By Susan Faludi | December, 1996
Sylvester Stallone reveals to Susan Faludi the evolving mind, body, and soul of the contemporary cinematic man-gold, whose studly action heroism is a disguise for a creature in gender crisis. Is this man happy? Is any man?
One night not long ago, Sylvester Stallone made an appearance at the Planet Hollywood on Fifty-seventh Street in Manhattan. The occasion was a charity fundraiser, and Stallone gamely stood in the pit before the sea of gawkers and hawked the restaurant’s latest Celebrity Limited Edition collectible: a black cotton T-shirt streaked with a skeleton-and-sinew torso bursting from claylike globs of red and yellow paint. It was a reproduction of a Stallone painting entitled Hercules O’Clock, from his Man and Superman series. Hercules, back to the viewer, raises his rippling arms as if for crucifixion and turns his skull sideways to reveal a single bullet hole. The wound gushes bright blood. By his side rests a large clock, its pink hands paused at seven o’clock. Stallone described to me later what he was trying to evoke with the painting: the fleeting quality of modern-day fame, the way celebrity has corrupted, and caused the death of, the classical hero. “It’s Hercules assassinated,” he said.
Knowing what I know about Stallone’s current struggle with celebrity, I wondered whether Hercules’ wound was self-inflicted. Stallone is in the process of trying to shatter the carapace of his own cinematic image, which, along with the musculature accompanying it, has begun to feet he says, less like a showcase and more like a full-body cast. This shell self was born when Rocky became an instant hit two decades ago, and it was only fortified by Rambo. As Stallone put it to me, “Lightning hit twice.” In the years since, Stallone has tried repeatedly to shuck off the shell only to be met with discouragement from the studios, dismay from his fans, and ridicule from the media.
The problem with becoming a superhero is that it is a miracle, and miracles are not easily undone. As a child, Stallone , like postwar boys all over America inspired by George Reeves’s characterization of Superman, dressed up as the caped hero and, hoping he could fly, leaped off his family’s roof and broke his collarbone. But in adulthood, the cape worked. And now he can’t seem to get it off his back–or find his way back to the phone booth.
Stallone’s latest movie, Daylight, in in which he and a band of survivors flee a burning and flooding replica of the Holland Tunnel, is an escape film. But it’s part of a greater personal escape–a subtle first step toward breaking the mold by portraying a doubting, stumbling hero. At the time of his visit to Planet Hollywood, Stallone was in New York for the second step, the filming of Copland, a serious, low-budget drama featuring Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel and directed by award-winning independent filmmaker James Mangold. Stallone plays a diffident and partially deaf sheriff named Freddy Heflin–a “noble turtle,” as Stallone puts it. That Freddy is a sad sack may be the less notable reason the film signals a break from Stallone’s celluloid past. After all, the original Rocky was a loser, too. The key difference is that this time the noble turtle has no protective, confining shell. Freddy is . . . fat.
During the filming of Copland, I met Stallone at the bar of the Four Seasons Hotel for the first of a series of conversations about his efforts to change his image. He made his way across the room with that resigned, rolling shamble that is particular to heavier men, with his eyes slightly downcast, his lack of form concealed in an oversize Hawaiian shirt.
His new appearance has caused some alarm among the hotel’s denizens. “I was having breakfast here the other day,” he tells me, “and the guy sitting next to me was doing this–” Stallone flexes and assumes a bodybuilder’s pose. “I guess the other two guys were trying to pitch him on exercise equipment or something. So I walked in, he was like”–Stallone goes into a deep, Rockyish voice–“`How ya doin’, Sly!’ and gave me one of these–” He shows a thumbs-up. “So now the whole meal, he’s in this state of complete rigidity. And I sit down, and what do I order? Pancakes, french fries, and an omelette, and more french fries. The whole meal, he’s looking over at me like this–” Stallone feigns a look of horror. “The whole meal, he’s talking to them, `Uh-huh, mm-hmm,’ and looking at me like `Oh, my God!’ He was probably thinking, `Well, if it’s good enough for him, maybe I should just blow up!’ He’s thinking, `So Rambo is a walking greasy french fry?'”
