Stallone II

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

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CA: Did you suspect that? Is that one of the things that you hoped that they would say?

Stallone: Yes. Very much so. There is maybe 20 percent of the world that wouldn't change. I didn't expect people, based on one film, to change 15 years of having a particular philosophy toward one actor. It is not fair to automatically assume that people will be that flexible in their judgment. But it was a beginning. When Janet Maslin made certain comments in The New York Times, I was so taken aback. I actually felt weak inside because everything was riding on it. Everything. If Copland had not worked, it would have been a devastating trip. Probably one that would have been irreparable.

CA: So, you felt you had put everything at stake?

Stallone: Everything at stake.

CA: At the Cannes Film Festival, you said that to some degree you really despised the last 10 years? Is that true?

Stallone: I don't have great relish for those years. I don't despise the people I worked with or the studios. I despise myself for not applying what I know is the best of my abilities. I just felt as though I accepted certain half-baked concepts and went with them.

CA: Because it was easy?

Stallone: It's a very delicate premise. If you accept a job, quite often you are not supposed to make waves. And in making waves quite often you are trying to make the project better. But this is where egos clash. Egos are titanic in proportion and quite often you are labeled with the reputation of being difficult. Being difficult to me is someone who does not want to come out of their trailer, who is drunk, who is a libertine. But someone who is very consumed with making a better product is not being difficult, he is being exploratory, he is being investigative. He is not doing this for money. It would be very easy for him to take the money and run. So there is a balance. I had been involved in other projects and I had gotten a terrible reputation. Many people did not want to work with me. So I thought in the future I would just accept the position and go with it; and I'm not proud of it. Copland was my first time working in unison with a director and producer that gave me pleasurable results.

CA: They weren't sold on the idea at first, right?

Stallone: No, I believe they had been looking for John Cusack, and a couple of other people had been mentioned. I wasn't sold on the idea, either. I thought I was going to play the Ray Liotta part, which is much more, the big, live, infectiously energetic outsider. I liked that idea. No, they said, we want you to be the fat, slow, dim-witted, hearing-impaired sheriff. And I said, "Thank you. Exactly what I've been looking for. A sexy role. Thank you." But once I got into it I thought, "This is fascinating." I really enjoy those kinds of parts. Like when I did "Saturday Night Live," to be able even for four and five minutes at a time to move from character to character--that fascinates me. That's the craft if we can do it. Quite often actors are chastised for stretching. They are chastised for not stretching and then they are rebuffed for stretching, like: "Why don't you go back to what you do?"

CA: But that's the public, isn't it? Joseph Campbell describes society's need for mythological characters, and you occupy one of those niches in American society. Call it Hercules or whatever, but that's who you are in people's minds. Isn't it really tough to shed that?

Stallone: You can't shed it. All you can do is have people be willing to suspend their expectations for a little while and accept you in another role. But deep down that is who you are to them. So you'll never achieve the purity of losing yourself in different characters. They'll always say, "Yeah, yeah, that's Sean Connery, that's James Bond." He's great in this and he's great in that and all these wonderful things, he's great in Russia House, but he's still James Bond. And that's not anything wrong with the actor, that's human nature.

You know the strongest impression is the primary impression. Our first blast at something just usually is the most lasting. You have to be real careful how you present yourself. Having done multiple sequels, the die has been cast. All I can hope for is to look for the versatility aspect of a career, but certainly not one that's going to make people forget where I came from. And I don't think I really want to, because I'm not ashamed by any means. You know, people never really understood Rambo. I shouldn't say that; a certain faction dismissed Rambo as a violent tool for the right wing. Whereas [although] Rambo was never anti-government, [he] worked on his own, received no financial remuneration and was always in the business of extracting prisoners at the cost of his own life. I did not understand the criticism. His was much more of a martyr position than one of being proactive; he was never proactive. He was happy to stay in the jungle. If you noticed, every time they came to him. But that is not the way it was interpreted. Through political cartoons and this interpretation, Rambo is as close as we get to Tyrannosaurus Rex, this Genghis Kahn of the Third World, but please, that's not true.

CA: At one point, wasn't Rambo labeled a part of the military-industrial complex's effort to shift public perception about Vietnam?

Stallone: Absolutely. That's what happened. Rambo really became a tool of right-wing imperialism as opposed to James Bond, who was much more liberal in his approach. When [the first Rambo film] came out, there were other films like Platoon and Coming Home and Born on the Fourth of July, which threw Rambo into an even further Black Knight situation, where he was the aggressor and Grim Reaper. I understand it, because Rambo was such a physical character; it's tough for us to think he's vulnerable by any means. Still, the first [Rambo film] I'm very proud of. The second one went into a whole different exploratory area--it became cartoonish. Bigger than life. That's where it went into Joseph Campbell. You know, the creation of a mythic hero because obviously what he did could never be accomplished. But the first one could. He suffered a lot worse in the first one and survived.

