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12/14/2006 Archived Entry: "My Interview with Sylvester Stallone on His Movie, 'Rocky Balboa'"

My Interview with Sylvester Stallone on His Movie, 'Rocky Balboa'

By Rita Figueroa
Womens International Boxing Association Americas Lightweight Title Holder

Rocky2 (53k image)

CHICAGO – Sitting at Windy City Gym, the feeling was surreal. I felt lucky that I’d been asked to cover a conference call with Sylvester Stallone discussing his upcoming movie, Rocky Balboa. It only seemed appropriate that I called from a gym where real-life Rockys trained day-in and day out, people like David Diaz, Rudy Cisneros, David “The Weezel” Estrada, “Macho” Miguel Hernandez, Nora Reyes and myself, for starters.

So, there I sat at Windy City gym with trainer Sam Colonna and gym manager Willie Williams. When Sam heard Stallone’s voice, he perked up.

After listening to him for a bit, Sam said, “He’s very intelligent.” Sly seemed very down to earth and pleasant.

There were many others on the call, but names were not given with all questions. So, I simply recorded the questions. I hope you enjoy it.

(Note – at times the call was muffled or inaudible – some words may have been missed)

QUESTION: Sly – how are you?

SYLVESTER STALLONE: Very Good – Thank You!

Q: There are a lot of real life boxing people – including the fighter Rocky’s fighting – why is that Important to you – to have real boxing people?

SS: The audience has become highly sophisticated in the last years since Rocky 1 – and I noticed that most boxing films are done with just dueling actors – I wanted to see if we could have a heightened realism and follow the exact formats of say, HBO. Their camera angles, their personnel, and actually use real fighters so it would be very evident to anyone watching this that this is heightened reality. There’s no cinematic angles here – it’s, it’s pretty close to the real deal.

Q: When you stack this up to the previous four that you’ve done, where do you put this one pound for pound – how please you are with it?

SS: It’s my favorite. Of course I have incredible fond memories for the first one, which I loved, but this one, I put this one on the same level. It’s like a book end, because you could, in a sense take the first one, and then, at the end of the film, go blank, set 30 years later just open up a Rocky Balboa, and sort of understand without having the other four films in there. It’s sort of like very compatible, so I’m extremely happy – it’s kind of like a farewell love letter to people who have liked the series.

Q: How do you make this film stand out from other boxing films over the last few years?

SS: Have you seen the film yet?

Q: Not yet, No.

SS: It will be very evident that this is as close as you can get to an actual real event. The lighting, the real crowd – there’s 9,000 people – we followed the Hopkins-Taylor rematch. We used their weigh in, we used all the real personnel, and the fighting, there’s a tremendous amount of contact being made – we don’t use over the shoulder trick shots – we literally have the camera in there using the same angles as HBO when Tarver is finding openings and letting me have it. I mean, he’s not trying to kill me (laughs) but he’s certainly making contact. It is by far – the most realistic fighting, I think, ever done.

Q: How old are Rocky and Mason in the movie, and did any real life bout inspire the idea that this kind of match up could actually happen?

SS: What it was – a computer fight that Marciano was pitted against Muhammad Ali in 1970, and after all the (inaudible) in the computer, Marciano won by 13th round knockout which caused a lot of outrage, and I thought, 'Why don’t we try to duplicate that' because Rocky Balboa and Tarver, who plays Mason Dixon, this kind of situation – that got everything rolling along. That gave it some validity for why the fight is taking place, which is have an exhibition fight. And both fighters, actually, they exploded!

Q: Is it true that you wanted Roy Jones in this part?

SS: I was thinking about it – I did – I didn’t know of Antonio was going to be available. They both would have worked, but Antonio proved to be more reliable, so, the more verbal, and I think the contrast was better too. He’s a lot taller so that worked out best. Roy Jones had been contacted – there were like 31 unanswered phone calls, for real! I was talking to one of the high ranking officers at HBO that said, 'Don’t feel bad, we pay him and he doesn’t return our calls, so join the family.'

