Sylvester Stallone – and you thought he was washed up twenty years ago

            June 2000  By Philip Berk

Why would someone as smart as Sylvester Stallone want to make a movie without any soul?  But that’s exactly what Get Carter is.

And in it, heavily bearded, dark rings under his eyes, horn rimmed glasses, and somewhat overweight, he looks slightly repulsive.

So imagine my surprise when he walks into his press conference in New York looking slim, lithe, and handsome as ever.

In Cop Land he played an aging pot-bellied over-the-hill cop.

In Get Charter he’s a menacing killer.

Does he need to change his physical appearance to create a character, I ask him.

“I don’t know how other actors work, but when I start to change my body it alters the way I think and feel.”

Would he say he’s at a crossroad in his career?

Amiably he responds to the question.

“After Cop Land there was a great deal of confusion as to who I am with the studios. No scripts were coming in. It was like, well he doesn’t want to do action movies and we don’t really see him as a dramatic actor. So I thought okay this is kind of a dilemma. Nothing is happening. Well good, this kind of reminds me of the beginning of my career, and it turned out to be a positive because I took time to start writing again.  But then when Get Carter came along I thought here is finally a happy medium, there is action but then again it’s a serious drama, so basically it was the right vehicle I’d been waiting for.” 

How frustrating was it not being sent scripts?

“You start to wonder, do you have anything that the public wants to see anymore and you have to say maybe it’s time for a change. Maybe this is good. This is a time for rebuilding. So you start to write about things you know, things you experienced and so my next film Driven, which I’ve written, is very autobiographical. Characters in it are very close to people I’ve been intimately involved with. So it’s turned out to be a blessing in disguise.” 

Audiences might be shocked by his grim appearance in Get Carter.

Whose idea was that?

“Very much mine. As a matter of fact I would stay up very late at night to get that haggard look.”

And the goatee?

“No one was in favor of that, but I felt that here was a man who’s trying to hide — it’s like a mask, the glasses, the hair. It’s all a mask of intimidation. I find that when I change my appearance it alters the way I feel. I wanted him to be top heavy, thick, someone who enters the room chest first — that is his calling card. He cannot be sleek he’s supposed to create an intimidating presence. So I changed the way I talked, the way I walked, the way I think. Some people like to use make up. I like to put on weight even if it’s only five, ten pounds but it literally changes your mechanics.’

So the final shot was not added to reassure his public?

“Not at all. It was to show that  the old Jack Carter no longer exists. By the end of the film he has no glasses, no silk suit, no beard. It’s gone. He’s found his humanity. And that was our intention.”

Is he aware that for some people he’s become a caricature of his once iconic screen presence?

“You can’t escape that. You can’t change your history, but you can go past that, and I’m having fun doing that right now. I’m going past that . No regrets. I’m moving on. It’s been a very very good life. I still try to push the envelope a bit far, but I’m having a good time.”

What in his opinion is the greatest misconception people have about him?

“That I’m a megalomaniac who is incredibly opinionated and difficult to get along with. I hear that all the time when I’m meeting with directors and others.  But by the end of the meal, they’re laughing and relaxed. ‘You’re totally different than what I expected’ is what they say.”

Five years ago he embarked on a second career as a father when he married model Jennifer Flaven and sired two daughters.

Has fatherhood the second time round changed his life?

“You know, when you don’t have a very good childhood, you develop very bad habits such as not knowing how to love. For a long time I was emotionally shut down. I didn’t understand what love was. I wasn’t able to have a good relationship with a woman. I always felt it was going to fall apart, so I would never get very serious. When I had children with my first wife, I was still not what you would call a well focused male. I was very much like my own father. I didn’t know how to be a nurturing protective male. I was more interested in career and enjoying an incredible life, and they all suffered for it. They really did, and I thought, ‘Boy, I blew it.’in fact I never thought I would get a second chance. But then when my daughters came along, I  realized I can either be egotistical and just think about me, or be the father they need, and that’s when I decided to be the very best father I can be.”

And has it been worth it?

“These two girls are much more valuable to me than anything in the world, and providing them with a secure, safe, and psychologically well balanced life has made me happier than I’ve ever been in my life. I’ve learned from my mistakes, so it’s never too late.”

Is there anything he can do to make up to his sons (Sage and Seth, ages 24 and 21)?

