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Monday, March 20, 2006

Stallone - Cigar Aficionado (Interview)

STALLONE - Cigar Aficionado

(In excerpts taken from Cigar Aficionado of April 1998, this outspoken actor talks about Hollywood, stardom & cigars.!)

(*Photos are from various years.)

After years of muscling his way across the screen, Sylvester Stallone seeks a different label: Serious Actor.

Sly said after viewing his Sept. 27, 1997 TV appearance for the first time: “I did Saturday Night Live because it will do more to change my image than anything else. Millions of people watch this show. They’ll think of me differently.” Changing his public image is one of Stallone’s top priorities. He no longer simply wants to be seen as Rambo, or remembered for his multiple Rocky movies. His decision to take on the part of the 40-pounds overweight Freddy Heflin in CopLand wasn’t about playing a character. It was a carefully chosen role aimed at transforming his image. He wants to shed the constraints of the sculpted, physical action heroes. Instead, he want so return to his roots as a serious actor. In truth, his CopLand performance echoed his first major role in Rocky, the career-launching low-budget movie that turned Stallone’s name into Hollywood gold.
Stallone doesn’t regret the way Rocky took over his life. In fact, it’s his favorite role. It doesn’t hurt that it also gave him extraordinary wealth and freedom and a place in cinematic history for the successful marketing of the sequel genre.
Regret is probably too strong a word for his assessment of some of the movies he has made since 1980. But there are some titles on the list that he’s on record as despising in one form or another: Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot, Judge Dredd, Assassins, Daylight and even RockyV.
What seems evident is that Stallone has reached a point in his life where he is scrutinizing almost everything about his past, not just his choices of moves but his personal life as well. Call it mid-life course correction, or just the onset of a more mature wisdom. On “Larry King – Live”, for instance, Stallone recently said that he’d “made tremendous mistakes in my private life where I’m trying to rectify things.”
In his Miami mansion, a glittering array of rooms filled with almost-over-the-top baroque treasures and priceless paintings, Stallone is quick to show off one tiny person who is helping mend the past: Sophia Rose, his 18-month old daughter. Jennifer Flavin, whom Stallone married last May in London, is also ever-present, being mom and lady of the manor, making sure everything is running right. Even the house, however, isn’t safe from the scrutiny of what is right or not right about his life. The Miami digs went on the market last fall for $27 million. Stallone isn’t saying where they’ll move, but he admits to wanting more time in LA, while keeping a home “somewhere on the East Coast”, probably somewhere less visible than Miami, but with plenty of golf courses to serve his obsession with the little white ball.
Stallone knows he will never be able to totally abandon the fighting-against-the-odds character of Rocky…He sees himself as a professional…but in the end he yearns for a place in cinematic lore beyond Rocky and Rambo.
The desire is honest. You can hear it in his words and see it in his eyes. In his den, a dark, wood-paneled room filled with leather-bound books, leather chairs and rare Bedouin rifles hanging high on the walls, there is a small, homespun knit pillow inscribed with what truly must be Stallone’s words to live by: “He lived life on his own terms. He fought his wars. He lost a few. But he never quit.”

