After 43 years of making movies, Sylvester Stallone – now 66 – is still going strong. We pinned him down to discuss his performance as a killer in new movie Bullet to the Head, about a New Orleans hitman and a Washington detective who join forces after their partners are murdered.
Tell us about your new film.
Bullet to the Head is an action thriller directed by Walter Hill. People are under the impression that buddy movies are always fun-loving romps – mine and Sung Kang’s characters hate each other’s guts! But we’re thrown together through necessity when the same psycho [played by Conan’s Jason Momoa] kills our partners. It’s an anti-buddy movie where you learn mutual respect, but I’m a killer and he’s a cop so you can’t get further apart.
Is there a lot of you in the character of Jimmy Bobo?
No question about it. Even when I played Rocky, who appears to be one step behind everybody, and Rambo, who’s a pessimistic man of few words… Let’s just say if Sylvester Stallone was a hit man, this is how
I would act. He’s not a mafia guy – he’s a ‘problem solver’. He’s a hit man who takes out people in his industry who’ve not lived up to the laws of the business. I bring a lot of baggage with me so it’s easy for the audience to believe in me in this part, and it’s the first time in my career using what I call my real voice. What you’re getting here is the way I really am. Young actors feel obligated to perform. They’ll bring their voice down or change the way they move. But the hardest thing about performing is getting your true self out there. So I’ve thrown caution to the wind and said okay, this is how my voice sounds, these are my mood swings and this is my attitude. This is pretty biographical.
You’re still going for it in your sixties, but do you have to be careful not to push it too far so the story is believable?
To make it realistic for the audience, you can’t stray into superhuman territory. One on one, I couldn’t beat Momoa, so it becomes a combination of stealth, intelligence and luck to win. And this movie embraces technology. My guy might be archaic, but his partner is tech-savvy, tracking down leads with his smartphone.
So you’re embracing 21st century technology?
Are you kidding? I only just learned to use the speaker on my iPhone! I used to tweet but it’s an act of futility. You’re not really making any impact and if you find yourself in a mood when you want to be a bit controversial and you post something, you suddenly realise, oh my gosh! Because you’ve opened yourself up to a bunch of criticism from strangers. It might be a great promotional tool, but just to make small talk it’s crazy.
What was it like finally getting the chance to work with director Walter Hill?
Like a great trainer in sports, they’re usually not the best athletes but they’ve worked under pressure. So what I wanted was somebody who’d been there. It’s like playing with a chess master. They know all the moves and you’re not gonna fool them. Nature moves you aside for the next young talent, but quite often the next young talent has no life experience. I’d rather be in there with a battle hardened sergeant like Walter Hill. He’s scary. There’s so much talent under-used because though you may peak at a certain age, there’s always something to prove. There are a lot of mountains to climb out there. Walter’s a kindred spirit. He still wants it. I want it. When I run out of mountains to climb, I’ll build a new one.
Do you regret not working together before?
It was a mistake on my part. That was agency pressure at the time. I was coming off the success of Rocky. They said there was a big film, F.I.S.T. with Norman Jewison, who’s a very important director… I’d read the script for The Driver, which was very minimalist where you don’t say anything. And I think at that time I wasn’t sophisticated enough to understand the power of Walter’s visuals. I made a mistake. Then 48 Hours came along and I made a second mistake. Three strikes you’re out. So this time round…
Your career has been up and down over the years – what have you learned along the way?
When you’re on top everything’s fine. But I will always cherish an athlete or anyone who’s been to the top and got knocked out, beaten to the ground. Then you’re gonna see what they’re made of. Do they getup or just lie there and become a broken human being? That’s really what life is about. Taking the beating, getting up and keeping going. Few people who fall try and get back up again, but they’d be surprised – if they tried they might just succeed.
Bullet to the Head is in cinemas from Thursday February 7.