Helmed by “Yellowstone” creator Taylor Sheridan, the new series marks Sylvester Stallone’s first foray into the world of television.
“It’s very hard to find something original,” Stallone said on Wednesday night at the “Tusla King” New York premiere. “And when it comes knocking on your door, you have to be a fool to say no.”
How will “Tulsa King” stand apart from other gangster series? For one, it’s a Western that takes place outside the big city. Stallone’s character, antiquated mafia capo Dwight Manfredi, is tasked with establishing a criminal organization in Tulsa, Okla. after serving a 25-year prison sentence.
“The idea of taking him out of New York, so he’s not like a Tony Soprano, he’s completely in an alien world,” Stallone said. “He might as well have been walking around on the moon.”
Five decades after Stallone auditioned for the roles of Paulie Gatto and Carlo Rizzi in “The Godfather,” the “Rocky” star is finally playing a gangster.
“This is a fantasy role,” Stallone said. “I’ve always wanted to play a gangster. Not a cowboy, not an Indian, [but] a gangster. Don’t ask me why, but there’s a romanticism about these kinds of characters.”
Co-showrunner Terence Winter, who served as a writer and producer on “The Sopranos,” said Stallone is essentially playing a version of himself.
“Aside from the murder and mayhem, he is that guy,” Winter told Variety. “It was a really easy thing to write for. I had his voice in my head and I knew he could pull this off in a heartbeat. It wasn’t a big stretch acting-wise. He is very imposing, and when you get in that glare, you think you’re looking at a gangster.”
When Dwight arrives in Tulsa, it doesn’t take long for him to assemble his own crew. His first partner, Tyson (Jay Will), is a Jesse Pinkman-like character that agrees to drive him wherever he needs to go. And his first place of business? A local dispensary.
“I was like, ‘This is a different color in the Crayola bag that I’ve never seen from him before’ when he’s toasted off of a jay,” Will told Variety. “It was good to see him just loosen it up a little bit. It’s a range of experiences that I have with him in the car as the driver, from getting into shootouts to him getting high in the back.”
There’s also a brewing romance between Dwight and a much younger woman named Stacy Beale (Andrea Savage). Stacy bolts out of Dwight’s hotel room when she first finds out he’s 75 years old, which is how old Stallone was when they filmed the series.
“I will say there was a part of me that was like, ‘Is he gonna be offended by this?’” Savage told Variety. “But I was like, ‘He knows it’s in the script. He knows how old he is.’ No, it was really fun. He was a great sport about it.”
The twist? Stacy is a law enforcement officer in Tulsa that’s tipped to keep an eye on Dwight. Savage hinted that her character’s relationship with Dwight will evolve in unexpected ways.
“We have a bond,” Savage said. “We’re both fish out of water searching for what we’re doing in our lives. My character becomes probably the most dramatic on the show so I stop really being so funny, which was actually incredibly fun for me.”
Max Casella, who played Benny Fazio on “The Sopranos,” said the real charm of “Tusla King” is its “motley crew of characters.”
“It turns the old gangster genre on its ear,” Casella told Variety. “It takes it out West. He’s working with dispensary Gen Z-ers selling weed, Native Americans, myself — everybody’s got their own mishegoss going on.”