Sly On Cigars:
“I smoked cigarettes for many years, probably from the time I was about 12 years old. I remember up until the time I was doing Rocky, I had a cigarette when I was in the ring. That’s how bad the addiction was. Finally, I said, “This is only going to bring an early death.” Yet I have always been drawn to the idea of an oral fixation, and also feeling somewhat more relaxed with something smoking in my hand.
I was doing the movie F.I.S.T. and it seemed that the character should appropriately be smoking a cigar. So I started, in 1977…It was very odd, but as soon as I had a cigar in my hand, it would catapult me much faster into the character’s sensibility than without the cigar…It makes a cigar an unusual tool. A cigar does that because we’ve grown up seeing cigars as having a connotation of power or prestige…A guy who smokes a cigar seems to be a very confident human being. After that point, I went back to cigarettes once or twice and then I quit totally. Cleaned out my lungs for 3 years and then went back to smoking cigars intelligently, for lack of a better term, from a connoisseur’s point of view.
I’ve primarily smoked in my private life. Quite often, early on, people were shocked if I was smoking a cigarette. I actually had people come up and blatantly chastise me on the stet about smoking a cigarette. A cigar, however, was held in some kind of civil abeyance and people wouldn’t do that. Right away there was less of a stigma.
I feel sometimes that smoking is, believe it or not, more of a private affair. It’s something that I look forward to, that I covet. Therefore, I will purposely deny myself several cigars during the day so that I look forward to that evening cigar with greater relish. I could never continually smoke – I could but I wouldn’t be as excited about that expectation at the end of the day or while playing golf. I know when I play golf – golf for me is equated with cigars – I look forward to smoking. Going to the golf course, I know I’m going to light up there. The smoke isn’t going to bother anyone and I can have a good old time…I think image has a lot to do with cigars.
A modernizing look defeats the heritage of a cigar. I think of a cigar as old. I think it is one of those things like a fine wine that has moved on into the modern era but the beauty of it is ancient. I hate to see the modernization of the cigar…I’m a traditionalist…A good cigar is a magic carpet ride. It really transports you to another realm of consciousness where, when a cigar is good and the conversation is good, you are now into a heightened sense of awareness. You are as close as can get to an altered state without drugs as possible, I believe. I believe that a good cigar, a glass of wine and a good conversation is as close to euphoria as you can get in a legal sense…The perfect smoking experience is to smoke outside on a windless evening. I think the way the smoke dances on the air is also very appealing to me. I hate for it to blow on the wind out of my lips and it’s gone.
When you have another fellow who is involved with the cigar as much as you are, then it’s wonderful, kind of like the old peace pipe syndrome or whatever. You seem to be bound almost philosophically and you tend to be much more simpatico with that person. Not as argumentative for some reason…There’s nothing more frustrating than having a guest over who asks for a cigar since I’m smoking one. You naturally bring out a rare one because you want to impress him. They take 3 or 4 drags, but the first time it goes out, they put it in the ashtray and never lift it again. Let’s just say this is equivalent to pulling my tooth out with a tractor or removing my kidney through my nose. It is that painful. I can’t take my eyes off the cigar in the ashtray for the rest of the evening.”

Sly on Golf:
“I was curious about the game. I wasn’t excited at first…Having played polo for years I thought I’d just try to burst the myth – what could warrant hours and hours of television each week? Who’s watching this? I didn’t know one golfer. So I went out there and I proceeded to make a fool of myself the first 2 days. I bent the hozzle on a 3-wood and a 5-wood, which is pretty hard to do. I was atrocious…I was literally digging elephant graves. A family of 5 could live in one of my divots. That’s how bad I was. What happened was I became captivated by my ineptness, my inability to function properly. I was outraged by the way my body rebelled and refused to cooperate. I said, “I feed you, I clothe you, I bathe you and I ask you to do one thing – hit this stupid white sphere, and you betray me over and over!” So it came to me doing battle – me against me.
I couldn’t understand it. I thought I’d done sports eminently more complex: polo, downhill skiing and boxing – not even close. There is no more precise sport in the world. And I think that is the fascination…Golf is completely psychological…I’ve played with the finest pros in the world and I’ve played with people who seriously should have their arms amputated. They are that dangerous. I mean, how do you hit a driver and the ball goes behind you? Horrifying! I mean, truly dangerous. You want to lay flat on the ground every time they hit.
I have no tolerance for people who make a living, a very good living, in a multitude of professions and then come out on the course and absolutely have the audacity to believe they are going to bring this course to its knees…So that bothers me and I tend to never play with them again. I’d rather play alone because the most beautiful part of the game is I don’t do this for a living…We’re doing it for nothing. We get to go home and go back to our well-paying job. So what is there to be angry about? Why should there be temper tantrums? This is a perfect time where I think people have an opportunity to learn control. Don’t give in to it. Who doesn’t want to go crazy and smash the club? But it’s a poor carpenter who blames his tools, that’s all I can say.
My putter ended up on the set. You’re sitting there between takes practicing your hip release. I thought, “I can’t do this,” because it’s not something you just turn off. I mean, an extraordinary shot on the course can leave you in a euphoric state for hours and course. And just the opposite is true, too. I thought, “You cant be hitting them in the net for an hour and a half and then turn off the golf head and do a dramatic scene.” This is not what you do for a living, fool!...We’ve only got so much of a reservoir of creative energy and I better not apply it to the game of golf. I have to pay the rent with the other profession.”

