The final day of Cannes was devoted to honoring Sylvester Stallone, who conducted a masterclass on the Croisette, where he looked back at his 43-year career and discussed how he never intended “Rambo” to get so political.
Thousands queued outside the Salle Debussy to sit down with the star and gave him a raucous standing ovation as he strode to the stage in laid-back cowboy boots and flannel, where he greeted the crowd with a famous “Yo!”
Stallone spent much of the hour-and-a-half-long talk discussing his “Rocky” and “Rambo” characters. He said that the latter character “was never by any means meant to be a political statement, but it became one — it took on a life of its own.”
“I’m almost a political atheist. I’m not a political animal and I never wanted to be. I just thought, this is an interesting story about alienation,” he recounted. “But oh my God, once President Reagan went, ‘I saw Rambo, and he’s a Republican!’” he riffed, dropping his mic and putting his hand to his head in faux disbelief, to roars of laughter.
The actor revisited how hard it was to make a name for himself at first as an unknown face who, thanks to an accident in his youth, actually had a hard time even speaking. “I knew it was bad when Arnold Schwarzenegger told me, ‘You have an accent.’ I go, ‘Excuse me? I have an accent?’” he laughed.
He hadn’t been anyone’s top pick for either “Rocky” or “Rambo,” saying of the first, “They would’ve taken a kangaroo — anybody but me,” and of the latter, “I was the 11th choice.” But he made the roles his own, reprising the former in eight films and the latter in four, with the fifth hitting theaters on Sept. 20.
He’d received his fair share of flak for constantly making sequels, he admitted, but quipped: “Isn’t a famous TV show just sequels? You watch the same damn show for 10 years, but you should only make a good film once?”
Stallone has come to embrace the fact that he’s cast as a certain type over the years. “You have a certain thing that you can do well. Dustin Hoffman’s not playing Rambo and I’m not playing Tootsie,” he ribbed. What he continues to love is mythology, and stories about “a man against himself and the system.”
“I just try to stay with that and perfect it, and not try to go outside my box too much, because there’s other people who can do those things better,” he said. “Every time I venture away from it, I end up in ‘Stop or My Mom Will Shoot,’ it’s horrible.” The 80s and 90s were full of such flops about which he harbors “a lot of regrets.”
But it’s also something to look back and laugh on. “My daughters go, why did you make this s—? I go, ‘Come on, how do you think I paid for your school? Shut up. Jesus.’”
Stallone delighted the audience by telling them he still lives with the two turtles from “Rocky,” who are now enormous and about 55 years old. “I think I should do another ‘Rocky’ and I join them in the bowl. Everyone’ll be dead except the turtles, my only friends,” he said.
The films did take their toll to shoot, however. In “Rocky IV,” Stallone asked his rival Dolph Lundgren to really let loose and hit him as hard as he could — which ended with him being helicoptered out and in intensive care for four days. “He hit me so hard, he almost stopped my heart. I went to the hospital and they thought I was in a car crash.”
New teaser footage of “Rambo V” will be shown this evening and a restored, 4K version of “Rambo: First Blood” will screen in the main Grand Theatre Lumiere to close out this year’s festival. Stallone looks back with humility and acknowledges his luck in his route to the top. The year before “Rocky,” he was still parking cars. And then, with a film he wrote in three days and shot in 25, he was winning Oscars.
“That’s how fast you have to believe your life can change. I’ve had a hundred bad ideas to every one good one, but all you need is one good idea,” he said.