Faludi: Why did you want to play this flabby, bumbling guy in Copland?
Stallone: I knew I couldn’t continue to do the same thing anymore. And when I say I don’t want to do action anymore, well, that was my foundation. It’s like John Wayne saying, “I don’t want to do any westerns.” Uh, so what are we going to put you in, Noel Coward? But I had to do it. And I knew I had to do something that was physically just so different that it would affect the acting. If you were to put on thirty pounds, you’re going to talk differently, you’re going to walk differently, you’re going to think differently about yourself. You’re not going to be walking into a room with your chest held up. You’re going to be like– [Hunches over with a mortified expression on his face, then tugs on the collar of his baggy shirt.] That’s why I’m wearing these Tom Selleck shirts!
You’ve got to mess up your body mechanics if you’re going to be something different. De Niro understood that very early on, in Taxi Driver, when he cut his hair like that, which was pretty radical back then. He had to be so oblivious to what people thought of him that he was in his own frequency now…. If you really want to act–not perform, act–then you have to do something different with yourself.
Faludi: To a lot of people, you are your body.
Stallone: That’s the greatest barrier for me to override, the mere fact that there’s an expectancy of torqued musculature, pulsating veins. In Daylight, the shirt never comes off. That’s a first for me in quite a while.
Faludi: You didn’t consider just using special effects to look fat, as Eddie Murphy did in The Nutty Professor?
Stallone: Oh, no. I have to be him. [Points to one of several out-of-shape bald men slouched over their drinks at the bar.] See these guys? Sitting there, just sitting there, waiting for a miracle. And they know no great-looking woman’s going to come over there…. For me to show up with a thirty-one-inch waist and eighteen-inch arms, looking like a lifeguard, going, “I’m fat and lonely. Whaddya think?” No.
Faludi: I gather that Copland’s crew was worried you wouldn’t get fat enough?
Stallone: Yeah. He [director Mangold] would call up on the phone: “Have you gained weight?” I said, “I’m up to 185 . . . 191. Good enough?” “No. You’ve got to gain a little more.” I said, “Please, I can’t.” So he comes to check me out. And I’m sticking my stomach out. He goes, “Well, it’s kind of impressive, but it’s kind of a Chicken Little thing.”
Faludi: How do you stay heavy? Do you have a fat diet?
Stallone: Every day for breakfast, I eat five or six hotcakes, an order of French toast, a bowl of oatmeal, two bagels with peanut butter, and ten eggs, two yolks.
Faludi: So you don’t go to the gym anymore?
Stallone: No. And it’s very hard. I can feel my waist. It’s like a thirty-nine. It was thirty on Daylight But that’s the–I was going to say that’s the easy part, but it’s not. But the other part is, to get where I wanted to get mentally, I had to divest myself of pride, of any self-image. I swear to you, I rarely look and go–[Makes a motion of primping and fixing his hair in the mirror.] I show up at the set just like this. Because you know you’re not going to impress anyone anymore. You are just trying to be. It is sort of a relief. It’s like “Who are you making fun of, fatso? Look at you, you’re no day in the park! No one’s hanging you in the Louvre.”
Faludi: Sam Fussell wrote in “Muscle: Confessions of an Unlikely Bodybuilder” that gussying up his body like that was “a principally feminine exercise.” So maybe by getting out of shape, you are going back to a more traditionally masculine state?
Stallone: Very much so. Even having a conversation when you are in shape is–[Affects a Mr. Universe-like pose, arms raised overhead, biceps flexed] I’m telling you, everything is a display. It has a paralyzing effect on character. You take a serious gym rat, a man who lives in a gym, it’s like, what do you do with it? You’ve got it, but it comes out in this vanity thing which borders on the world of exotic dancing with women….
The guy with the eighteen-inch arms, the thirty-one-inch waist, the male-model, chiseled, Calvin Klein-ad type of person, he is, for the nineties, the woman with the triple E. He’s taking the place of the blond bombshell of the fifties. The woman on the street doesn’t want to be Jayne Mansfield. But if I see another guy walking through Central Park in a tank top and bicycle shorts, it’s like, why don’t you just get a billboard that says, “Look at me! Don’t take me seriously!” It’s sad, because there’s no sense of self-worth, and your only entree into people’s line of consciousness for a synaptic millisecond is your body, so that they go, “Oh, look at that idiot!”
Faludi: But weren’t you one of the big models of that pumped-up ideal?
Stallone: Yes, oh, sure. And I don’t judge them, because I did that. And I know, to a point, what they are thinking. And it’s fool’s gold. It’s appalling to me that I don’t know what cries out in myself or certain people, that this is our calling card to the world.
Faludi: Were you embarrassed about appearing in public? I mean, no one knows you gained the weight for a movie.
Stallone: Oh, cut down to the ground. Terrible! Still am. I knew I was on the road to recovery when I wasn’t issuing disclaimers. “This isn’t me! I’m doing this for a film!” I should’ve gotten a little sign. I started doing it with strangers. “Hi, how ya doing? This isn’t me.” It’s been good for me, movie aside, because now I don’t present that. No one’s intimidated by me, not even close. Everyone goes, “I’m built much better than him,” so that’s out of the way.
Faludi: You used to want to intimidate them, though.
Stallone: I grew up with a pretty profound complex of inadequacy. And I thought the only way to override that was through creating an imposing exterior. But as I grew older, I became unaware that I was doing it. Yet I was wondering why people were not finding me accessible. And then taking this part, I didn’t realize how extremely difficult it would be to change my shape and to let it go. Then I realized I had been using it as a psychological tool for a very long time.
Faludi: Rocky and Rambo both seem to me to be all about that American male compulsion to prove yourself by going up against these incredible odds.
Stallone: Men require a challenge. They just have to have it. Whether it’s eyeing each other over the seat of a bus or cutting in on somebody who’s dancing. They’ll go out of their way sometimes to create catastrophe just to prove their mettle. Men have to validate themselves. And when they don’t, they live in a netherworld of fertility frustration.
Faludi: But the hoops that American men go through now to prove themselves seem so extreme, almost ludicrous, both on- and offscreen.
Stallone: Life is becoming very stationary for a lot of men. The options are few and far between. That’s why all these drugs and alcohol are on the rise. It’s not by accident. And then you get these ghoulish individuals who go into a post office and take out ten people. That’s their validation. The opportunities for men to validate themselves are diminishing. The frontiers are diminishing. So they seek these extreme outlets. The bungee cord–let’s talk about that, please! Car surfing. Sixty miles per hour on the subway roof! Hanging on to the sides of buses!
Faludi: So you’re through with these extreme forms of validation?
Stallone: Maybe it’s age, but when I was doing the last scene in Daylight, where I’m trying to claw my way through this clay wall, I was struck with the realization that this is the experience of someone who wants to be hurt. Because I was truly hurt a great deal [in filming action movies]. I have a lot of debilitating injuries now–arthritis and bones that have been broken. But I’m happier now in my life. I no longer need to go into that dark neighborhood anymore and stand there, exposed, praying for someone to try and kill me.
Faludi: Do your fans accept that?
Stallone: The bright side is, I realize that I don’t need to vindicate myself or vilify myself or celebrate myself anymore. But the bad part is, the audience doesn’t realize this! They could care less! The fact that you’ve come around and you’ve kind of transcended it, that you’ve gone to a higher plane, they don’t want to know about that. They are like “We want what we want! We want what we expect when we plunk down eight bucks!” So it’s “Yes, Sly, you can be free. But not from us.”
