"What do you mean "one" of the most violent movies of all time? It "is" the most violent movie of all time!" -Sylvester Stallone
And boy, he is not joking. On January 25th, Sylvester Stallone returns to the role that took him past iconic and turned him into a true American legend. That character is John Rambo. Sylvester Stallone also wrote and directed this fourth (and supposedly last) Rambo outing. Early Tuesday morning, he stopped by the Four Seasons to talk about his truly accomplished directorial achievement.
While we can't give you a review of the film, or even discuss its plot in any way, we can share this informative conversation Sly had with us journalists. It is very entertaining. And all spoilers have been removed.
Sylvester Stallone: I only eat raw meat. Nothing sweet.
Sly, how do you feel when you hear George Bush being referred to as Rambo?
Sylvester Stallone: Please! I know we share a birthday, but you don't need to take it any further than that. Rambo? I could really slam that home. Let's see? What rhythms with Rambo? Sam...Dumb...No. I don't have anything to do with that.
Why did you feel now was the time to do another Rambo?
Sylvester Stallone: Careers have peaks and valleys. Actors start to hearken back to things they are known for. Every actor would like to say that they are Daniel Day Lewis. That they have this incredible palate. Quite often, an actor is known for a certain thing. I said to myself, "Boy, if I could end my career on just one thing, I would like to finish up the loose ends on Rambo." Especially with Afghanistan. The last one didn't work. And the last Rocky didn't work. As fate would have it, the world has gone through that transition. Twenty years ago this wouldn't have been expectable. But right now, with this inundation of violence, and this constant bombardment of CNN everyday, I think there is a frustration building up. And it needs a release. This was all about good timing.
Was it hard to go back and get into this character?
Sylvester Stallone: No, I love it. It reminds me of Eugene O'Neill's father in the "Count of Monte Cristo". He played it for thirty-three years. I get that.
In the dream sequence before Ken Howard shows up, you use a clip from the unused ending of "Rambo: First Blood". Where Rambo gets killed. Putting that in there, are you telling audiences that Rambo wishes he had have been killed? Or are you telling audiences that you wish they had of used that ending so that their wouldn't be any sequels?
Sylvester Stallone: No. We actually tried using that ending. It was one screening in Las Vegas, and it didn't go off very well. They had to go back and rebuild that entire set. I begged them. I said, "Please don't do this." Anyway, they did. So, I thought it was a good idea to put it into the dream sequence. I don't know if it comes across. It is about accepting who you are. This is it. This is what you are. Finally, Rambo realizes that. He understands that he kills for himself. He doesn't kill for his country. He needs to stop using this excuse. He understands that he has this pension for violence inside of himself that needs to come out. While he was in his dream, he was asking to be put out of his misery. And if he could have done it all over, he wishes that Troutman had of shot him. Because he cannot come to terms with the fact that he is a killer. Flat out.
We understand that Rambo is a killing machine. Especially when he is forging that machete. But what are we to make of the ending? Where he shows up at his dad's ranch? What is he going to do?
Sylvester Stallone: He goes down to see his father. Who, by the way, is a full-blooded Indian. I decided not to shoot that. It ends up being a double epilogue. But I realized where he came from. He came from a society that is absolutely archaic compared to modern man. It is as if he is going back to the world where he should exist. It is a harder world, a more primitive world. It is not surrounded by people. It is surrounded by horses and nature. That is where he belongs. When he is confronted with people and society, that's when the rage starts to build up. Rambo defends people that can't defend themselves. Its not like he goes out and looks for trouble. But he embraces it. That's why he is so conflicted when the mercenaries show up. He knows he can't change anything. But he will take them there. The warrior needs to war.
Was that last crane shot of you walking the last thing you shot? And what were you thinking during that long walk?
Sylvester Stallone: Back to the house? That was by far the last shot. My thinking is that he looks down the road, and he knows his journey is over. This has been like an odyssey, for the lack of a better word. He went through all of these different trails and tribulations. Yet, he is like everyone else. He thinks, "Can I have one more chance at trying to live my life? Even though there is not much of it left?" To me, it is a happy ending. You even see him with that little smirk.
What were you thinking during that entire walk? Were you thinking about Rambo's entire journey while you made that walk yourself?
Sylvester Stallone: Absolutely. For me, I was very tentative. Do I do this? There is this certain excitement about going back to see your father. But, you also haven't seen him in twenty years. It's like what I do whenever I go back home. "Am I going to be welcome or not?"
So, you don't see yourself returning to the Rambo movies again?
Sylvester Stallone: No. I do have a very bizarre idea. It is probably too absurd. But, it has to have a formula. If I told you I was going to make a film about a sixty-one year old boxer, you go, "Yeah. Right." But if you find the right formula, anything is feasible. It's about getting in there and getting the audience on your side. That is possible. That is feasible. It's weird, but Space Cowboys! Hello? It worked.
What do you see as far as your legacy in the future?
Sylvester Stallone: Mine? It is Yin and Yang. I think some of the upcoming actors will look at me as an archaic prehistoric creature that came from a bygone genre that no longer exists. We have gotten much more scientific. Much less personal. My peers were much more physical. Arnold and Bruce. We were all much more hands on. Actors today are hands off, and more intellectual. We'll be like what it's like when you go to the natural history museum, and you are looking at a pterodactyl.
You just brought up Space Cowboys. Are you and Bruce and Arnold all planning something together?
