Sylvester Stallone Interview, RAMBO

Posted by: Sheila Roberts

MoviesOnline caught up with Sylvester Stallone at the Los Angeles press day for “Rambo,” which he wrote, directed and stars in based on characters created by David Morrell. Filmed on location in and around Chiang Mai, Thailand, “Rambo” also stars Julie Benz (“Dexter,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”), Paul Schulze ("The Sopranos"), Matthew Marsden (“Resident Evil: Extinction,” “Black Hawk Down”), Graham McTavish (HBO's "Rome"), Rey Gallegos (“American Wedding”), Tim Kang ("Third Watch"), Jake LaBotz (“Ghost World”), Maung Maung Khin and Ken Howard.

Twenty years after the last film in the series, John Rambo (Stallone) has retreated to northern Thailand, where he's running a longboat on the Salween River. On the nearby Thai-Burma (Myanmar) border, the world's longest-running civil war, the Burmese-Karen conflict, rages into its 60th year. Rambo lives a solitary, simple life in the mountains and jungles fishing and catching poisonous snakes to sell. He has long ago given up fighting, even as medics, mercenaries, rebels and peace workers pass by on their way to the war-torn region. All that changes when a group of human rights missionaries ask Rambo to guide them up the Salween so they can deliver food and medical supplies to the Karen tribe. Weeks after the journey, Rambo learns that the same missionaries are being held captive by the Burmese military, outside diplomatic reach. Accompanied by a group of Church-hired mercenaries, he agrees to go up the river again, feeling a responsibility to rescue the captives despite his reluctance for violence and conflict.

Despite nineteen years having transpired since the last Rambo installment, Stallone and producers Avi Lerner, Kevin King and John Thompson were confident that audiences would still connect with Rambo’s personal fortitude. “Rambo harkens back to that mythic one man who has been chosen to do a job that he really doesn’t want to do, but he’s been born to do it,” Stallone explains. “He imparts a sense of virtue that’s immediate. Bad and evil should be punished and the weak should be protected. It harkens back to the stories we all grew up with, the mythology of good and evil.”

“I thought the Burmese setting would be ideal because it’s a story that’s not just about Rambo. It’s actually happening. It’s true,” continues Stallone. “From the time I heard about it and began researching it, I thought, ‘If I could just combine the two – raising awareness of the Karen-Burmese civil war and giving the audience a good adventure story – that would be perfect.’” Sly is a fabulous guy and we really appreciated his time. Here’s what he had to tell us about his new film and his upcoming projects:

Q: HOW DO YOU FEEL WHEN YOU HEAR PEOPLE LIKE GEORGE BUSH BEING REFERRED TO AS RAMBO?

STALLONE: I know. Please stop. I know we share a birthday but no... You're leaving me open. I could just slam that hunk. Let’s see. What rhymes with Rambo? Dumbo? No. We have nothing to do with that, believe me. No.

Q: WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO DO ANOTHER “RAMBO” MOVIE NOW?

STALLONE: You know, careers have peaks and valleys and you harken back to the things that you're sort of known for. I mean, every actor would like to say that they're Daniel Day Lewis and that they have this incredible pallet, but quite often you're known for certain things. I said to myself, 'Boy, if I could end my career on something, I'd like to finish up the loose ends on Rambo because the last one in Afghanistan didn't work and the last Rocky didn't work. So I wanted to focus on these two and as fate would have it the world has gone through a transition in the past twenty years where maybe ten years ago this wouldn't have even been acceptable, but right now with this inundation of violence, the constant bombardment of it on CNN everyday, I think there's a kind of frustration building up and it needs a release. So that's why. It was just time, good timing.

Q: HOW DO YOU FEEL GOING BACK TO THESE CHARACTERS? IS IT DIFFICULT?