Sly on his Life:
“I had been diagnosed with attention span deficit, so it was quite difficult for me to remain focused. I tended to be much more drawn to the arts. I enjoyed painting and drawing a lot more than dealing with absolutes such as geometry and whatever.
I had never picked up a ball until I was 16 years old, and then I went out for the football team. I was resoundingly smashed to the ground and left for dead. I was literally eating grass for weeks on end. No one wanted to play with me because I was that inept. So I would walk around day in and day out, tossing the ball to myself up and down until finally I made the team. And the 2nd year I was the captain of the team. And so from that point I was very attracted to athletics. I began delving into weights and I don’t know what it was, but I just felt as if my idols at that time tended to be rater outgoing physical specimens…I focused on the physical aspects of my life.
I waited until I was 45 to learn to ski…In college, I was preparing myself to go into the Army. I was going to go into Vietnam, and after Vietnam I was going to work as an equestrian because I had been drawn to horses and had an ability in that area. Then someone asked me to audition for Death of a Salesman, a college play. So I went there and auditioned and got the part. The play went on and the director happened to be a Harvard graduate and he said, “You ought to think about this as a profession,” and I said, “Forget it,” and he said, “Yeah, really, consider it!” So lo and behold I took off for Miami, the University of Miami, and I joined the Ring Theatre, where I was not exactly encouraged to continue anything other than to pick up a saw and hammer and chisel and work in theatre – behind the curtain, not in front of it. They said, “You’re too physical, your voice is too deep, your mouth has a snarly look.” I went home completely paranoid. I didn’t want to go home and look at myself. I was the Elephant Boy. What happened? Came here feeling good and I’m leaving as the Quasimodo of the South Beach. I couldn’t believe it.
So I was about 3 credits short but I picked up and went to New York to pursue my happiness…The curriculum of most schools in the US was developed in 1870. If they just taught classes in coping – just called “Coping”, starting in the first grade, how to cope with life – you would find a lot more people prepared for what they are going to have to face after they leave school.
I tend not to experience life like I used to because I am in a vacuum, and I’m always being scrutinized. Before that, life seemed to move along a lot slower. I could go into stores and be anonymous. I wasn’t given any privileges. I was not considered and judged by mere virtue of being a celebrity. If someone thought, “That’s a stupid statement”, they’d say it. That was a much more realistic lifestyle and one that moved along much, much slower. But it also had greater impact because that is what I took with me into the future. So I’m pretty happy that things turned out the way they did because it did not come easy. Not for me. I was not one of those people who come into town and a couple of weeks later get a soap opera, another soap opera and then a couple of commercials…I had somewhat mastered the art of being poor. I had made poverty an art form. I had really figured it out.”