Q: I had a call with Antonio Monday and I thought it was a very good choice, very verbal and very descriptive, but he told me you wrote the script for him.

SS: I did, I did. I met Antonio when he was like 19, 20 years old, something like that, maybe 24. Right around the Olympics – 95. So he was the prototype, but you never are sure, so you always have to have a backup. But Antonio was it. We contacted Roy Jones just in case, but once I really started to talk to Antonio, I realized he was far superior in the acting category. Also, I think style of fighting, he’s a southpaw and I’m a southpaw, would also make it easier when you’re fighting someone who is easier to connect with.

Q: Why did it take you 16 years to do this final one?

SS: Well, it took me about five years of hearing how people were disappointed with Rocky 5. It depressed me that I let everyone down. I just wasn’t on the right page at the time.

Then when I decided I wanted to remake it, I was 53, and the studio said, ‘Never gonna happen, over our dead bodies.’ It was pretty cut and dry. And I kept coming back, and they said, ‘No, not gonna happen, nobody wants to see anymore Rockys. It’s a dead issue.’

I go, ‘Well, it’s not about fighting guys, it’s about being considered obsolete when you still have – quote- some stuff left in the basement.’

And they said, ‘We’re not interested.’

So I turned 59 I guess, it was it. That was the final nail in the coffin. Then fate intervened and MGM was sold. The old regime was out, new regime in, and they said, ‘You know, we’ll take a shot at this. We’ll take a gamble.’

That’s how it happened.

Q: It seems like some of these athletes – Foreman – are still competing, still fighting, even at their age, how come you think – I mean – they’re so banged up and bruised – they still want to fight and compete?

SS: Why do I think they want to?

Q: Yes.

SS: I think that they still have some lack of fulfillment inside. It’s real strange, kind of like situation where people, artists, performers, athletes – they never know when enough is enough. They really have a lot – they think they have a lot more to give – but unfortunately – the body doesn’t want to deliver. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak, and certain individuals, like a Larry Holmes, I think in his career, never felt he was given his due –so there’ a part of him, even at 56 years old, he feels slighted, that okay, maybe they didn’t like me then, but maybe they will respect me that I still have the nerve to get in the ring. Archie Moore who at 54 years old, fighting Ali when he was 21 – which is incredibly brazen – it’s just an inability to let that spirit inside you – that flame burning – it’s not about to be extinguished yet – and they wanna act on it.

Q: Anything on the contender show help to influence this whatsoever?

SS: No, when I agreed to do the Contender show, it was really, hopefully, to impress MGM at that time, that there is still vitality in boxing and that these real life Rocky’s would provide interesting stories, so why not try it for real. So there was kind of a means to the method, or a method to the means, I just wanted to raise the awareness of fighting. I had no intention of doing a second season, because hopefully I would be on to do a Rocky.

Q: (My question) With Rocky being such an old school type of fighter, and now we have some of the more prominent, historical gyms such as Windy City here in Chicago closing and Kronk as well, what are your thoughts on that?

SS: I think it’s incredibly tragic. The sweat, blood and tears spilled in that gym, is inspiring to young athletes. It’s kind of a lineage and a history that puts them on the same track. It’s like going to a famous person house, maybe the Rocky steps, they wanna run up the Rocky steps cause they feel like they are part of the process. These new gyms, tearing them down – tearing the old ones down for the new ones – I don’t know. The news one may be more (inaudible) and nice, but they lack a sort of - brutal, right of passage that these old gyms have.

Q: People really needed a Rocky in 1976. Now in 2006, how important is Rocky now, and how much does America need a Rocky?

SS: Well, that’s a good question, and only time will tell, but the reaction has been incredibly positive. I know when I announced this, there was overwhelming skepticism, which I completely understand – I would have felt the same way if I was on the other end.

I think there’s a need for some sort of release. I don’t know if history repeats itself, but we haven’t had this kind of acceptance since Rocky 1. It’s like we need a little bit of escapism. We haven’t had a real – kinda flesh and blood character come along in a while, so maybe this is a relief, a departure for what’s going down. I think that everything is (inaudible), and I think it possibly could be happening. I mean I didn’t believe it, but I’m starting to feel it.

