by Edwin L. Carpenter – Associate Editor, The Dove Foundation
Editor’s Note: While Dove cannot award our “Family-Approved” Seal to “Rocky Balboa” due to one GD in the film, we believe that the following interview is worthy of publication and shows how God is working in Hollywood today.
Sylvester Stallone, the hard-working actor of a prolific set of films, and best known as “Rocky Balboa,” spoke recently on a conference call hosted by Jud Wilhite, senior pastor of Central Christian Church in Las Vegas, Nevada. Sly spoke about the upcoming release of “Rocky Balboa,” his final “Rocky” film, and about faith and hope. The Dove Foundation participated in the interview and the following are some of the highlights of the session.
“The movie is a great movie, and it really champions some great values,” said Wilhite, who had just viewed an early screening of the film.
Q: It’s been a long time since we’ve seen a Rocky movie (Rocky V, 1990). Why this film and why now?
A: “I guess it’s one of those things which just had to have its time before it percolated and did come out. I had gone through a lot of trials and tribulations in my own personal life, and a lot of ups and downs, and I just felt as though I was being compelled to do something. In the first ‘Rocky’ movie…I was never a writer and all of a sudden one day I felt like I was being asked to write this. And I’ve said it before, I felt as though God was moving me to do this. That’s why I started the first “Rocky” out with a picture of Jesus. And I feel the same kind of feeling moving through me now, like (it was) Jesus. I wanted to get to this resurrection or redemption, and this personal relationship that I have with Rocky and with God. I had gone through seventeen years of peaks and valleys and I felt that now was the time to try to put it in the voice of something that people would come to see. They had trusted the character and that character would be able to give the message.”
Q: Tell us a little about the faith of Rocky and the journey of Rocky.
A: “The journey of Rocky was kind of like mine. I was raised in a Catholic home, a Christian home, and I went to Catholic schools. I was taught the faith and went as far as I could with it until one day I got out into the so-called real world. I was presented with temptation and I lost my way and made a lot of bad choices. I felt the character of Rocky sort of did that too. He just didn’t have the right guidance. And then he was given an opportunity in the movie—like he was being chosen. Jesus was over him and he was going to be the fella that would live through the example of Christ. He’s very forgiving—there’s no bitterness in him. He always turns the other cheek. It’s like his whole life was about service. And I said, ‘Man, if I could take my story, my feelings, and put it into the body of a boxer—because no one cares about an actor so much—the boxing is symbolism of the constant fight, and the example of Christ,’ I thought, ‘this would be really interesting’ and that’s exactly what happened. It was like an unexpected gift, really.”
Q: I know you weren’t happy about the way the last “Rocky” movie ended, and that was part of the motivation for doing another one. Tell us about that.
A: “It was very disappointing on all levels. I had directed the third one and the fourth one and the second one and I thought, ‘Ok, we’re moving along.’ And then I became very, very distracted and became self-absorbed. I didn’t put my heart and soul into it the way I should have and there was no message there. I thought there was nothing really clear—it was just a movie being done for the sake of making a film. It [Rocky V] was the first time of all the other “Rocky” films people had no feelings one way or another. It was just like, ‘We like the first four but the fifth one…uh, ok, well, it had to run out of gas.’ That really hurt me because I knew it was my fault. It was totally my fault and I needed something to jumpstart the whole situation. I needed time. I needed to actually go through my trials and tribulations before I could be man enough to know how to write the kind of story that ‘Rocky Balboa’ is. I was so dissatisfied—I felt I had let down everybody who had followed the series and the last one just wasn’t serious enough. It was all about me and it wasn’t about ‘we.’ Again, I made some bad choices and I wanted to come back when I was ready to make some good choices.”
“Life isn’t about how hard you can hit
but how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.”
Q: There’s a scene in the movie where Rocky confronts his son. You said that mirrors a little bit of the spiritual journey in your own family and what you’ve gone through with your own son. Can you talk about that?