STALLONE: I love it. It reminds me of Eugene O'Neill's father in 'The Count of Monte Cristo'. He played it for 33 years. I'm like, 'I get that.' [Laughs]

Q: IN THE BLACK AND WHITE NIGHTMARE SEQUENCE, YOU USE A CLIP FROM THE UNUSED ENDING OF “FIRST BLOOD” WHERE RAMBO GETS TRAUTMAN TO KILL HIM.

STALLONE: Oh, you caught that.

Q: BY PUTTING THAT IN THERE, ARE YOU TELLING THE AUDIENCE THAT RAMBO DREAMS HE WISHES IT WOULD'VE ENDED THERE AND THAT TRAUTMAN WOULD’VE KILLED HIM?

STALLONE: No, no. We actually tried using that ending. It was at one screening only in Las Vegas and it didn't go over very well. They had to literally go back and rebuild the entire set. I begged. I said, 'Don't do this again.' Anyway, they did it. But I thought in the dream sequence, and I don't know if it's coming across or not, but accept who you are, accept who you are, this is who you are. This is it. Finally Rambo does. I kill for myself. I don't kill for my country. It's just like, 'Stop using this excuse that I'm a hero. I'm not. I've just got this penchant for violence inside of me that has to come out.' While he was in the dream it was like, 'Put me out of my misery.' If he could've done it all over, he wishes that Trautman did shoot him because he cannot come to terms with the fact that he's a killer. Flat out.

Q: HOW DO YOU DEFINE THIS CHARACTER?

STALLONE: He goes down to see his father who, by the way, is a full blooded Indian. I decided not to shoot it because I thought it would end up being a double epilogue, but you realize where he came from. He came from a society that was absolutely archaic compared to the modern man. So it's as though he was going to go back into the world where he existed [in the first place.] It's a primitive existence, a hard existence. It's not surrounded by people. It's surrounded by horses and nature, whatever. That's where he belongs. When he's confronted with people and society, the rage and that indignity start to build up. What it is, is that he defends people that can't defend themselves. It isn't like he goes out and looks for trouble, but he embraces it. That's why when the missionaries came up he was so conflicted. 'You're not going to change anything, but I'll take you there.' It's like the warrior needs to war.

Q: WAS THAT SHOT DURING THE FINAL CREDIT SEQUENCE THE LAST THING THAT YOU SHOT AND WHAT WERE YOU THINKING WHEN YOU TOOK THAT LONG WALK?

STALLONE: You mean back to the house? Yeah, that was by far the last scene. That was the last shot. I thought that he goes down and looks up the road and his journey was over. In other words it's like an odyssey, like, for lack of a better term Ulysses who went through all these different trials and tribulations and in the end everybody sort of thinks, 'Can I ever go back and have one more chance at trying to relive my life even though there's not much of it left?' So to me it's a kind of happy ending. It's a little smirk.

Q: WERE YOU REFLECTING ON RAMBO'S ENTIRE JOURNEY?

STALLONE: Absolutely. But it was also very tentative for me, like, 'Do I do this?' There's an excitement about going back to see your father, but you also haven't seen him in 30 years and it's kind of like what I do every time I go home at night. [Laughs] Am I going to be welcomed or not? No, I’m just kidding.

Q: DO YOU SEE YOURSELF RETURNING TO “RAMBO” AFTER THIS?

STALLONE: No.

Q: THIS IS IT? WOULD YOU EVER CONSIDER DOING ANOTHER ONE?

STALLONE: I have a very, very bizarre idea. It's probably so absurd, but it's got to formulate a little bit. If I told you I was going to do one about a sixty one year old boxer, you'd go, ‘Yup!’ But if you find the right formula almost anything is feasible. It's just coming in there and making the audience go, 'Okay, that's possible. That is feasible.’ It's weird. I mean, Space Cowboys. Hello? But it worked.

Q: WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU'RE LEGACY WILL BE WHEN ALL IS SAID AND DONE?

STALLONE: The legacy? Who's legacy? Mine? Oh, God. It's ying and yang. I think that some of the upcoming actors will look at me as this archaic, kind of like prehistoric creature that belonged to a certain bygone genre that no longer exists because now we've become much more scientific, less personal. Most of my peers were very physical. Arnold [Schwarzenegger] and Bruce [Willis] – they were just more hands on. I think that a lot of actors today are hands off and they're more intellectual. So I think that it'll be like what it's like when you go back to the Natural Museum of History and you're looking at a Pterodactyl.

Q: YOU JUST BROUGHT UP “SPACE COWBOYS,” ARE YOU GUYS PLANNING SOMETHING TOGETHER?

STALLONE: I always talk to Arnold about it. I'm like, 'When are you going to get over this job? Let’s go back to having some fun!' Every weekend I ask him.

Q: HOW WOULD YOU SAY YOUR DIRECTING STYLE HAS CHANGED SINCE “STAYING ALIVE”?

In terms of style, the first time I directed a film was Paradise Alley which was very stylized and I didn't really know what I was doing, but it was kind of more of a flow. I thought that this one would kind of be like the character – jerky, erratic, unsteady, always, always moving. It always blows my mind when you see a jungle film and then you see dolly shots. I go, 'Wait a second. There's nothing smooth in the jungle.' You trip. I mean I can't walk 5 feet without tripping over a vine so I thought the camera should be that way. Also because of economics we didn't have time to put the camera on anything that resembled a dolly. But it worked out fine and I enjoyed it. It was quick and running and gunning and just throwing it over there and picking it up. I think with that kind of thing you miss a lot of shots, but you also get a lot of energy. You do.

Q: HOW MANY CAMERAS DID YOU USE?

STALLONE: In the last battle I had 9. Normally it would be 3, but I find that with 3 you start to overlap so 2 would be the best. Three is sort of getting clumsy unless you're going for inanimate objects with the third camera. Like, 'Okay, there’s a shoelace and an empty bottle.' Somehow you work that in which we never did. It's that kind of thing.

Q: WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO OPEN THE FILM WITH DOCUMENTARY FOOTAGE OF REAL EVENTS IN BURMA?

STALLONE: I was dependent on the audience not knowing anything about Burma even though two months ago we now learned about the genocides of the monks. So I just wanted to bring them up to date and there's nothing more impressionable than when you actually see real newsreel footage that shows you're not just doing a film that's a fantasy. It's for real. It's like showing Vietnam and then you actually go into the film. So I thought that it would add a little bit of gravitas to it and just bring you up to speed. It was going to be more elaborate with a voice over, but I thought, 'Okay, just keep it at that.' And then the second scene is the race in the rice paddy which is just saturated in color and then bang, we’re into the beginning of the film.

Q: PEOPLE HAVE SAID THAT THIS IS ONE OF THE MOST VIOLENT MOVIES THAT WE'VE SEEN IN A LONG TIME.

STALLONE: Not one of the most. The most. I worked very hard for this. [Laughter] I'm only kidding.

Q: HOW HARD WAS IT TO GET THE MPAA TO GIVE YOU AN ‘R’ RATING ON THIS?

STALLONE: They were conflicted, but you're dealing with a real subject. As we're speaking right now, people are dying and being tortured in the most brutal fashion you could ever even imagine and this film will show that. If we're going to do anything that actually uses this medium [for something] besides entertaining, it is to perhaps save a few lives and bring an awareness to this. Please don't water it down. Yes. Babies are being decimated. Women are being raped. There's piracy. All that happens all the time. I say, ‘Just let it flow.’ People can turn away. They have this option, but don't just cut away from it and go for that PG-13 situation which I had nothing against. I like Bruce's last PG-13. I thought that it was very, very good, but this is a different kind of movie. This has to walk that thin line. It really does. It was almost an experiment about how far you can push entertainment, but also stay true to the bloodshed that's going down as we speak. There is no more brutal regime on the planet. This has been going on for 60 years. So that's what it was.

