Sylvester Stallone: Interview with writer/director/star Sylvester Stallone

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Sylvester Stallone is the writer, director, and star of "The Expendables," which also stars Mickey Rourke, Jason Statham, and Jet Li. The film, which also features Bruce Willis and California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, is being released by Lionsgate on August 13.

Real action


“This movie was shot with brains and brawn, not modern technology,” says Stallone. “This is all about real fighting. Mano a mano.  Keeping things as real as possible, instead of falling back on CGI. It’s the kind of filmmaking I grew up on, and that’s the way I direct.”


From the beginning, Stallone was inspired by classic action films like THE DIRTY DOZEN, THE WILD BUNCH and DOGS OF WAR – movies defined by hard-hitting action, tough yet sympathetic characters and resonant, populist themes. “I wanted to tell a story about men who are out of sync with the world but who live their lives by a certain code,” he says. “They don't have families, their personal lives are a train wreck – all they have is each other.” 




As he developed the story, Stallone found that the heart of the film centered on the theme of redemption. “These guys are definitely anti-heroes,” he explains. “At one time they had a code that they’d only go after people who deserved it. They killed killers. But then it became all about the money and they lost their way. With Rocky or even Rambo, there was a line they wouldn’t cross. Barney and his crew have crossed that line somehow, and they need to get back on the right side of it.”


Casting a good friend


Stallone then turned to his old friend, Mickey Rourke, to play the small but pivotal role of Tool. Rourke, who made a highly praised comeback in 2008 with an Oscar-nominated turn in THE WRESTLER, plays a weary former Expendable who now runs the business of brokering clandestine missions out of his storefront tattoo shop. Explains Stallone about casting his friend, “I’m a little older than him, but we sort of grew up in the business together. We’ve had our ups and downs, know the ins and outs of our lives.  He’s a very sensitive and unique guy, and I thought if he could bring some of that uniqueness to the character of Tool, it would be off the charts.”


As if that weren’t enough, Stallone had his eye on uniting two more titans of action cinema for a special cameo appearance in one key scene: Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis.  “It was one of those ridiculous pipedreams,” says Stallone.  “They’re old friends. But Arnold’s the governor and Bruce is a multi-million dollar actor. But I said ‘Well, why not?   Let me just try.’”   


Both actors were willing, but it took nearly six months after shooting was over to find a window when Governor Schwarzenegger had time off that matched up with Willis’ schedule. “We did it at like four o’clock on a Saturday morning in a church and nobody knew it was there.   Everyone brought their own clothes. It was like stealth,” remembers Stallone. “And by seven, we didn’t exist.  Boom, gone!  They were fantastic.”




With THE EXPENDABLES cast finally taking shape, Stallone began tailoring each role to fit the particular skills and talents of each actor. Explains Stallone, “Each of them are stars in their own right and needed to be served equally. But I have to say they all came to the table and put their egos aside.  Everyone was on board to give 100% to their role.  They made my job easy.”


Acting and Directing


For Stallone, acting and directing simultaneously on set posed its own unique problems, but he welcomed the challenge. “I wear a lot of hats because I never know when it’s going to be my last film,” he says candidly. “Because of that, I just want to put my imprint on it and try to do my best. I really recommend it.  I wish every actor would try it.  And either they’ll excel or they’ll be a lot more pleasant to deal with.  When the director says, ‘Get your ass on the set,’ you say, ‘Okay, I get it.  I know how hard it is.’”


A movie to believe in


Now that production is over and THE EXPENDABLES is completed, Stallone believes that the extra hard work he asked of his cast and crew has paid off. “I set out to make one of those films that comes along once in a while by taking an old formula and making it contemporary,” says the actor/writer/director. “It’s the kind of movie I would love, and it’s what I believe in. These characters are not superhuman.  They have abilities, but everything they can do is possible, so they’re real. And in the end there’s a moral message that the greatest sacrifice is that of your life for a stranger, for an ideal.  And that comes at a great cost. I think you’re going to see a real kick-ass film with soul.”