Amid jokes about this being the ultimate “Rocky” vs. “Raging Bull” movie, Sylvester Stallone owned the red — or rather black — carpet on Monday night at the premiere of “Grudge Match,” the new film staring Sly and Robert De Niro, directed by Peter Segal.
Stallone, despite playing arguably the most iconic boxer in cinema history, had nothing but praise for his co-star’s fighting ability. “He puts up a good shot!” Sly told reporters at the Ziegfield. “He was feisty, and I saw him take some falls, and I realized it was going to be a good fight.”
Stallone said he was “hesitant” at first about making “Grudge Match,” but ultimately, “I never had such a good feeling about a film.”
De Niro, who appeared just moments before the film started, didn’t speak to reporters but appeared to be in high spirits, posing with his fists raised with Stallone for the cameras before going into the screening.
Stallone, co-star Kim Basinger, and director Segal, all emphasized that this wasn’t really a boxing movie. Alan Arkin, who plays Sly’s trainer, said that he “laughed continuously while reading the script,” and then with a great director, cast, and location, he just had to be part of the movie.
“I really responded to the fact that it’s a story about redemption and second chances,” Segal told Variety. “It really is more about that than boxing. The boxing match at the end is really only nine minutes of the movie; it’s the thing that motivates these two characters to repair all the broken relationships in their lives.”
Basinger, who plays the mutual love interest of Sly and De Niro’s fighters, said she was drawn to the movie because she had been looking for a long time for a comedy movie. “I’d been hungry for comedy for years,” Basinger said. “I figured this would be either genius or madness, but I read the script and this movie has so much heart.”
Basinger wouldn’t weigh in on the Rocky vs. Raging Bull debate, but comedian Kevin Hart, who plays the agent that gets both men back into the ring, definitely chose Rocky.
Filming that ultimate scene at the end of the movie was “a little insane,” Segal said with a smile. “We had a fraction of the time that Sly had to shoot his fight scenes for ‘Rocky,’ and a fraction of the time that Scorsese had to shoot ‘Raging Bull.’” The actors rehearsed separately on opposite coasts, and finally met in New Orleans on Super Bowl weekend, “with the street paved with vomit,” Segal joked, to start shooting. When the two finally met in a warehouse to rehearse, Segal said, “I took out my cell phone, I forgot that I was directing this movie. I was just a kid taking pictures. It was awesome.”
“Grudge Match” was presented as part of a gala benefit for the TriBeCa Film Institute, and organization founded by De Niro and Jane Rosenthal in the wake of the September 11th attacks to benefit up and coming filmmakers. The after-party was held at the Skylight at Moynihan Station.