The next morning, Stallone headed out to the set of Copland, in Cliffside Park, New Jersey, to be mobbed, as he is every day, by fans. They weren’t there, however, to see the new Sly. As his limousine passed, a teenage boy reached through the window to thrust into Stallone’s arms a large portrait he had etched and elaborately framed: It was of Rocky in the ring, muscles taut, face bloodied.
“I know your name,” a little boy declared as Stallone walked from his trailer to the set.
“No you don’t,” Stallone said.
“Yes I do!” the boy said, adamant. “It’s Rocky!”
Pat Bertelli, a forty-year-old single mother whose son had recently become a devotee of working out, insisted that Stallone autograph her bare back. He signed his real name. “I keep calling him Rocky,” she told me. “Oh, God, Rocky! That chest!” she said, oblivious to the fact that the chest was no more.
Faludi: You picked Copland to escape the superhero mold. Were the film’s makers dubious that you could?
Stallone: When I met the director, well, I don’t want to put words in his mouth, but I think there was a skepticism on his part because, you know, for a fellow that’s packing this much baggage [points to himself] this is the complete antithesis of what I do. My character can’t beat anybody up. So we talked, and we hit it off very well, and I said, “There’s nothing more pleasurable to me than to go into, like, thespetic bondage, where the actor just turns himself over and goes with it.” He said, “No!” And I said, “Absolutely!”
Faludi: You’ve said that one of your great frustrations was that you haven’t been able to attract strong directors. Are they scared of Rocky?
Stallone: I think they worry, am I going to bring a certain amount of telltale taste from another genre? It’s like all of a sudden, you have a predominant red or a glaring yellow that’s throwing the whole canvas off. It’s like that story of Rodin. One of the earlier versions of The Three Shades. People kept commenting on the sculpture’s extraordinary hand, the hand, the hand, just the hand. Finally, he took a hammer and smashed the hand off. He said, “Now what do you think of the sculpture?”
Faludi: Is that what you are trying to do to your own body by gaining weight?
Stallone: Yes. I’m smashing the hand.
Faludi: Are you having to unlearn a lot of superhero habits, a lot of action tics?
Stallone: Very much so. Like, everyone has a better side. A speech rhythm that has delivered the desired effect quite a few times–you can’t do it. This is more halting and higher, much higher. And there’s an awkwardness. Whereas in the other films, there’s this smoothness–[Flexes a bicep and poses.] I normally make eye contact. With this character, he just–[looks down], because he doesn’t have any confidence in what he says. No signs of strength. Any kind of indication of strength is wrong. Any gesture with the hands. Any encroachment on that three-foot territory around people.
Faludi: So in a way, you have to think of everything that’s seen as traditionally manly and then work against it?
Stallone: Yes, which in a sense turns out to be very manly. Because I’m dealing with the courage of the heart, the courage of the mind. The body has none. He physically poses no threat.
Faludi: If you can break out of the mold, what would you want to break into?
Stallone: I’d like to go head-to-head with the opposite gender…. I’d like to make a movie that’s about the shifting balance of power between the sexes, the trials of trying to make a relationship work. I’m not talking about a self-serving love story. I’d want it to be something that was caustic and funny and sparring, verbally.
Faludi: Why do you want to struggle with women, not men?
Stallone: How can you really delve into your own psyche, and really spread yourself across the cinema canvas, if you haven’t really taken on the most crucial of all relationships, which is between man and woman? Man against man, man against evil empire, and so forth, what is that really? Why are you trying to save the empire? Why are you trying to pursue the killer? To make the world a better place for more men? No. It’s all to impress the fairer sex.
Faludi: What sort of masculine hero would you prefer to portray?
Stallone: I want to be the man who is the instigator, the catalyst. I’m always reacting. I’m trying to get away from that image of being victimized. It’s always been for me redemption or resurrection or modern-day Lazarus.