Sly on Changing his Image:
“I don’t despise the people I’ve worked with or the studios. I despise myself for not applying what I know is the best of my abilities. I just felt as though I accepted certain half-baked concepts and went with them. If you accept a job, quite often you are not supposed to make waves. And in making waves quite often you are trying to make the project better. But this is where egos clash. Egos are titanic in proportion and quite often you are labeled with the reputation of being difficult. Being difficult to me is someone who does not want to come out of their trailer, or who is a drunk. But someone who is very consumed with making a better product is not being difficult, he is being exploratory, he is being investigative. He is not doing this for money. It would be very easy for him to take the money and run. So there is a balance. I had been involved in other projects and I had gotten a terrible reputation. Many people did not want to work with me. So I thought in the future I would just accept the position and go with it; and I’m not proud of it. CopLand was my first time working in unison with a director and producer that gave me pleasurable results. I thought I was going to play the Ray Liotta part, which is much more, the big, live, infectiously energetic outsider. I liked that idea. No, they said, we want you to be the fat, slow, dim-witted, hearing-impaired sheriff. And I said, “Thank you. Exactly what I’ve been looking for. A sexy role. Thank you.” But once I got into it I thought, “This is fascinating.” I really enjoy those kinds of parts. Like when I did Saturday Night Live, to be able even for 4 or 5 minutes at a time to move from character to character – that fascinates me. Quite often actors are chastised for stretching. They are chastised for not stretching and then they are rebuffed for stretching, like: Why don’t you go back to what you do?”
You can’t shed it. All you can do is have people be willing to suspend their expectations for a little while and accept you in another role. But deep down that is who you are to them. So you’ll never achieve the purity of losing yourself in different characters. You know the strongest impression is the primary impression. Our first blast at something usually is the most lasting. You have to be real careful how you present yourself. Having done multiple sequels, the die has been cast. All I can hope for is to look for the versatility aspect of a career, but certainly not one that’s going to make people forget where I came from. And I don’t think I really want to, because I’m not ashamed by any means.
You know, people never really understood Rambo…He was never anti-government, he worked on his own, received no financial gains and was always in the business of extracting prisoners at the cost of his own life. I did not understand the criticism. His was much more of a martyr position than one of being proactive; he was never proactive. He was happy to stay in the jungle. If you noticed, every time they came to him. But that is not the way it was interpreted.
Because Rambo was such a physical character, it’s tough for us to think he’s vulnerable by any means. Still, the first Rambo film, I’m very proud of. The second one went into a whole other exploratory area.
I would love to do films in the adventure genre. I think the public is recoiling from too much special effects and gimmickry…I voiced that before…I would love to do smart adventure-action films. That is definitely something that I think is in keeping with someone my age…I am not driven monetarily at all.
I would have loved to have done The Lion in Winter. I would like to have done Beckett. I would like to have done Streetcar. I would like to have done American Buffalo. And probably A View from the Bridge. I would love to play a villain. I think the villain is the catalyst for making the hero what he is. So I’ve been looking for a clever villain or what we call a man who is a smart-ass. An arrogant man who has to receive his comeuppance in the end. Perhaps like Michael Douglas’s character in Wall Street, which was a wonderful character. That would have been a wonderful role.”

Sly on his Best Films:
“Rocky will always be my sentimental favorite. I enjoyed very much Paradise Alley. That character to me was fluid and felt very comfortable & it was unrelenting. In other words, I didn’t try to pull any punches. I didn’t try to be manipulative and say, “At this point, I’m going to be vulnerable so the audience likes me.” I just went full throttle. So I liked that very much. I’d have to say First Blood I enjoyed a great deal. There were parts of the character in Cliffhanger, the physical part; the verbal part left me cold. I enjoyed the visual challenge of that; it was tremendous. And then CopLand.

