When Sylvester Stallone met with the Hollywood Foreign Press in November last year, who knew then that he would be a cinch to win this year’s Academy Award as Best Supporting Actor for his role as Rocky Balboa in Creed (a sequel of sorts to Rocky).
Flashback to 1977.
His first film Rocky wins the top award as Best Film of the year, and although he is nominated for two awards – Best Actor and Best Original Screenplay – Stallone goes home empty handed and in fact he’s never been nominated since.
Feb 28 will change all that.
He’s a lock to win against tough competition; like Rocky, never count him out.
How surprised were you to get this role?
Well after Rocky 5, I was kind of sad how that turned out, and I made it my life’s quest if I could do just one more. But it’s not easy to get financing for a 60-year-old boxer, so I put it to rest.
And then this fellow (director Ryan Coogler) came in from Oakland who had ambition, and he wasn’t even born until after Rocky 4. He knew the movies better than me, but I thought I can’t do this, because what he was asking was for Rocky to go into a very dark place, something I wasn’t familiar with.
So I said, I don’t think I can do justice to your screenplay. And then he goes and does Fruitvale Station, and he wins awards. Now he’s being offered all sorts of wonderful jobs by the studios, but he still wants to do Creed.
So I realised then that his heart was really into this as much as maybe when I was 29 years old doing the first one. My wife goes, “Don’t be such a coward,” but that’s when it dawned on me that it is not about Rocky, it’s about Adonis Johnson, a new character, and I am there supporting him.
And once I made that adjustment I signed on. And I am really very grateful to him for this opportunity.
Rocky’s mantra is one step at a time, one punch at a time, one round at a time. What is yours?
Oh my God, it’s more like 10 steps at a time, and then nine of them are wrong.
It’s hard to say what my mantra is. Maybe it’s: “Try not to be afraid of anything.” Or as they say in Latin, sine metu, which means “without fear.”
Try to do things now, be it in acting or writing or directing that you are afraid of, that’s the challenge. I was very afraid of doing (Creed), very afraid, and I postponed it for two years. So my thing now is sine metu, “without fear.”
Besides acting, writing and directing, your paintings are now displayed in art galleries. Does that make you proud?
I was somewhat dyslexic as a kid, so school work and reading was very difficult. But back then, they didn’t know the word dyslexic, they just thought you were a little soft.
So, that’s when I started painting, and painting led to writing because I’ve always said, if I could paint the image, when I think about a story, then I can write it.
So, I would paint Rocky first, and then write the screenplay because then I knew what he looked like. But I never thought I would do it for a living.
So, now in Nice (France) there’s an incredible contemporary museum where they have E. Klein’s and the most fantastic painters in the world, and when I was invited to go there, I was like: “Are you sure you didn’t make a mistake?”
Anyway, it was unbelievable and I couldn’t believe my eyes when I was at that museum.
You were recently quoted as saying your life is 96% failure. So, what might you have done differently?
If we could all rewrite our lives …
Unfortunately, we are not born with wisdom; wisdom usually comes from the mistakes you make, and then you go: “OK, now I know.” I guess I would have approached my private relationships differently, choosing less competitive partners. Sometimes you get married to someone, and you think that’s a very exciting dynamic, but it can turn into warfare.
But more so in my film career where I started out a certain way but then something presented itself. It was the birth of a different kind of action film, First Blood, something that had never been seen before, where the character spoke visually for the whole movie.
And the next thing I knew, it began a 20-year period of these action films that represented the 1980s and the 1990s.
They’re not being done anymore. But at the time I was just captivated with that, and if I have just one regret, I wish I had been more versatile and challenged myself in different areas.
Boxers fight to win. What does winning mean to you?
There are different levels of winning. Going back to Rocky , he realises that no matter how much he prepares, he just can’t win. The other fellow is that much superior.
So, winning to me is setting goals that you think you can accomplish, and if you do. that is a win. I might want to be the greatest Shakespearian actor, but I can’t. It’s just not going to happen, so why would I attempt to do that?
Winning for me is being able to accomplish a goal that is within your abilities and adjusting your goals to your ability.
Adonis becomes Rocky’s surrogate son. You have children. Has love ever saved you?
Well, yeah, love has the ability to take you to heaven but unfortunately to hell at the same. Yet it’s the one necessary component that makes life worthwhile. Love not just of a person but love of whatever you are doing.
With children, it’s very complicated, at least with the way I have had children … it’s been quite a journey.
But I have learned you can be both smart and foolish in trying to be the best parent. I now find myself paying attention to my children but letting them grow on their own, not being so controlling.
It’s wonderful, especially when you have three daughters, you realise you never win, ever. So I surrender. I raise the flag, and my life has been joyous ever since.
You’re happily married to your present wife. What does she bring to the marriage that was missing before? (Stallone married third wife, former model Jennifer Flavin in 1997.)
Well, first of all, she is very independent and has created her own life. So, what she brings to our marriage is an independent thought and a sense of honesty where I can’t lie to this person because she knows the truth.
For example, what she said about me doing this film: “Be a man and do it the way it’s written and don’t try and change it.”
So there’s kind of a nurturing quality that I think women have; it’s just in them, they tend to see the big picture, especially when relating to their husbands. They know instinctively how to instruct their men and how to protect them and how to guide them.