Faludi: Why have you always played the victim?
Stallone: I think that’s because of the primary impression derived by the success of Rocky. He basically was fate’s child. He really wasn’t responsible for any of his success. Only through a fluke, through someone else’s disdain for the plight of the poor man, does he get a break. And the perception of the kind of heroes I play became men that are driven along by the whims of others.
Faludi: In that regard, Freddy isn’t that far from the original Rocky.
Stallone: Copland is very Rockyish. The irony is, I’ve just never been involved in a dramatic vehicle in the past twenty years that was not prone toward overt physicality to get to its end result, the showdown. This one is a man who eventually has the same showdown, but he’s not dependent on physical superiority; it’s actually physical inferiority–his inability to hear, his inability to retreat.
Faludi: But Freddy in Copland is another victim. So you’re still having the problem you talked about in an interview in 1978, when you said you wanted “to play a leader of men instead of a man who is led,” but couldn’t seem to find such a role.
Stallone: I said that in 1978? So nothing’s changed. How depressing!
Faludi: So maybe you’re never going to play the leader of men.
Stallone: Am I an alpha man?
Faludi: I’ll let you answer that one!
Stallone: Well, now, an alpha man is–like John Wayne would be an alpha man. The guy who goes to the door, jumps first, and it’s “Everyone follow me! I’ll save Masada” kind of thing. Hits the beach first and not prone to revealing his innermost pain and that kind of thing . . . So, no, I guess I’m not.
Faludi: What sort of maleness do you represent, then, if it’s not alphaness?
Stallone: I rise to the occasion. That’s what I’m all about. But to go in there and play King Arthur or whatever, the leader of men and constancy stoic, Sean Connery, I don’t think that’s what I’m about. So I tend to rely upon, for lack of a better description, feminine instincts, the rather exposed, unabashed emotional outpouring. I think, by and large, and I hope this doesn’t sound wrong, acting is a feminine profession, in the sense that it is an emotional profession. Women will show a great deal more of their soul. And I would aspire toward that aspect of the feminine.
Faludi: Well, if that’s feminine, what’s manliness?
Stallone: Manliness is. . . [Long pause.] It’s someone who doesn’t reveal their strengths; he knows they are there. He’s very aware of who he is. He doesn’t have to blow a bugle in your face to let you know he’s going to charge. I think you can be very boisterous, almost boorish, but you can still be a man. A man can be a drunkard, a womanizer. Because that has nothing to do with being a man. That’s just personality traits. The man is one who’s willing to sacrifice, pure and simple. And that’s the difference. That’s honor. That’s what I look for in a man. The protector.
Faludi: In many movies today, the hero is the victim, not the protector.
Stallone: It seems like it’s much more heroic now to be on the defensive and coming to the rescue. So the degree to which one is a hero is only weighed against the power and charisma of the villain. So the villain is more important than the hero. The villain is more ingenious, more intelligent, more facile. And our hero is basically inept and stumbles his way into a victory. He sometimes even baffles the villain by his simplicity and absurdness. Like Die Hard: multi geniuses versus a cop with broken glass in his feet.
Faludi: Well, why?
Stallone: For each generation of men, things get further and further beyond their reach. Like every team in the next ten years will be owned by a corporation. Every stadium will be Coca-Cola Stadium, Pepsi University, Coors Hospital. It’s gotten beyond the reach of mortal man, so these villains are basically thinly disguised metaphors for the technological bludgeoning we’re getting every day.
And in the end, the hope is that righteousness will eventually dominate. I think we’re still holding to a thinly disguised Christian doctrine of Daniel before the lions–the hope of martyrdom, that the martyr will eventually succeed because he has God on his side.
Faludi: So the male heroes are victims because the only kind of heroism they can hope for is to be martyred?
Stallone: To know that the odds are so high that only through the perishing of your life will the minions survive, that’s love. That’s heroism. But in very few films today, much to my chagrin, do the heroes die. The heroes don’t perish, which I think diminishes any chance for becoming legend. It’s just: Oh, another superhero. Who will it be tomorrow?