“It’s really hard to do. You help them achieve their goals but you can’t make up for lost opportunities. Although boys are a little different than girls. They tend to leave but when they come back, they’re able to appreciate their fathers a little bit. I’m working on it. It’s getting better. Sage only lives three houses away so I see him every day.”

And is he, like Michael Douglas, prepared to let his wife support the family?

“I asked her,  ‘Are you ready to support me darling? I want to go play golf.’ But I don’t think so. She’s not ready to do that yet. At this point I don’t think anyone’s entirely forgotten what I’ve done. And I don’t want them to? I enjoyed doing Cop Land. It didn’t make a great deal of money, but I’m very proud f it. I could enjoy doing that the rest of my life. But as I tell young actors, including Leonardo,  you’re hot only one time in your life. You can have hits, but you’re hot only one time.  In fact lately I’ve been working for no money at all. My next movie Driven I did for scale. It started out as a big Formula One movie, but as we were signing the contracts, the guys involved wanted to know how much Mel Gibson makes. When I told them probably $20 million, their response was, ‘Well, we want $21 million.’ I said I’d like to give him a hundred million but to tell the truth, nobody wants to make this movie but me and I can’t come up with that money. So two years work went down the drain. I went back to America and signed on with  the American version of Formula One, which is CART, and it turned out to be an even more exciting project than we originally planned. Renny Harlin is the director and we have some great foreign actors, so I’m very optimistic.”

And the movie with Schwarzenegger, is that going to happen?

“I did talk to Arnold about six months ago. I told him, ‘Believe it or not, we are getting older. I know it’s a shock, but our bones are creaking and we’re starting to leak oil. If we don’t do this pretty soon, we’re going to be bumping wheelchairs, so it’s about time.’ And he goes, ‘That might be a good idea. Who’s the hero?’ I said, ‘Okay, then you be the hero. I’ll be the bad guy. No problem. You can wear a cape, you can fly, do whatever you want. I’ll be the bad guy.’ 

“But I think we should do it. It’ll be like Garbo Speaks!  putting these two intellectual giants together. We actually had a meeting with the writers,  but it’s up to Arnold to take the next step.”

And Rocky VI?

“When they came to me with that idea I went, Boy that’s really pushing it. But then George Forman proved that  a guy can have a rebirth and come back a better fighter than he was. Why? Because he has wisdom, spirituality, and a cause. So this was an interesting premise. But if you have to make it for $3, I said no. They were talking about a budget so low — they wanted to do it but they they had no confidence in it. So right now it all depends on this film. If people still want to see me, they’ll take it to the next step. But it will be a tough gig, getting in those damn shorts every day, and giving those spindly little legs a work out.”

How does he feel about Jennifer being a working mother?

“Jennifer has always retained her independence in the sense that when she became a mother, she never stopped working ; she’s been able to find her  place in the world;  she has a little television show which she does for Home Shopping.  As a matter of fact, she just left today; she makes her own money. She’s her own woman; yet when she comes home she completely abandons herself to the child, so I have the best of situations really.”

Does he change diapers?

“Do I change the diapers?  No, some people just don’t.  I would put like both legs in one side.  I’m terrible.”

And Sophia, born with a heart defect, how is she doing?

“Right now she’s perfect, and the scar (from the surgery) is almost gone.  You know, usually it’s very terrible for women because they do it down the centre, but they did it cross section so as she develops it will not be so apparent .”

What is his writing regimen?

“I do maybe one or two hours of writing in the morning, some of it very bad, but what I’m learning again is the discipline.  When I was writing Rocky or other screenplays, even if it was terrible, I would force myself to sit there two hours, even if I was staring at a blank page, just to keep that discipline, and when I stopped writing I stopped being as focused.  I lost that need to perform.”  

Does he have other projects in mind?

“Actually, I’ve written something about  the Armenian situation in 1915; it’s almost like Masada. It’s a very interesting situation that is both historical and large.  You could say it’s an action movie but with historical content so I’m being pulled into it.”

The last time he directed a movie was Staying Alive.  Is he thinking of directing again?

“I loved directing Travolta in that. I mean, it was a vacation, it really was, if you’re willing to sacrifice your life, but I don’t think I’m going to do it again because that would destroy my family life. The amount of time you invest , that really is a lifestyle. So I’ll leave that to the men who don’t care about family life.” 

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