A: “I guess there’s always been this balance of power and trials and tribulations between father and son, mother and daughter. I can only relate to it as far as the father and son since I went through it. Because the father, meaning me, had cast a certain large shadow, all of a sudden the son started to shrink and he sort of withdrew and he blamed all of the failures of his life on his father: If his father hadn’t taken all of the glory, if his father hadn’t left such big footprints in the sand…. I thought, ‘Boy, he is setting himself up for such complete disaster.’ He was going to blame me for any kind of failure. He was assuming a defeatist role and going to go down in flames and there’s no way to save him. We tried to be as gentle as we could and use kid gloves but be pretty adamant and say, ‘Here’s how it is, kid. Life isn’t about how hard you can hit but how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. You can’t keep blaming your life on this person or that person. Cowards do that—not real people that want to get ahead. You’ve got to pick yourself up by your own bootstraps and stop blaming me.’ And finally the father and son come together for the first time in many, many years and that was to me, a very profound moment in my life. I didn’t know it was going to have that kind of effect in the film but I guess a lot of people related to it.”
Q: And you related recently that you had a kind of spiritual re-awakening?
A: “Oh, there’s no question about it. As a matter of fact the first thing Rocky does after he leaves the ring—and I don’t want to tell people how it turns out—he points right up to God. Right before the fight he’s read scripture. At the very end, as the people are applauding his farewell, he points up to the heavens so he understands where his strength comes from. He’s not under any illusion that he was born with incredible gifts but he was born with the fire and the need to carry on God’s work—that is bringing people together and that’s what he does in this film. He brings a lot of broken people together because he himself is broken.”
Q: Sly, you have said you are taking your son and family to church now. You guys as a family are on that journey. Can you speak to that?
A: Without the church it’s like having a boat without the rudder. You think you can do it on your own and this may sound pedestrian or trite but I’ll equate it to this: all my life I’ve been involved with exercise but no matter how much—and I know a great deal about the body—you need help. You need a trainer. You need to go to a gym and you need to have the expertise and the guidance of someone else. You cannot train yourself. I feel the same way about Christianity and what the church is. The church is the gym of the soul. And the priests, the reverends, the ministers and the pastors– they are the trainers—they are the ones that guide you over that difficult time and take you to that place that you don’t think you can go, but with their help you can go. By the way, everyone in the church is on the same page in the sense of spirit and unity and oneness and you don’t get that alone. A lot of people say, ‘Oh, I can do it on my own. I have a one-on-one relationship with God,’ well it’s not quite the same.”
“The church is the gym of the soul”
“Some people maybe try to justify their laziness. You take out what you put in and the more I go to church and the more I turn myself over to the process of believing in Jesus, and to listening to his word and have him guide my hand I feel the pressure’s off me now. I really do. If you put in the time you will reap the benefits. And for example, and this is the truth, and maybe it sounds egotistical, but the movie has been reviewed by Newsweek and Variety and the L.A. Times, and they’ve all said that it’s my best writing and best acting ever and I can only assume that it’s because of this letting go and this lack of egoism. I didn’t care where the camera was put—I didn’t care about lighting. All I cared about was getting out the message that I knew I was supposed to get out.”
Stallone went on to say that he is working on a new “Rambo” movie which will essentially be about Rambo attempting to rescue some missionaries who are being held hostage, so that film will include a spiritual flavor as well. The film involves the Karen people in Burma. The people have been murdered, held hostage, and actually crucified. Rambo becomes a crusader for these people.
“It’s not about ‘me,’ it’s about ‘we.’”
In finishing the interview, Stallone was asked:
Q: What do you want the legacy of “Rocky” to be?
A: It’s all about self-sacrifice and love– it’s hard work and perseverance and everyone should have the warrior spirit. It’s not about ‘me,’ it’s about ‘we.’ All of us have something to give inside. It’s like Rocky says, we have something in our basement. Give it—don’t just horde it to yourself. You have a lot of love to give and a lot of service you can give to other people. And the last is, you should overcome your past with some help. If you look to God, you can overcome your past and be reborn and that’s what Rocky is, he’s reborn.”