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Sylvester Stallone – aka Rocky, aka Rambo – has finally found his real vocation as a husband, dad and, we kid you not, serious actor…

Sylvester Stallone Interview
Stallone confronts the critics who’ve sneered at his attempts to gain acting credibility by appearing in the company of Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel

When Sylvester Stallone swaggers unannounced into London’s Planet Hollywood on a drizzly Saturday afternoon, you can hear the screams of 300 unsuspecting diners from two floors below in the VIP bar. Chants of “Rocky! Rocky!” seep out of the restaurant and into Piccadilly Circus and tourists strolling past come running to press their noses up against the windows to catch a glimpse of the action hero.

Twenty minutes after the last screams have died down, and seconds after extinguishing his cigar, Sylvester Stallone joins me at the bar. Looking ever so cool in a grey Armani suit, he’s taller than you’d imagine, wittier than you’d expect and has oodles more brain power than most people think (“the biggest misconception is that I’m a step above a jellyfish intellectually” he jokes).

Life has changed considerable for Stallone since he turned 50 just over a year ago. A month after his birthday, his then-girlfriend model Jennifer Flavin, gave birth to their baby daughter, Sophia Rose. She was born with a hole in her heart and had to undergo life-saving surgery. It was the “worst time” of his life but the “best thing” that’s happened to him.

“It’s like it cracks the scar tissue around your heart a little bit, opens up your clogged emotional arteries and you start to feel rejuvenated. It’s a revelation!” he admits, sincerely astounded. And with a flex of his Rambo-esque muscles, he whips out a photograph of Sophie taken on the eve of the op.

The evolution of Stallone doesn’t stop there. In May he buried his playboy imagine by marrying Jennifer (29) at Bleheim Palace in London; and this month has has a little movie coming out called Cop Land that proves to the public that beneath the brawn lies a man who really can act.

More importantly, acting in Cop Land has proved to Stallone that brawn is not that important in the final equation, a huge awakening for a guy who’s been addicted to strict exercise and diet regime for over two decades. The lesson began when the director of Cop Land suggested that Stallone gain 18 kilograms of flab for his role.

“That was the second hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, because I didn’t realize I’d become addicted to exercise, to the point where it had became a psychological hang-up, almost as addictive as bulimia or anorexia,” confesses Sly. “And to give that up, I felt as though I was giving up my entire identity and security.

“During the first couple of months I kept making excuses to everyone, telling them that the fast wasn’t really me- that it was just for the performance. Finally I said to myself: ‘This is absolutely contrary to what the character should be. You are who you are, and this weight gain insists that you now have to relate to people mentally and verbally, rather than walking through a door chest first and talking to people with your body.’

“When you take the body out of the mix it’s a different world, you know. Then you really see what someone’s made of. Anyone can have muscles – it’s just application and time and whether you think it’s that important in life. My problem was that I had got caught up in the birth of a genre – super action – and I got swept away with this new kind of toy,” he explains.

His “super action” days are over, he says, but not his action days (as were reported by the media). “You get action films, and them you get ultra-violent films or super-action films,” he says, citing Cobra as the kind of “rubbish” he wouldn’t repeat. He’ll only do a fourth Rambo if it’s less violent than the third.

At the moment, the emotionally-pumped Stallone is focusing on character-driven movies like Cop Land, an earnest tale of morality that pits him against arguably Hollywood’s finest actor – Robert De Niro. Stallone found the experience both “intimidating” and “inspirational.” So what did these polar opposites learn from each other?

“I don’t think he learned anything from me!” laughs Sly, “but I did from him. He’s very funny – his seriousness is funny. He even rehearses his ad libs! He’s very dedicated that way. I love him. Bobby turned out to be a great friend.”

Acting opposite the method actor was like working with a great chess player. “You have to sit there and focus – is he gonna outdo you, or are you gonna outdo him? It becomes extraordinary timing. He’s never the same way twice and he loves it when you give it back to him in a different way. It’s great dueling. And Harvey Keitel is very similar, so acting with both these individuals puts you at your best. If you can’t cut it – they let you know right away because you can see them withdrawing from you – quickly!” he grins. “But if they’re slapping you on the back after a take – that’s a big affirmation.”

Cop Land tells the story of how a New Jersey town’s vigilante approach to keeping the peace is uncovered after some innocent people are killed. Stallone plays the ineffective sheriff – Freddy Heflin, who is afraid to investigate a corrupt cop (Keitel) until compelled to by an internal-affairs detective (De Niro). Sly kept a small turtle in his pocket throughout the shoot to remind himself that his character is like a “noble turtle.” The ploy paid off and he even has Time magazine singing his praises.

There will, of course, be those who criticize Stallone’s attempt to leap from action hero to serious thespian.

“It’s to be expected. It’s like someone going from Jew to Catholic,” he acknowledges, clinking his finger in the air. “Naturally there’s mistrust and skepticism. The trick is to persevere and to be willing to take less money. So I did Cop Land for no money, you know, minus $20-million, like nothing!” He will take a share of the profits though, and the buzz is that there will be profits.

