In 1976, a little movie about a southpaw boxer from Philly stormed Hollywood like a hot-headed street-fighter, grossing $117 million and winning three Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Its screenwriter and star, Sylvester Stallone, went from struggling-actor obscurity to Oscar-nominated mega-fame overnight. Now, 30 years and as many films later, Stallone is back in the ring with Rocky Balboa, the series' sixth and final chapter, in which, as written, directed, and produced by Stallone, the widowed Italian Stallion comes out of retirement to take on Mason ''the Line'' Dixon (real-life light-heavyweight boxer Antonio Carver). A few hours after donating his black felt hat and other Rocky memorabilia to the Smithsonian Institution's Museum of American History, Stallone answered questions about aging, faded glory, and pitting Rambo against an army of fisherman.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Why a sixth Rocky movie, 30 years later?
SYLVESTER STALLONE: I felt obligated to try and end the series the way it should have ended. I was very negligent [with 1990's] Rocky V. It just didn't leave anyone with any sense of hope. It was very reflective of where I was at the time. So, it bothered me. And then around '96, I thought, Oh, I want to approach Hollywood with the idea. And they said, basically, never. I kept going back and visiting and there was a certain studio head that wanted no part of it. So, at that time MGM was just not interested and I thought, This is never going to happen. Then, as fate would have it, MGM was sold [to Sony], new people in, and that was it. But I have to thank the guy who really got the ball rolling, [Revolution Studio president] Joe Roth.
Did you feel like you and the character had more to say or as Rocky puts it, ''stuff in the basement'' that you needed to get out?
Yeah, I did. Then I thought, Sly, you're not so special. I think a lot of people got stuff in the basement and they never get to vocalize it. And when you get older, you get less of a forum to speak. It's like, oh you had your moment, time to move on. I thought, now it's really starting to be an interesting premise. Taking that personal journey, dealing with grief, getting the stuff out of the basement. I thought we had a weighty story.
Rocky Balboa deals with the idea of being a ''has-been.'' Is that something you're grappling with too?
Well, I am a has-been. I mean, there's no question. You're never what you were, you're only hot once. Everyone, the first few years of bein' hot, is kind of on their way to being a has-been. It's just that ''has-been'' has a terrible connotation. Has-been is a good thing. You have been something. Alright, so at least you were there, instead of a never-been, you know? I'm certainly not what I was, but there's still something to contribute.
You're not what you were, you're something else.
Imagine if I was still what I was when I was 30. ''You're not a has-been, you're a mentally deficient, challenged individual!'' But there's something about having been there and then losing it and trying to pass the banner on, or you get one final moment of satisfaction that comes at a price the price of humiliation or the price of skepticism, and if you're willing to pay that price, I think there's something to be learned from that. A lot of people are reluctant to go out and put their head above the crowd. And I think they should. I went to [an] AARP meeting. People said, ''What are you doing that for?'' I said, ''Are you kidding me? I want to check it out.'' And I was there and I saw 12,000 people and every one of them had this radical energy. I went, ''Oh my god! This is a volatile group. These people are not about to go quietly into the good night, okay?'' I like that. And I feel the same way. What we [baby boomers] are, basically, are children with arthritis.
How are you enjoying growing older?
Everyone says, ''Oh, it's just the best years of my life.'' Not really. But it's good. I believe your private life is the key to your public life. We've seen celebrities who have it all crash and burn. Why? Nothing to go home to. I finally got that part right. So, I believe in that thing: Happy wife, happy life.
Oh, like ''Behind every good man is an even better woman''?
And they know how to dress you better and pick out your clothes. We're actually good for nothing since you don't have to chase wolves from the door anymore. What is our function now? [Laughs] [But I] couldn't be happier. I got the greatest wife, the greatest kids. I wanted my children to see what I used to do for a living because they thought I was a professional bad golfer. All they'd see me do was play golf in the back yard. [Stallone has three young daughters with Jennifer Flavin, his wife of nine years.]
Over the years, you've spoken about not wanting to betray your fans by diverging too much from the action-hero type. But you also spoke about feeling constrained by Rocky or Rambo. How do you feel now?
I do feel that there's no escaping those personas, especially after a combined nine films. At first it violates this unofficial actor's code to be as versatile and chameleon-like as possible and ride the acting spectrum from A to Z, not from A to B. But as reality sets in, there are certain actors that are character, and there are certain actors that, early on, get inextricably linked with a certain character. I was too naïve to understand that and tried to do everything to move away [from it]. It's that classic: he doth protest too much, when in doubt, shout. [Laughs] If I had learned [all] that years ago, I would have had a much more enjoyable life less stress, less trying to break out. Cause you can't. Why should you? It's very fortunate to be remembered for something.
NEXT PAGE: Just what was up with Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot?