Sylvester Stallone: On the Sly
Sylvester Stallone, the voice of experience-if not reason-in Hollywood, explains how to survive models, tabloids, career slumps and your own mother.
The warnings begin almost as soon as I land in Seattle and motor to the location site of Sylvester Stallone's new movie, Assassins, "Whatever you do, don't whistle around Sly," a production source tells me. Whistling is not a standard trick in my interview bag, but, I ask, for the record, why not? "His father used to whistle, just before he'd beat the living shit out of him," explains the Stallone confidante. I get it; no whistling. Another party proffers this tip: "Try not to mention his hair or check out his hairline." Why, exactly? "He's got plenty of hair, but he's freaking because he thinks he's losing it." Roger Wilco, no checking out his thatch. Yet another person confides. "You know Sage, his kid? The two of them were screaming at each other outside his trailer the other day, so, right now, that's kind of a sore subject." Got it. Oh, and one more thing: "You're pretty tall and he can be sensitive about that. You might want to try slouching a little."
Just goes to show you. I figured that if I were going to be warned off any topic, it would be Sly's recent broken engagement to this year's model, Angie Everhart. Or the outrageous salary he's due to collect on future projects despite flaccid box-office for The Specialist and the outright nonperformance of Judge Dredd. Or the rumors about his having had more plastic surgery than Cher. Or to his alleged use of steroids and the weird things they'd done to his sex organs.
When I show up on the set, no-body knows exactly where Stallone is at. "Try the golf course," a crew member cracks. While people go looking for the missing star, I content myself with sitting beside Richard Donner as he directs co-star Antonio Banderas, who plays a young contract killer out to unseat the aging master of the trade played by Stallone. The director of Maverick and several Lethal Weapons studies the monitor playing back shots of Banderas, lit like a god, loading up a cannon-size gun. "Jesus, imagine looking like that just for one hour of your life?" Donner says wistfully. "He's Mel Gibson with an accent." After several strong run-throughs, during which the director encourages Banderas to turn up the smolder, it's a letter-perfect take.
"Jesus, Steve, aren't you bored?" Donner asks, reading me dead to rights. Stallone remains among the missing, so the director makes his cast and crew available to talk behind Sly's back. "He's the proverbial day at the beach come to life," says Donner. "As far as his acting, he's amazing me. Here's his chance to do something different in his life, and believe me, he's grabbing it." Co-star Julianne Moore, miles away from Vanya on 42nd Street or Nine Months, says, "It's excruciating to watch him sometimes, because he'll do something in a scene, then go, 'No, no, no! He'll want to do it again because he doesn't like the timbre of his voice or the way he was holding himself. He's very hard on himself." Cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond says Stallone "has certain bad points in his face and he knows it. He knows exactly where the lights should be. In fact, he knows everything about moviemaking." Enthuses Banderas, "We were working together on a scene in a car for nine days. When things are that tight, there can be problems. With him, nothing. Probably everything I've seen him in except for the first Rocky is based on muscle. But here, he's introverted, full of pain, and he's very believable. I tell him, 'You're doing great' and he is."
Stallone has been found. Just before I make my way to his trailer, which is situated for maximum comfort close to the water, someone gives me a last bit of advice: "Sly thinks Antonio's great--I mean, who doesn't like Antonio?--but, like the relationship of the two guys in the movie, this time Sly's really working on his chops because Antonio's a young, gorgeous actor who could run off with the movie."
Stallone greets me in his Arctic-cooled trailer, bronzed and rippled despite pushing 50, garbed in a black Planet Hollywood T-shirt, gym shorts and tennies. The trailer is actually smaller than those I've seen lesser stars in. He looks up, shark-eyed, from whatever it is he's watching on a video monitor, and offers me a seat and an iced drink. When he parks himself across from me on the sofa. I find myself facing the TV screen in back of him. On it plays a continuous loop of dailies featuring Banderas running, shooting, strolling like a cat. The nonstop display of young, tan, New Movie Star spools away as I talk with Older Movie Star.
