By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—When he got his first taste of success with “Rocky,” Sylvester Stallone recalls standing backstage at the People’s Choice awards waiting to make his entrance, dressed in a wide-lapelled blue tuxedo, frilly shirt and big bow tie. (Hey, it was the ‘70s.) An older man walked into the greenroom. He was tall and broad-shouldered, by Stallone’s recollection. He came over to him, took his hand and shook it.
“Hello, my name is John Wayne, and I want to welcome you to the business,” Stallone recalls The Duke saying to him.
Stallone smiled and under his breath said to himself, “God ****!” Since then, the Oscar-winning actor and successful franchise generator (“Rocky,” “Rambo” and now the “The Expendables”) has always had a soft spot in his heart for welcoming up and coming actors to the business. With the third installation of “The Expendables,” Stallone, who co-wrote the story as well as stars in the action-packed drama alongside action icons Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mel Gibson, Harrison Ford, Wesley Snipes, Dolph Lundgren, Jason Statham and Jet Li, the actor says he’s just warming up. He welcomes several new younger performers to round out the cast including MMA fighter Ronda Rousey, “Legend of Hercules” star Kellan Lutz, “The Great Debaters” actor Glen Powell and boxer Victor Ortiz.
The 68-year-old quick-witted and often humble actor recently spoke about returning to the successful franchise and bringing on board legendary screen icons Ford, Snipes and Gibson. He also dismissed any rumors that he plans on retiring soon.
Q: You and Mel Gibson play adversaries in this and at one point you guys are in an intense smackdown? Did either of you accidentally hit the other?
Stallone: It was good. There are situations in actual sports where two rivals get together, two people who have actually done very well in their own world and then you say, “I wonder how they would do against each other?” So when that finally happens it becomes an event. And, yes, a contact is made and you do get hurt and it’s freezing there in the water you go, “Oh my God, I’m not going to do it again,” but you have to do it again. I had been looking forward to it. Mel’s a great athlete, very fast, very strong, and it was great being punched by him.
Q: Mel said there was no actual contact.
Stallone: (laughing) He’s a boldface liar!
Q: If you could take one of the characters you’ve played in your career and make him an Expendable, which one would be the most fun to see join the group?
Stallone: I think Rambo would fit in, and then he would turn around and kill them all. (He laughs.) That’s the downside of working with him. He’s loner.
Q: Bruce Willis, who was in “The Expendables 2,” was supposed to return in this, but didn’t. What happened?
Stallone: Well, things didn’t work out and so Harrison Ford came along. That happens in film and casting. It’s just the way it is. It’s nothing personal. It sounded like it got personal and I’m sorry it did sound that way, but it was just actors talking. Things move on. I think Bruce Willis is a great guy and he does fantastic entertaining films and when he nails it, he nails it big time.
Q: With respect to the quote: “Age is just a state of mind,” do you agree with that? Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Stallone: Well, age is a state of “old” mind. It gets to a point where if you get old enough you forget how old you are. The best thing is that you walk around, kind of like in a fog. So you really don’t know how old you are until you find yourself watching “The Teletubbies” drunk one night and you’re like, “I’m really ****** up!” (He laughs.) I’m sorry, but that’s the facts of life.
Q: Have you ever though about retirement?
Stallone: I’m not ready to sit at home and play with Pomeranians 12 hours a day. I’m just not ready. During the vaudeville era, there was a cane that came out and snatched you off the stage? Well, I’m waiting for that. Until they just hook me off the stage, that’s it. Actors don’t want to retire. They’re usually forced to retire. That’s a sad thing because you really get better as you get older. You may not remember as much dialogue, but what dialogue you do remember, you’re better at it. (He chuckles.) Anyway, we’re just adult children. We’re there to perform. I’ve always said, “The artist dies twice.” The first death is the hardest, which is career death. The physical death is an inevitable. So I think everyone should just keep going and that’s what’s happening. The genre is opening up and television is providing more alternate careers or second acts in adult actors’ careers.
Q: We hear there was some debate on whether Terry Crews’ character was going to live or die in “Expendables 3.” Is that true?
Stallone: Literally, (his character) was going to die. But I can see him (on location) moping, walking around the lobby, knowing in an hour Mel is going to shoot him. It’s a done deal. He’s over. This is actually like death row, except there are no lethal injections. And then the producer goes to me, “What do you think? Thumbs up? Thumbs down?” Looking through the windows, I seem him sitting there all depressed. So I tell the producer, “Where do you want to shoot him? The kidney? He can survive that and in one of the legs. He’s got big legs, so he can survive that.” And we said to him, “Terry put down your croissant and finish your coffee because today you survive. You live.”
Q: You and Harrison Ford had your big breaks right about the same time. What has your relationship with him been like over the years? What was it like to recruit him into this franchise?
Stallone: Oh God, I go back with Harrison to 1977 (when we met at New York’s) Columbus Circle. Both of us were wondering how long this was going to last. Harrison is very insulated, intelligent, and funny, very funny, very witty, dry humor. When you tap into that it’s great. He also worked on his character in this. He wanted to make it very personal. These aren’t the kind of guys you say, “Here are the lines. Do it or else.” He worked on it. We got very very close. I was actually just talking to him about his leg the other day. I said, “Better you than me.” (He laughs.) It was great. We’re having a great old time. Harrison is special, very unique and can bring a lot to a scene with minimal effort.
Q: What was it like working with the younger team of Expendables that were introduced in this?
Stallone: I felt it was great working with these guys because I know what they’re going through. Kellan (Lutz) has a little more experience but the rest of them are fairly new. So you’re sensitive to that. I can feel their enthusiasm and nervousness. I wanted Ronda (Rousey) because I knew she was going to be a star. She just has it. Her nervousness worked for her because she is so good you never knew she was nervous. But it gave her the kind of energy. The rest of these guys, these are all one of a kind. We’re not coming this way again. To find a guy like Randy Couture—I mean, he’s a world champion. You have, seriously, a real bouillabaisse of talent here. And it’s great to be in the kitchen mixing it up.
Q: How long do you think you will continue the “Expendables” franchise?
Stallone: After the fifth “Expendables,” you start wearing the “Dependables.” (He chuckles.) No, you just keep going.
Q: You are slated to play the infamous hit man Gregory Scarpa in Brad Furman’s upcoming drama. When you started out in the ‘70’s, the Italian Anti-Defamation League protested the depiction of Italians as violent. Do you think someone like Rocky Balboa changed the image of Italian-Americans so that you can play an Italian-American gangster today without any kind of protest?
Stallone: I think so, but basically whatever “Rocky” did for positive Italian images, pizza has been keeping it going. Anyone who invented pizza can’t be all bad, let’s face it. Let’s see if this pepperoni is rigged with C-4. (He laughs.) Then again, you have “The Sopranos,” which is bigger then any mafia franchise ever. I think it’s important that it’s controversial because it is a real facet of American culture and that’s the mystique. You just play in for that. You honor it. If a guy is bad, he’s bad and as long as you have good music in the background it’s OK. Like (the music in) “The Godfather,” it makes it OK.