Faludi: Now it’s another day, another hero.
Stallone: The media has diluted the male heroes. Made them causes celebres for fifteen minutes. One hundred years ago, a feat of daring would go into lore. They’d write songs about it. It’d be passed down. It would be like the James brothers or the Man on the Flying Trapeze. Today, a man can go in and save fifteen children out of a burning building, and the next week he can’t get a job. He’ll say, “Remember me?” Nope. The ink’s dried, pal. It’s over. That’s the difference.
When I painted a few years ago, I did these “media heroes.” I put a clock on all these paintings, and each was to see people in their prime–six o’clock is their prime; by twelve o’clock it’s over. Because as time moves on, if our heroes don’t die, they somehow become obsolete or discredited, especially in films.
Take the Lone Ranger. The ideal man. And they wanted to take his mask away. So he had to walk around with wraparound sunglasses! The actor who played him on TV makes a living showing up now and then at supermarkets. And they [the corporate holders of the Lone Ranger trademark] said, “Hey, pal, the mask is ours.” And he knows that the only thing he has left is his friggin’ mask. He doesn’t come in with the hat. He doesn’t come in with the horse. The mask that’s all he’s got.
Faludi: So the fame clock is kind of racing these days?
Stallone: Because the heroics of the movie hero are now reliant upon one-upmanship….You have to constantly make your feats of daring so extraordinary. You can’t save one person anymore. You have to save a nation. You have to save armies and legions of people. And then it gets to the point where you’ve done these extraordinary feats, and where does it go now? All right, we’ve tapped him out!
Faludi: But the clock seems frozen, too. The male “heroes” onscreen today more often than not are playing these sort of petulant boys.
Stallone: I think they think that’s sexy. And endearing. And also they are afraid of moving on to that middle-age thing. The actors, you know, they choose the material.
Faludi: But movie actors a generation ago, as they aged, didn’t play little boys.
Stallone: Men like John Wayne or Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster and Joel McCrea, they came from immigrants, hardworking people. And I think it was drilled into a man’s head very early that he must be a man. He may be taking over the family at fourteen years old. He may be working six hours a day after school when he’s twelve years old. So it was an ethic.
So I think the actors are “grown,” but they’re grown up to the standards that have been presented to them. There’s no deficiency in the men today; they are merely reacting to the stimulus around them. They turn on the TV, and it’s all about: Tear it down! Destroy this! Be your own person! . . . You didn’t have that kind of confusion before.
Faludi: So where is this confusion leading? If not fatherly protectors, what will they be?
Stallone: I think the leading man of the future will be one who is beleaguered by the need to constantly define on film the male-female relationship. Where do men stand? Are we equals, or do you not need me anymore? Is the man’s parenting role diminishing? Is the man even necessary? I think the love affairs will be much more contrite. I think we’ll see women in these big role reversals, being quite dominant.
Faludi: Well, is the male necessary?
Stallone: The male is necessary in the actual–well, in technological procreation, no, he’s not. It can be mechanically induced. But the man, I think is something very comforting in having . . . well, a different smell, a different body type, a different voice, the illusion of the protector and guardian.
Faludi: The illusion? You mean, as opposed to really being the protector?
Stallone: Well, exactly. Because in this day and age, there is no security he can offer. Nothing is really protected. We think it is. We hope it is. But in reality, there is no security.
Faludi: So a lot of what being a man is about now is about creating illusions?
Stallone: The definition of a masculine man is one who is defining himself by the way he performs against these imagined dragons. It’s like in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, where the father was deluding the daughter into thinking these magical, wonderful things about how he’s out there conquering the world when basically he was sitting on the steps somewhere, getting drunk. But he would never let her see that side. A man wants for you to believe that he’s riding into the Valley of Death but he’s going to conquer all. I think we all harbor a kind of dwindling hero complex.
Faludi: So what happened to proving manhood in the real world?
Stallone: The idea of confrontation is very suppressed in the culture. It’s not acceptable by today’s standards. It’s like to be a man is to be nonconfrontational. People are afraid to lose everything, so the less confrontational they are, the more likely they are to be around. The day of the rebellion is history…. The Black Panther movement, the Chicago Seven, that doesn’t seem to be in vogue. It’s almost as if to be aggressive for any reason is to be violent. A hero can be violent only after he’s been pushed to the wall and it’s a matter of defense, not offense. That’s why the hero’s a victim. People want to nurture the underdog. The day of the strongman is over.
Faludi: Are you saying masculinity has been lost from our culture?
Stallone: It’s not lost. It’s just, we’ve lost what it means to be masculine. It’s not anyone’s fault. It’s just the masculine endeavors–the jobs, the positions, the challenges–are diminishing. It’s like some great nomadic tribe that’s slowly being fenced in. And as they fail to wander, they no longer seem to exist.
Faludi: The “masculine endeavor” of playing the action hero no longer feels like a challenge?
Stallone: I know a few performers who thought action was a sure thing, dramatic actors, and they wouldn’t get near it again. It’s a painful kind of empty experience that is totally reliant on the effects around you. Basically, all the actor does is he lights the fuse and survives the explosion. The big bang has nothing to do with you. You are a piece of celebrity machinery that performs a function that requires very little in the way of explanation. But it does require a great deal in physical demonstration. So you are this machine that goes up and down and around, but no one ever really cracks the exterior. You are looked at as just a piece of machinery.
Faludi: And you’re a machine that does the same thing every time?
Stallone: Everything is derivative. It’s four guys arriving in a limousine and they all put on Nixon masks and they rob the bank. And then, sure enough, next movie, they arrive and they rob the yacht. And then they rob the train. But it’s the same thing. And everybody wants to drop a virus. I mean, well, who cares? Everybody wants to blow up New York. Let ’em! I’d help them walk the bomb through the door! And everybody wants a billion dollars to do it. It’s so dumb. If you are really going to blow it up, blow it up for an ideology. But don’t ask for money.
Faludi: The hero of these new action films, is his role then just to be along for the ride?
Stallone: The action film is no longer the action film. It’s the ultraviolence film, which has nothing to do with why the actor ever entered this business. So now you’re kind of giving yourself up. It’s more like what a farmer must’ve felt like, you know, a strong-backed real son of the earth looking at the Industrial Age, saying, “Jesus, they don’t need me anymore. I’m just there to start the machine.” But the machine is the thing. Well, in these films today, the actor is standing there looking at a big blue screen, seeing things that don’t exist, and being made to fly through areas that he’s not flying in.
Faludi: Have you done one of those films against a blue screen?
Stallone: Yes, Judge Dredd was quite like that. You are on a cable, on a flying motorcycle that leans left and leans right, and then they’ll say, “React to this. Above you, there’s three soldiers coming at you, and they’re shooting. Duck!” And then you go back and you do it again. And it’s weeks on end, weeks on end. It’s unbearable.
Faludi: It sounds like an actor playing these “powerful” heroes would feel pretty unpowerful. The way you describe it, the action genre seems to–
Stallone: To castrate you? Yeah.
Faludi: The way you’re just an ornamental addition to the special effects seems like the opposite of macho.
Stallone: It is the opposite. And there-in lies the depressing dichotomy. Because if you are so macho like your screen image, why don’t you de something that’s really macho and go against the tide, buck the system, face the firing squad of your own insecurities?
Faludi: You are trying to buck the Hollywood system now by departing from the action role. What’s been the reaction? [Stallone still has big-picture studio commitments pending, most notably a $60 million deal with Universal to make three movies.]