Stallone is the first actor I've ever interviewed whose mother I've inter-viewed first, I tell him that a few years back, his inimitable mom Jacqueline Stallone--Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling huckster, psychic, author, rhine-stone-and-turban-clad talk-show cutup--shook my hand, traced lines in my palms and launched into a stream-of-unconsciousness rap on everything from the size of my wangdoodle to my prowess in bed. "Oh. yeah, she's a love expert," Stallone says with droll sarcasm, adding, "Is that why she married a jockey once?"
Is it for real that, as papers recently reported, his mother is bankrupt, but won't ask her son for a hand-out? "My mother has nothing to worry about for the rest of her life," Stallone insists. "She is an unguided missile, truly an eccentric, and for some reason lots of eccentric people have this need to look as though they are bag people. They have this miserly thing going, where they like to cry poormouth." Stallone warms to the topic of his mom's weirdness. "We were talking the other day and she was all upset because some magazine gave out her age--like them, I didn't realize that she gave birth to me 35 years before she was born."
Given his well-publicized relationship woes, has Stallone ever felt that having such an astral Auntie Mame for a mother might have skewed his view toward women? I remember her telling me, for instance, how delighted she was when she realized that her son was reading porn, her reasoning being that at least he was reading. "Her eccentricity definitely has a hold on me," Stallone replies. "I've always liked mocking things. I like mocking myself. She will hurst anyone's bubble, not in a malicious sense, but just to get a rise. So will I. She has a true, free spirit."
So how did she let Stallone in on the facts of life? "From early on, I've always been extremely attracted to the opposite sex and was extremely aggressive in that way. When she figured that out, she sat me down and she didn't pull any punches. I was aghast at how graphic she got. She skipped right over the birds, the bees and the bears and went straight to. 'There's a woman, a man'like it was a heifer and a bull'and they slam ham.'" Given such guidance, how and when did he first go about slamming ham? "I was about 12," he recalls, "which, back then, was rather advanced. My friends didn't learn anything about anything until they were 14 to 16, forget about actually having sex, which came usually when you were like 17 or 18. Today, you've been married twice by then. My first time was with a beautiful person who I was completely immobilized by. Her name was Ingrid, a wonderful person because she had no personality at all. The kind of person that you'd put a mirror under her nose to see if she was breathing. She inherited all these lovely physical attributes with no mental stimulus whatsoever. Flypaper was more interesting to hang out with. Social graces and the ability to communicate weren't very high on my list back then."
He sighs so deeply at the memory that it's obvious something went awry with his dream girl. "She sent me crashing to earth," he says. "The day after she and I got together, she was off with Joey Bambatts, then kept on going to Eddie Mannuno, then to 'Zig' Bruno and worked her way through the whole school. I was just a key on her giant xylophone of love. And, you know what? Nothing's changed. Sure, the wardrobe changes and the locale, but the interaction is still the same. I don't care how much money you make or that you deal on a more intellectual, so-called 'spiritual' level as you grow up. The very same kind of romantic tragedies and maladies still occur."
With Stallone, of course, they seem to occur with alarming frequency, as any recap of his romantic tragedies and maladies makes clear. After many rumored affairs, and one very public one with Susan Anton, he divorced his wife of 10 years, Sasha, in 1985. The same year, he married Danish-born model-actress Brigitte Nielsen. Three years later, on the heels of Nielsen, and very spiked heels they were, too, came a daisy chain of serial steadies that included Alana Hamilton Stewart, Cornelia Guest, Vanna White, model Dena Goodmanson and actress Joanna Pacula. Then there was that long-term, on-again, off-again thing with model Jennifer Flavin, which was interrupted by a fling with '70s model Junice Dickinson. Her successor was model Angie Everhart, but when Stallone and Everhart broke off their engagement this past June, Flavin was back again. No wonder intimates familiar with Stallone's amatory attention span call his present love Flavin-of-the-Month.