Q: You told us briefly why Antonio Tarver was good for the movie, but what kind of role did he have to play as Mason Dixon?

SS: He plays a fella like many modern athletes – he’s being protected – he fights only when the numbers are right, and not really pressured to put himself in a position where he can lose—(a) very protected fighter. So, he’s told by his old school manager that he has got very little respect. He don’t even like looking in the mirror because you know deep down in your heart you’re not a champion until you’ve been baptized in fire, until you feel someone pounding on you, and there’s nothing you can do about it. And only then, when you have survived that, do you develop the only kind of respect that matters which is self respect.

And Antonio – this is not about any kind of antagonism. People have said – well, there’s no villain – I said no, he’s not a villain. His dilemma is with himself and what appears on the surface to be a very superficial exhibition fight turns out to be an event in real baptism by fire that he’s not expecting. And when he comes out of the fight, Rocky had achieved his personal goal and Mason Dixon achieved his. He’s not a bad guy. He’s a likable guy. He’s just one of those people that have been protected and convinced that he’s a lot more important than he is, and he finds out he’s not.

Q: Is the name a nod at all to where you were born in the Silver Springs, Maryland area right here?

SS: (Laughing) You’re absolutely right. There it is.

Q: How intense did you train for this film compared to the previous five films?

SS: This was the most difficult of all because of my age. There were a lot of injuries. A LOT of injuries! Antonio broke his knuckle sparring with me. I broke my foot, I had a torn calf, I had a bulging disc in my neck. It was a mess. So when we finally got to Vegas, we hadn’t had sufficient time to spar because of the injuries. Then we were pretty healed up, we realized that, let’s try to do something.

We didn’t have time to choreograph it specifically, let’s just sort of wing it. Like we knew where we have to go, from this corner, that corner – but the punches that were thrown are pretty random. So what you’re seeing there – Antonio flicking away with that jab whenever he wants to. It’s not like the other by the numbers fights in the other Rocky’s. He’s going at it pretty good!

Q: What’s the differenced you think from an actor’s perspective between working with an actor and working with another boxer?

SS: Oh, there’s no comparison. I tried to do it a couple times before and it was an unsatisfactory result because a lot of fighters can’t understand the concept of (chuckling) pulling a punch. They unload. What they think is a love tap is, you know, pretty powerful stuff, so injuries occur.

This is the first time, when I got Antonio, who got the concept, and also has that sense of showmanship. It was such a pleasure because when Rocky does make a mistake, or when I make a mistake, he capitalizes. He’ll go to the body, then he’ll come up with a double hook to the head that I didn’t tell him to do. He just assumes that and he lets it go. A regular actor could never do that in a million years so he brings a sense of realism, because it is real.

Q: Sly, Rocky has always resonated with the fans because he represented hope to the underdog. Is the message any different this time?

SS: Well, not much. Because you find out even in the latter part of your life, when you think you have it all together, maybe the most precious things, it could be some relationship you have, or a loved one, they’re gone, and now you find yourself plummeted into a real bit of depression. You go, ‘Oh my God, you’re now an underdog again.’ Everything that you held sacred is gone. You feel rejected by life, betrayed by life and how do you get back on the straight and narrow course, where you can follow up your last remaining years with some sense of self, some sense of joy. You know – the glass is half full. So it’s about this rebuilding process.

Along the way we meet some interesting characters, and by the end of the film, as Rocky says, the beast is gone and he’s willing, he’s able to move on from his dilemma in the beginning of the show.

SS: Anyways guys, I’m gonna have to take off now. Thank you all.

* * *

And with that, it was back to the business at hand. It was great talking with Sly, and it was an honor representing the CBZ. But there were punch mitt drills and sparring sessions to tend to as Windy City’s real life Rockys were waiting.

machosam1 (40k image)

From left to right: "Macho" Miguel Hernandez, Rita Figueroa, and Sam Colonna

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