CA: Something tells me from your statement that you're not ashamed of those movies, and that you are going to do more films like the Rambo series.

Stallone: I would love to do films in the adventure genre, for sure. I think the public is recoiling from too much special effects and gimmickry. I agree. I've voiced that before. We have gotten into action by the numbers. It's almost this violent metronome going to and fro and every four seconds something must perish. Now, I would love to do smart adventure-action films. That definitely is something that I think is in keeping with someone my age. You know, "Hand me down my bow and headband, honey, time to go hunting. By the way, give me my bedpan while you're at it."

At this point, isn't it pretty crucial what you do next? If you go right back to Rambo, don't you lose all the effect of Copland?

Stallone: I couldn't agree with you more. The next project is just as crucial as Copland, or more. The next one is the one that delivers the most integral part of a career switch. It must truly attempt to show that the quest is not a momentary one but that you actually are following a different pattern. The fact that I accomplished it in Copland, to backslide would be even more devastating than never to have done Copland. Plus, I don't feel the need to go back. I am not driven monetarily at all. I really believe this is a point where I have to be really adventurous. It's the way I felt doing Rocky I; I feel, my God, it's 20 years later and I'm back at the same spot. With all the tons of Louis Vuitton luggage I'm bringing with me.

CA: Given that sense of adventure, which five roles, stage or screen, would you do?

Stallone: That anyone has ever done?

CA: Without regard to commercial value, what would you like to do?

Stallone: I would have liked to have done The Lion in Winter. I would like to have done Becket. I would like to have done Streetcar. I would like to have done American Buffalo. And probably--I'm definitely not going to say The King and I because that's out of the question, but probably A View from the Bridge.

CA: What about a villain?

Stallone: I would love to play a villain. I think the villain is the catalyst for making the hero what he is. So I've been looking for a clever villain or what we call a man who is a smart-ass. An arrogant bastard who has to receive his comeuppance in the end. Perhaps like Michael Douglas's character in Wall Street, which was a wonderful character. That would have been a wonderful role.

CA: Not a Hannibal Lecter?

Stallone: That's a murderer. That's different.

CA: What's your favorite role that you've done?

Stallone: Rocky will always be my sentimental favorite. I enjoyed very much Paradise Alley. That character to me was fluid and felt very comfortable and it was unrelenting. In other words, I didn't try to pull any punches. I didn't try to be manipulative and say, "At this point, I'm going to be vulnerable so the audience likes me." I just went full throttle. So I liked that very much. I'd have to say First Blood [the original Rambo film] I enjoyed a great deal. There were parts of the character in Cliffhanger, the physical part; the verbal part left me cold. I enjoyed the visual challenge of that; it was tremendous. And then Copland.

CA: We haven't touched on your personal life. But I'm sitting here in this spectacular house, knowing you've put it up for sale, and asking, why? You've clearly invested a lot of your soul here. Where and why are you moving?

Stallone: The house itself. [pause] I love the house, but now that we have Sophia Rose, there are so many levels and such an abundance of water I'm in a constant state of paranoia. And it's not really a child-friendly house. It's done in an artistic fashion. And there's nothing for a child to do except stand in the corner with baseball gloves on both hands, with feet shackled. And I don't want to do that. I also feel I've been here for four years, and though I like it I don't feel that I'm bound here by an overwhelming sense of community, so I'd like to now spend more time in California. I think it's necessary. I feel a bit isolated here. And also [elsewhere] on the East Coast. So, it's a time for me to experiment.

CA: Did the murder of Gianni Versace [in 1997] in South Beach have any impact on your decision or had you already decided to go?

Stallone: It had a great deal of impact in the sense that I think it was completely avoidable. And I think that local politics and the news media did not serve justice by [creating a] "Slygate" and putting out stories about my buoys in the bay on the front page and pictures of [my security gate] for two and a half weeks. They knew for two months that a murderer had been loose in South Miami, without ever putting his picture on the Internet, on the screen, on the front page of the newspaper. My gate was more important. I believe that if they had done those other things then he would have been picked up, because Miami Beach is a very small world and he wasn't hiding. I'm very regretful about it.

CA: Does an event like Versace's murder force you to reconsider the whole aspect of celebrity, and what it's done to your life?

Stallone: I've become a bit more patient with it. I'm impatient with invasive journalism, which is only one percent of the press corps. That is something that I think even they dislike. But I feel now that with my celebrity, because I've been at this for quite a while, that I have responsibility. I don't think that me being reclusive is using the gift that has been bestowed on me in the best way. I am now functioning much more for charities. I'm much more vocal with fund-raisers and other aspects. I'm helping to alleviate problems [in ways] that can best serve the public.

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