf head and do a dramatic scene." Cause you're thinking, "Why was I topping? Is my grip too strong? Too weak? I'll do overlap." But, excuse me--this is not what you do for a living, fool. And I thought we've only got so much of a reservoir of creative energy and I'd better not apply it to the game of golf. I have to pay the rent with the other profession.
CA: You've got to be a little careful about that. There's a note of the old Rocky theme in some of the interviews you've given about golf, the internal accomplishment against overwhelming odds. Is that part of the reason that you like the game?
Stallone: Yes, very much so. Especially getting the bug at a late age, you really have to call upon discipline and resources, and it's a constant battle with yourself. Can you withstand the loneliness of the practice range?
CA: How often do you do that?
Stallone: When I'm home I'll do that five times a week. And I'll stay on the range five hours at a time knowing that this is where the work has to be accomplished. Quite often I play with people who don't warm up and they'll play a terrible over-the-top swing and continue their three-knuckle super-strong grip and it bothers me that they don't care enough to learn the beauty of the game. That's the ongoing battle. It shows me a lot about character and discipline. I would like to be out there with them, too. But I think there is something noble when you see a blind person climb Mount Everest. You say--'My God. That is something.' That's the way I feel about approaching a perfect golf swing. I'm groping along in the dark and as long as I keep groping forward I can feel a sense of accomplishment, but I'll never reach the pinnacle. Of course not.
CA: Let's go back to the beginning. Some of my readers will be surprised you're a cigar lover and a golfer, and some of them have never heard the Sylvester Stallone story. Where did it start?
Stallone: I was born in Hell's Kitchen, New York City. We didn't have a great deal of money so we lived in a cold-water flat which was pretty dismal by most standards. It was a very dangerous neighborhood at the time; obviously--it was called Hell's Kitchen. It spawned many, many criminals. My father, who worked very hard, moved [us] down to Washington, D.C. He started out as a beautician and then he opened up a couple of beauty schools. He began to progress. My mother, who is a very forward-thinking woman, actually started opening women's gyms in 1952, called Barbellas. I had always been part of "the iron game" at a very early age. I had a very eclectic upbringing and somewhat audacious outlook on life. I think some of it had to do with aggression.
CA: Basically then, you were a street kid?
Stallone: Yes, basically. Not malicious but mischievous.
CA: Did that get you into trouble?