Things are fantastic for Sylvester right now. “Life has taken on another meaning for me,” he simpers. “I am totally in love with Jennifer, and I want to spend more time with Sophia because I didn’t do it that much the first time around with Sage. I was on the road at least 11 years out of my son’s 21 years!”

Sage co-starred with Sylvester in Daylight last year, and it was obvious during press interviews that, despite Sly’s absence during Sage’s teen years, the two are close and certainly have a better relationship that Sly had with his own father.

“Oh my God, absolutely,” he confirms. “Sage and I never competed like my father did with me. I always wanted Sage to be better. That isn’t the story with my dad- just the opposite!” Sylvester’s dad, a Sicilian hairdresser, used to beat his son and maliciously taunt him.

His mother, an amateur palmist, was no haven of compassion either. It’s reported that it’s due to her vanity that Stallone was born by forceps delivery, resulting in the severed nerve that has caused his twisted lip and slightly slurred speech. Since Sly became famous, his mother has frequently called press conferences to announce he’s had his arm amputated or to say that his latest movie is dreadful.

“The day I did Rocky my whole family retired – all my relatives. They’ve cost me $15-million and yet they can’t share in my joy,” reveals Sly with a resigned sigh.

Sylvester Stallone Interview
“The biggest misconception people have about me is that I’m a step above a jellyfish intellectually.”

As a parent he’s doing all he can to not repeat his own parents’ mistakes. “I believe that if our parents aren’t good to us in the first five years, we struggle with that our whole lives, so I always told Sage how great he was and he’s developed a security I know I never had.

“And Sophia is going to be my grand experiment on how well you can raise a child. I’d like to relocate to Europe for a few years to allow her to partake in culture and languages. The future belongs to the women – sorry guys, but let the women try it for a while. I want to give Sophia a head start because the future will be about intelligence, not about having a 19-inch waist.”

This is not the way Stallone used to regard the female species. Three years ago he remarked that if he were stuck on a desert island he would take a male buddy, because after the sex and sunsets “what would a woman and I talk about?”

We could probably trace this Neanderthal mentality back to the day he lost his virginity, aged 12, to a girl who had the “body of a model and the personality of flypaper” – and so began a trend of failed relationships.

First there was Sasha, whom he met at 19 when they were both ushers at a movie house. They married, had two children – Sage (21) and Sergio (17) who is autistic, and divorced in 1985. Next came the highly publicized two-year marriage to, and divorce from, Brigitte Nielsen. A string of models ensued, including Jennifer, Angie Everhart and Janice Dickinson (who almost conned him into believing he’d fathered her child). Today, when i remind him about that desert island, he responds without missing a beat: “Now I would definitely take Jennifer and the baby. Funny how one changes, isn’t it?”

This new, improved Stallone actually began his metamorphosis from macho, sexists beast into sensitive, caring dude a few years ago.

“I had come from nothing – at 29-and-a-half I was broke; by 29 ad three quarters I was a millionaire” explains Sly. “I then made every conceivable Hollywood cliche mistake from caviar to women to limos, late nights and power abuse. Finally three years ago, I realized I blew it. People no longer respected me. My phone no longer rang.”

Slyvester Stallone Interview

At around the same time he began sorely missing Jennifer, who he’d dumped in 1993 (which incidentally was not via fax, as reported). She had handled their break-up with dignity, refusing to feed the press vultures with anti-Stallone fodder.

“That did it for me. That shows more class in an individual than I could possibly hope for, and she had every right to go the other way. So, after I’d probably run the gamut in every kind of private life excess, I finally hit rock-bottom and said to myself: ‘you know what, it doesn’t get any better than this. What do you keep searching for? What is this like Don Quixote mentality? This impossible dream? We’re all flawed and if you find someone who has less flaws than you – don’t leave them!'” he laughs. “They’re rare.”

It was the movie about a flawed, emotional character which made him a star in the first place – Rocky, a script which he wrote in just 86 hours. The movie celebrated its 20th anniversary last year, an event which was commemorated on stamps in Gambia, Ghana and Uganda, thus making Stallone the first living person outside of the royal family to be honored in such a manner.

Although South Africa didn’t join the other three African countries in honoring Stallone, he’s still looking forward to visiting our country “very, very soon.” His Miami mansion is filled with South Africa bric-a-brac given to him by his brother Frank after the latter’s visits to SA during the 80’s.

“Frank’s told me so much about South Africa, and I’d like to go to the next Million Dollar tournament – not that I’d be able to play in it! I don’t want ot beat Ernie Els that badly!” he grins boyishly.

Sylvester Stallone is truly a changed man. The old Stallone was always arrogant, never able to concede that another was better than him.

And then the former movie usher turned actor, scriptwriter, director, father, husband, art collector (with a priceless collection), poet (yes!), painter (yes again!) and golfer (with a handicap of eight) adds with a wink: “We just had the Planet Hollywood golf tournament… which I won, thank you very much!”

Oh well, some things never change.

PERSONALITY February 6 1998

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