Stallone: Well, it wasn’t like “Bon voyage, babe! Great, we’ll see you soon!” It was more like “Okay, let him get this out of his system. And then we get back to business.” And from a business point of view, they are absolutely right, and I support them 100 percent. But when do you say, “Okay, let me fail for all the right reasons rather than succeed for all the wrong ones?”
Faludi: And so what happened after you let it be known you wanted non-action material?
Stallone: What happened was everything came to a standstill. In other words, no scripts were forthcoming. It was like on a will-notify basis. Now good things are percolating, but it hasn’t been a bombardment of material. What has happened is, thanks to being involved with these other world-class performers [in Copland], it has subdued the majority of the skepticism and has alleviated a great deal of the pressure of having to perform as a one-man band.
Faludi: A few years ago, you were quoted in The New York Times as saying, “I’m a stereotype. I can’t break away from that.” Now that you’re making Copland and all, are you feeling more hopeful about breaking out?
Stallone: [Laughs.] No, I’m still a stereotype. I always will be. But at least I’d like to be a versatile stereotype. . . . If I can’t break out, then . . . all I’m asking for is a stay of execution, a weekend pass!
Faludi: Why doesn’t your audience want you to break out?
Stallone: Let me ask you something. Do you think holding me in a certain kind of film is the same perhaps as not wanting the hero to disappear? Do you think that’s possible? That it’s “Oh, my God. He’s the last dinosaur. And now the last dinosaur has decided he wants to change? Forget it!”
What is really the greatest departure of Copland for Stallone is not that he is playing a character who is fat or is timid or doesn’t make eye contact. It’s that he’s playing a character who, in the course of the movie, actually changes.
And it may be that the “dinosaur” action hero, like the average man facing the diminishing frontier, will have to do something even more difficult than shedding his armored musculature if he wants to discover a new identity. He’ll also have to tune out all the clamoring voices, from the fans and the studios and the media, telling him he can’t, and shouldn’t, change.
Faludi: Is there any personal lesson you can draw from Freddy’s transformation?
Stallone: Something happens that’s symbolic in the movie. They shoot out his other eardrum. [Freddy is already deaf in one ear.] He no longer can hear ridicule. He can no longer hear scorn, jokes at his expense. He can no longer hear danger. And the only thing that he can hear–it’s not the bullets. Finally, he’s listening to his own voices.
Faludi: Is that what you are trying to do in a way–make yourself deaf to all those who want you to stay the muscleman?
Stallone: It is like a weird experiment with myself. But I think it’s healthy, because it’s frightening.
Stallone: It’s one thing to live in an illusion. It’s another thing to act out an illusion and find out that you are not anywhere near the neighborhood you thought you’d be in. Living an illusion is, you sit there with a drink in your hand and say, “Oh, I could do that. Gimme a break–anybody could do that! You know why he’s there? He has the material! Gimme the material, I would’ve been there.” Okay, well, here’s the material. Go.
Faludi: So this is a showdown with yourself, in a way.
Stallone: And I don’t want anything that’s beyond the realm of deservedness. I just want to be able to test myself, really. I don’t have any delusions about having this giant revelation. The, oh, it’s a New Man. But I think it’s extremely important to try to change, and this isn’t just true for me, it’s true for every man, every waiter here [at the bar]. It’s every man who has hit the wall, the “Okay, is this it from now on? Is this my MO until my demise? Is this it?” That’s what’s terrible. So whether it be on any scale, no matter how minute, I think you have to take a chance and put it all on one roll of the dice.
And maybe my doing it will be beneficial, in a way, to other men. I don’t know, maybe that sounds ridiculous. But in that, if I can change, then . . .
Faludi: Anyone can change?
Stallone: And I could be delusional. I could. But I want to find that out. That’s all.
Stallone: Well, maybe things won’t change. Maybe I’m not as versatile as I’d like to be, you know? But at least I’ll know. I’ll know. I think it’s very important to look in the mirror and actually see the person that’s staring back at you.