“[Ryan Coogler is] unspoiled, he’s unfettered with material success, and he’s hungry. He reminded me of some other brash young guy in 1975.” – Sylvester Stallone

What a gorgeous and honest interview with Sylvester Stallone about his Oscar-nominated performance in Creed. (I wrote on Creed for Rogerebert.com’s year-end roundup.) He is so so good in Creed, and I’m grateful that I’m in the group of people who are not surprised at all, because he’s always good. I think he’s great as Rambo. He’s even great in his failures (I have an affection for Avenging Angelo, especially for the romance, and I love Sly when he’s a romantic figure.) There’s a tendency (in some circles) to concede ground and say, “Oh my God, he was so good in Copland.”

When that’s the first thing you say about Stallone? When THAT’S what you mention upfront about Stallone’s value as an actor? When you don’t even mention the elephant in the room that is Rocky? You get the side-eye from me. I get it, I get it, different strokes for different blah blah. I still react with suspicion. You have your red flags, I have mine.

Sure. He was good in Copland. He did a fine job. And it was fascinating to see him playing someone recessive and passive. He was wonderful. But he was GREAT in Rocky. And he created a role for himself that ended up being so popular that it is impossible to imagine anyone else playing Rocky Balboa. And in creating that for himself, he became indispensable, purely through the level of his creativity, commitment, and performance. Rocky, and Stallone IN Rocky was great on the rare level that is iconic and mythic and epic, as well as completely out of step (seemingly) with the 1970s, when things (and movies) were pretty dark, and serious, and corrupt … before the gleaming robots and light sabers came along and REALLY changed the game. Rocky may not be, oh, The Tree of Life, but it is a great piece of populist film-making, and Stallone’s script shows the influence that Clifford Odets had on him. That script is pure street-poetry. (His original screenplay – not the shooting script, but the one he wrote up himself before he sold it – is an object lesson in how to write a screenplay. I read screenplays all the time. It’s up there with the very best – because the movie LEAPS off the page. It BEGS to be shot. It TELLS you how to shoot it. You can seek it out online. To reiterate: not the shooting script, with the alterations – not many – made by the director and producer. But the one that came directly out of Stallone’s brain when he had no idea whether it would sell or not.)

Nobody GAVE any of that to Stallone. Famously, he had to create it for himself, writing the screenplay in 3 days, when he was broke, and etc., we all know the story. That was in 1975. And yeah, here we are in 2015, FORTY YEARS LATER, and the franchise is still beloved enough to have legs, legs that has taken it into a new generation who weren’t alive when Rocky came out, or Rocky II, III, IV or V. Maybe they were around for Rocky Balboa. Despite the fact that 40 years have gone by, Creed is not only a work of nostalgia (although it hits all the sweet spots that we Rocky fans NEED), it pushes the franchise forward into a new world, without betraying the original SPIRIT of the story. Coogler is wonderful, I’m a huge fan, and I love him even more knowing how much he loves Rocky, but let’s not forget that he built on what Stallone created.

The interview above is beautiful for a number of reasons. Stallone is articulate and humble and humorous. If you’ve spent any time watching Stallone being interviewed, you’ll recognize that beautiful part of him. The honesty here is something else, though, it’s deeper. Maybe because his work and his career and his accomplishments are being valued, and he’s being recognized as being GREAT (which he always was, but whatever, moving on.) Stallone, like Rocky Balboa, felt a calcification happening. He’s honest enough to acknowledge it, to acknowledge that it was getting to him without him even being aware of it. He was hesitant about Creed for good reason, but Ryan Coogler basically swept Stallone away on the waves of his enthusiasm. And, miracle of miracles, Creed was even more great than long-time Rocky fans could have even hoped, or Fruitvale Station fans could have hoped … and Stallone’s performance is brilliant. But come on, if you didn’t know that he always had that in him, you haven’t been paying attention. It’s like people who said after Lady Gaga’s “Sound of Music” tribute last year, “Who knew she could sing?” Everyone, I believe is the appropriate answer. You may not like that kind of music, but on an empirical level she can, indeed, sing. It’s not Lady Gaga’s fault that you haven’t been paying close enough attention to her.

Perhaps the most moving thing, and I welled up with tears when I read it, was Stallone hiring an acting coach to help him “get into shape” for Creed, to get back close to his heart (literally, not just in terms of material. I mean, the actor in him had to have open access to his own heart). This is a tough process for anyone, and Stallone speaks of that.

But a movie star of his stature and longevity, admitting to hiring an acting coach …

I bow down with admiration. That is as it should be. The greatest stars know that they always have more to learn.

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7 Responses to “[Ryan Coogler is] unspoiled, he’s unfettered with material success, and he’s hungry. He reminded me of some other brash young guy in 1975.” – Sylvester Stallone

  1. Dan says:

    That was a lovely interview, thanks for pointing it out. I was struck by his humility as well. I really hope to see this soon.

    • sheila says:

      And his willingness to admit that yeah, maybe he’s been phoning it in for a while, and who can relate to that image he created in all the action films.

      This movie represents Stallone getting back to work, and serious about his work – RISKS. He takes HUGE risks.

      It very well could have been AWFUL or maudlin or self-pitying or a kind of pathetic “heroism,” his performance – but it isn’t at ALL.

      Look forward to hearing your thoughts once you’ve seen it!

  2. Dan says:

    I never felt he was phoning it in; I do think that as a persona-style actor (how I think of him, I could very well be wrong) he wasn’t getting or picking roles that really clicked for him. Like he forgot that in his best & most iconic roles his characters were vulnerable as well as bad-ass.

    Even the Duke picked some clunkers (looking at you McQ) and sometimes I wonder if it’s not harder to sustain a career working in that persona mode today? Although Tom Hanks seems to manage.

  3. Regina Bartkoff says:

    Sheila Oh I want to see this. I always loved Stallone! I saw that interview and was so touched by it and his honesty. And the fact that he lost his son and what he says about that is so moving. He was great and stood out in his first tiny role as a mugger in Neil Simon’s The Out of Towners. That’s hard to do, you notice him!

    • Sheila says:

      Regina: I think you will flip for Creed on the acting performances alone, not just Sly’s.

      And it occurred to me that part of the hardening-up of his persona and how risk-averse he had become was probably a byproduct of his grief. Closing down the gates.

      Deciding to get in touch with that – through an acting process …

      Well. That’s what art can be about, right, in a very profound way, as we’ve talked about!

      Good for him, man, for taking all of those risks. I could not be happier for him!

      • sheila says:

        And I remember the Out of Towners!

        I have a soft spot for Paradise Alley – his first directing job – and it’s another Rocky story, this time about turn-of-century New York wrestlers – and (it’s been a while) – my memory of it is that it has a weird poetry in the visuals, it’s very stylized. With great camaraderie – more of an ensemble than Rocky.

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