Sly on his Personal Life:
“I love the house (in Miami) but now that we have Sophia Rose, there are so many levels and such an abundance of water I’m in a constant state of paranoia. And it’s not really a child-friendly house. It’s done in an artistiv fashion. And there’s nothing for a child to do except stand in the corner with baseball gloves on both hands. And I don’t want to do that. I also feel I’ve been here for 4 years, and thought I like it I don’t feel that I’m bound here by an overwhelming sense of community, so I’d like to now spend more time in California. I feel a bit isolated here.
The Gianni Versace murder in 1997 in South Beach had a great deal of impact on whether I stay here or go. I also think it was completely avoidable. And I think that local politics and the news media did not serve justice by (creating a) “Slygate” and putting out stories about my buoys in the bay on the front page and pictures of (my security gate) for two and a half weeks. They knew for 2 months that a murderer had been loose in South Miami, without ever putting his picture on the Internet, on the screen, on the front page of the newspaper. My gate was more important. I believe that if they had done those other things then he would have been picked up, because Miami Beach is a very small world and he wasn’t hiding. I’m very regretful about it.
I feel now that with my celebrity, because I’ve been at this for quite a while, that I have a responsibility. I don’t think that me being reclusive is using the gift that has been bestowed on me in the best way. I am now functioning much more for charities. I’m much more vocal with fund-raisers and other aspects. I’m helping to alleviate problems (in ways) that can best serve the public.
The death of Burgess Meredith & Versace has changed the way I look at life. I used to wake up quite often confused and dazed and a bit angered and putulant. Now, I’ll lay in bed an extra 15 minutes going over all the wonderful assets of my life: good health, beaugfiful family, this and that and the fact that I’m given another day to pursue a goal, another day to venture forth. Not a day to wait until I die. Another day to beat death. To get one more thing done before time claims me. So when I turned 50, you start to realize, my God, I’m a third of the way gone. (Laughter) But I try to fight all the sense of anger or competitiveness or envy or any of the kind of natural things that creep into the minds of anyone in a competitive field which is probably everybody, whether you’re in the janitorial field or the space program. You’re always competing and that brings out the best and the worst in people. So I try to focus…Now I’m really taking aims at targets instead of flocking the world with arrows and hoping something sticks. Now I’m much more focused and investigative.
I think there’s no question that I’ve been a bit self-centered in living my life in the last 15 years. Now, there is this lead curtain lifted from in front of my eyes with the marriage and the birth of the child and I feel much more focused.”

Sly on Being a Perfectionist:
“I’ve become more of a perfectionist and more of a workaholic. I hadn’t been. That’s the big problem. No perfection. I was like a joyaholic.
I think that one’s reputation cannot be buffed enough. It shows that you are making an effort and therefore providing an example that we’re never going to rest on our laurels…I don’t want to rest on my laurels because that means I’ve given up…I’m not doing that. I think that life is a constant uphill grind but if you have accepted that in a competitive way, it is fun. If you accept it as drudgery, it can be a nightmare.
I don’t really know how to manage the art of eternal leisure. I wouldn’t know what to do. Ok, today, we do nothing. Ok folks. Line up and think of something to do. Nothing? Ok. That’s it. Today will be a nothing day. I don’t know how to do that. But some people – and perhaps it’s a gift – they can empty out all thoughts, all sense of competitiveness. All sense of lack of accomplishment. And play 3 rounds of golf a day and feel good about it. I tip my hat. It’s not an easy thing to do. Maybe their goal in life is to do nothing. And they achieved it.
Unfortunately, some of us are strapped with this nagging fear of not doing enough. I don’t know which is worse. They sleep great. I sleep a little worse than Bela Lagosi in Dracula. I’m up all night. I might as well have a part-tme job as a vampire because I keep the same hours. It’s horrible. It’s like being guilty of something. And I don’t know what I’m guilty of. It’s a constant rumble. Brain chatter, I call it. There’s a random word, it’s bouncing off in garbled, lost language, sentences. And I say stop. Come on. And it just doesn’t go away. And I think it all started in ’75. Once I was put under a spotlight I never slept sound again.”

Sly on Remembering Him:
“I think I’d like to be remembered as someone who beat the odds through just plain determination. That I was just dogmatic about the whole thing, that I persevered. Because I think that being somewhat of a pest to life, constantly plaguing and pursuing, will bring results; if nothing else your voice will be heard because you have become such a pain. “Anything to get rid of him.” It’s that kind of thing. It’s like that wonderful movie Rudy. You think of that 5’3 guy. And I met him. He’s the only person to be carried off the field at Notre Dame. And took a beating. Only because he was a pest in a positive sense. He pestered life until it gave in.”


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