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Sylvester Stallone Explains How He Became a Superstar to Robert Rodriguez in ‘The Director’s Chair’

Sylvester Stallone Explains How He Became a Superstar to Robert Rodriguez in 'The Director's Chair'

As part of his interview series “The Director’s Chair,” host and filmmaker Robert Rodriguez spoke with the legendary Sylvester Stallone, director of four out of six “Rocky” movies, the latest “Rambo” and the popular “The Expendables.”

READ MORE: Why Robert Rodriguez Didn’t Just Make a TV Show — He Made a TV Network

In the episode, now free to watch in its entirety on the El Rey Network Facebook page, Sly recalls his beginnings as a struggling actor, how he broke into Hollywood through writing, the power of “Rocky” and what he has to offer as a filmmaker. Here are some of the highlights from the interview.

Sylvester Stallone…The Painter?

“Actually it was painting first,” he said when asked about his early interest in film. “I was extremely visual and I started to draw and paint, It’s a first form of expression. I was always interested in depth perception, even though I didn’t know what it meant back then. When I would go to films, a lot of the films I went to were kind of juvenile kid films or coming-of-age, things like ‘Robinson Crusoe’ and I was taken with legend and spectacle and it had a profound effect on me.”

A Cinderella Story: From Sly to Rocky

“There was an audition for ‘Death of a Salesman,’ never even heard of it, and for some reason I was drawn into that room and I read,” Stallone said.

Sly was able to snag the part of Biff, he continued: “I still remember the dialogue to this day. Then we did the stage production, and the director, a Harvard graduate who was also involved in theater, said ‘You know, you should do this professionally.’ And that was it. Then I headed to Miami and The Ring Theater and it just didn’t happen. We’re doing improv, playing ‘Hunchback of Notre Dame,’ this and that, and that was also where failure was a great impetus. I went, ‘okay, crossroad. You’re not getting any acting parts. You’re not connecting with any of the professors there. They think you mumble, you’re this you’re that. You’re just not what they consider acting material and that’s when I started writing, and that was the beginning. I can’t emphasize how important that was. For example, if I had been very successful at the University of Miami I never would have written. If I’d never wrote, I would have never done ‘Rocky.'”

Scorsese’s Aesthetic Influence in “Rocky”

Although Stallone didn’t direct Rocky, he served as the screenwriter. “At first Rocky was already retired. He was not a boxer at all. It was literally a story of a broken down loan shark collector and his pet shop girlfriend. And that’s it, it was extremely urban, I was very influenced by ‘Mean Streets,'” he said. “I think I touched on something without being very aware of it, it wasn’t a plan. It was something to get through the door. It was extremely emotional for me because I felt those things. Then I thought, ‘Jesus, where is the beef here, where is the real symbolism, the myth.’ I always loved the Cinderella type story, where you have the metamorphosis aspect, where everyone blossomed.” 

Following Up the Oscar-Nominated “Rocky”

“There is always this battle between trying to have supreme confidence, but also this insecurity — ‘I hope I can pull this off.’ If I keep moving my feet fast enough people won’t see my shoes ain’t shined, you just keep going. But, I was directing ‘Rocky II’ when ‘Paradise Alley’ came out. So, during my lunch break I go to the premiere, opening day, of ‘Paradise Alley,’ four people in the audience. Now, I have to leave that and go direct ‘Rocky II’ which is following an Oscar-winning movie, and the director won an Oscar, and it’s like, ‘Oh my God.’ That was another crossroad moment, okay, you’ve just been pummeled on your first directorial effort and here you are on your second one, a make or break film.”

Stallone’s Justification for Sequels

“I was sort of going against the tide, because there was a stigma attached to a ‘sequel.’ I just didn’t understand why we couldn’t see the continuing metamorphosis and growth. We could certainly make a movie about who we are every three years, because we are changing.”
“I want to try something, now at this point he’s having the burden of carrying his country on his back. All of a sudden, when you play country against country there’s so much pressure. Like the Ryder cup or the World Cup in soccer, it takes on such a significance, as opposed to clubs within, it’s just fighting another American. Now you’re fighting a Russian. So, I borrowed that motif from Joe Louis when he had to fight Max Schmeling, in the 30s, and that had nothing to do with these fighters, it was about Hitler, and Franklin Roosevelt. Big deal, one of the most seminal fights of all time.”

Getting Back to His Roots with “Rocky Balboa”

“I was so sorry I didn’t do well on ‘Rocky V,'” he said. “If I would end my career, I wanted to at least salvage that. I didn’t want to end on a sour note. So, I kept pushing and pushing ‘Rocky Balboa.’ It was by far 10 times harder than ‘Rocky’ [to get made], because of the skepticism, there is no element of surprise.”

Later on, Sylvester Stallone reflected on the final sequence in “Rocky Balboa”: “That was a rough one, it’s heaven and hell, it’s beautiful, but you’re saying goodbye to your best friends — the man that made everything possible. I used the last frame in the credit where he’s just standing there looking at the city, that was actually me reflecting, this journey is over. It’s sad, but then again Rocky saved my life again. This is what brought me in and this is what resuscitated me. It’s just an amazing, wonderful character.

What Sly Brings to Directing and Filmmaking.

“I look at so many directors, many that you interview, like Bob Zemeckis and of course, Quentin [Tarantino], and I go, ‘Wow, this guy is really, really good. What do you bring to the table?’ I try to bring an intensity, I like setting a pace, a little aggressive. I throw everything into it and become very protective and committed to it. Everything I approach, I approach like it will be the last one.”

READ MORE: The Evolving Style of Sylvester Stallone, the Director

The full episode of “The Director’s Chair” airs on the El Rey Network this Sunday, November 15, at 8pm.

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