Q: HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT ALL THE CGI THAT YOU PUT ON TO SQUIBS AND BLOOD EFFECTS? IT JUST SEEMS OVERSATURATED.

STALLONE: It is. But again, when you're hit flat out, and I don't know if you've seen it on YouTube, but the people who have some footage from Iraq – when you're hit with a fifty caliber, you are literally emulsified. It's not like a little bullet hole – 'Ouch, it hurt.' You're gone. I wanted to, again, show that when people go to see situations of great violence, it's horrifying. They're not slightly wounded and like, 'Oh, yeah. I have a little designer cut.' I wanted to show how brutal it is. So the CGI was necessary because we couldn't even put that much explosive on people.

Q: IS THIS THE FIRST TIME THAT YOU’VE WORKED WITH CGI AS A DIRECTOR AND ACTOR?

STALLONE: To this extent. In 'Rocky,' to fill up the top row [of people] in the audience, I had to use some CGI, but yeah, this is the first time. I don't like it, but jeez, how do you put holes through people? [Laughs] Or separate them in half? [Laughs] They won't sit still for that.

Q: THE EVISCERATION SCENE WAS GREAT.

STALLONE: The last one? Oh, my God. When I showed that to the producer, he shrieked. This is like an Israeli commando. I said, ‘That's what it is. This guy deserves it.’ Even though he doesn't say a word, you understand he is beyond – a pedophile, this, that, horror – I mean just everything. You need, and I really believe this, emotional payback. If you do not give the audience some sort of emotional payback in a film like this, you know what it'll be? It'll be considered an artistic triumph and a box office bomb.

Q: DID YOU SHOOT ANYTHING ESPECIALLY FOR THE DVD?

STALLONE: Yeah, we did. We had this fellow there following us the whole time, chasing the snakes and dealing with these cobras. They get loose on the boat and then you'd have fun with them. There's just odd, odd stuff. We got caught in these monsoons and we had a leading lady trying to pull moss out of her eyes and mouth. So that's going to be a very interesting DVD because we had someone there probably sixty days which is a lot of footage.

Q: WHAT WAS THE TOUGHEST PART OF THIS WHOLE ENDEAVOR?

STALLONE: The toughest part, I think for sure the night rescue because we had 28 days of nights. It's 2 hours to get there and because of the rain it was driving up a lot of the snakes and the centipedes which you just have no idea. It looks like a hotdog with legs and it is brutal. So we had a real problem with that.

Q: I READ THAT YOU HAD A SNAKE ON YOUR LEG.

STALLONE: Yeah. Snake on the leg. That was me. We couldn't afford CGI snakes and so the best thing we could do was go, 'Oh, there's a King Cobra. Great. Thanks.' For real. And then we'd use scotch tape to try and keep him there, but I didn't realize that they go like this. [Shows how a snake slithers] They're not like alligators where you can hold them. Oh my God. So we have a lot of that on the DVD. It'll be fun.

Q: WHAT'S BEEN THE MOST REWARDING PART OF THE FILM FOR YOU?

STALLONE: Oh, God. It had to be that last battle scene because Rambo doesn't actually engage physically. He's up there and the fact that worked was rewarding. Also, casting Julie Benz was to me very important. That was a hard part to cast, real hard, because most women don't want to do it.

Q: DO YOU KNOW WHAT YOU’RE GOING TO DO NEXT?

STALLONE: There are three possibilities. Death Wish. With the Writers Guild Strike, I don’t know. It may be The Mechanic.


Q: I HEARD you might be doing a project tentatively called “Notorious.”

STALLONE: Notorious? No. Sounds sexy. I wouldn’t mind. [Laughs] There’s one called Lion’s Game and there’s two novels. Lion’s Game is a Nelson DeMille book. That’s in the works but I’m dying to do some good old horror.

Q: So there’s no idea floating around for a movie with you, Bruce and Arnold?

STALLONE: [Laughs] I think Bruce is a possibility.

“Rambo” opens in theaters on January 25th.

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