Sylvester Stallone: (Laughs) You need to talk to Arnold about it. I ask him, "When are you going to get over this job and have some fun? Let's go back to having some fun." Every week I ask him.
How do you think your directing has changed since "Staying Alive? And which one of Jennifer's skincare products is your favorite?
Sylvester Stallone: Oh, okay! I am definitely with the olive oil. She has some new stuff coming out that is just great. But it never stops. Just stop it already. You have no idea what my bathroom looks like. It is like Bloomingdales. And I only use one thing. That is the olive oil. You put it on your face and you cook your breakfast. I put it on my belt to loosen it. I put it on everything. She'll kill me when I say this. It softens your shoes. About my directing style...The first film I directed was called "Paradise Alley". It was very stylized. I didn't really know what I was doing. It was about the flow. I thought this one would be like the character. Jerky, erratic, unsteady, and always moving. It always blows my mine when you see a jungle film and you see a dolly shot. You say, "Wait a minute! There's no place for a dolly tract in the jungle." I can't walk five feet without tripping over a vine. I thought the camera should be the same way. It was also about economics. We didn't have time to put the camera on anything that resembled a dolly. But I enjoyed it. It was quick. Run and gun. We would throw it over there, then pick it up. You miss a lot of shots, but the plus side is that you get a lot of energy. You do.
How many cameras were you using?
Sylvester Stallone: In the last battle I had nine. Normally we would have three. But I found that three would start to overlap. Two is best. Three just gets too clumsy. Unless you are going at inanimate objects. With that third camera you are shooting a shoelace, or an empty bottle. Somehow you will work it in. But we never did. It was that kind of thing.
Can you talk about your choice to put the documentary footage at the beginning of the film?
Sylvester Stallone: I was dependent upon the audience not knowing anything about Burma. Even though two weeks ago they learned about the genocide with the monk. I just wanted to bring them up to date. There is nothing more impressionable than when you see newsreel footage. You show people that you are not just doing a film that is fantasy. You are doing a film that is for real. I thought it would add a bit of gravitas to it. And bring you up to speed. It was going to be more elaborate. There was going to be a voiceover. But I thought we should just keep it the way we had it. The next scene is the race through the rice patty. So, we saturated the color and bang! We are into the beginning of the film.
How did you get the MPAA to give you the R rating as opposed to the NC17?
Sylvester Stallone: They were very conflicted. But we are dealing with a real subject. As we sit here speaking, people are being murdered and tortured in the most brutal ways that you can't even imagine. This film will show that. If we are going to do anything with media besides entertaining, it should be to save a few lives. We needed to bring awareness to this. So, please, we couldn't water it down. Yes, enemies are being decimated. Women are being raped. Those pirate scenes? That happens all the time. People can turn away. They have this option. Don't just cut away from it. We didn't want to go for the PG-13 situation. Which I have nothing against. I liked Bruce's last PG-13. It was very, very good. But this is a different type of movie. It has to walk that thin line. It was almost an experiment. How far can you push entertainment while still staying true to the bloodshed that is going down as we speak? There is no more brutal a regime on the planet. This has been going on for sixty years. That's what it was.
How did you feel about all of the CGI you had to use? It almost feels oversaturated.
Sylvester Stallone: It is. But when you are hit flat out with a fifty caliber, you are completely emulsified. Its not like you are being hit with a little gunshot. It doesn't just hurt. You are gone. I wanted to show that. When you go see a situation of great violence, it is horrifying. People are not slightly wounded. They don't get just a little designer cut. So, I had to put a little bit of CGI in there. We couldn't put that much explosive on a person.
Is this the first time you have worked with CGI?
Sylvester Stallone: It is. To an extent. In Rocky, I had to use some in the audience, to fill up the top row. But this was the first time that I really used it. I don't like it, but how do you put holes through people? Or cut them in half? They wont sit still for that.
The decimation scene is great.
Sylvester Stallone: The last one? Oh, my God! When I showed that to our producer, he shrieked. But this guy deserves it. Even though he doesn't speak a word you understand, he is beyond all horror. I really believe in emotional payback. If you do not give the audience some sort of emotional payback in a film like this, you know what it would be? It would be considered an artistic triumph and a box office bomb.
As a director, how much did you think about the DVD?
Sylvester Stallone: We had a fellow there chasing us the whole time. He was there when we were dealing with the cobras. And he was on the boat. We'd have fun with him. It was odd. We got caught in this monsoon. The leading lady is trying to pull moss out of her eyes and mouth. That is going to be a very interesting DVD. We had that guy there shooting for sixty days. That's a lot of extra footage.
What was the toughest part of the shoot?
Sylvester Stallone: The night rescue. We had twenty-eight days of night. It took two hours to get there. Because of the rain, it was driving up a lot of the snakes. It was brutal. We couldn't afford CGI snakes. So it worked out. But we would use scotch tape to keep their mouths shut. What I didn't realize was that they are not like crocodiles. They could still bite you real easily. But it was a lot of fun. You will see a lot of that stuff on the DVD.
What was the most rewarding scene of the film for you?
Sylvester Stallone: I'd say it was the last battle scene, because he doesn't actually engage physically. The fact that that worked was rewarding. Also casting Julie Benz was very important. That was a hard part to cast. Most women just don't want to do this type of work.
Rambo opens January 25th, 2008.