tv The David Rubenstein Show Peer to Peer Conversations Bloomberg June 11, 2022 9:00am-9:30am EDT
david: this is my kitchen table, and it's also my filing system. over much of the past three decades, i've been an investor. the highest calling of mankind, i've often thought, was private equity. [laughter] and then i started interviewing. i watched your interviews, so i know how to do some interviewing. [laughter] i've learned from doing my interviews how leaders make it to the top. >> i asked him how much he wanted. he said $250,000. i said fine. i did not negotiate with him and i did no due diligence. david: i have something i would like to sell. [laughter] and how they stay there. you don't feel inadequate now being only the second wealthiest man in the world, is that right? [laughter] for six consecutive decades, sylvester stallone has starred in number one box office hits. he has not only been rambo and rocky, but also a script writer, and producer, and now also a painter. i sat down with him at the library of congress recently to
talk about his extraordinary multi-decade career as a leading person in hollywood. i'm in the library of congress today with sylvester stallone and sylvester, thank you for giving us this time. sylvester: my pleasure, david. david: the library of congress in 2006 said "rocky" was a national treasure, and put it in our cultural heritage list of films. was that a surprise to you that of all the films, this was one of the most important films ever made? sylvester: that was a stunning revelation because, you know, because when you start out, my intentions were to do a little footage of what i did last summer kind of film. i never thought it would get to this magnitude. so, yeah. david: in that movie, you conceived of rocky and then you played rocky. was it hard to get that movie sold to people? sylvester: very hard. because -- and i understand it -- i was basically a classical nobody.
and at that time, there were a few men in hollywood that actually considered themselves rather machismo and they could have filled the role, in a sense. but i just knew this was the crossroads moment and if i didn't hang on, if i didn't go all in, and if the film was not a success, i would have never forgiven myself for the rest of my life. david: the idea for "rocky," where did you come up with the idea? sylvester: everyone thinks i was watching chuck fight muhammad ali and get knocked down. that was a fabricated story. rocky marciano who is basically my size had a fight with muhammad ali when he was suspended in 1970. and the light bulb went off. i said, this is kind of interesting. but then again, no one in hollywood knew who rocky marciano was. so in 1975, with chuck wentworth, it was more contemporary so i use that as a reference of the neighborhood
loser going the distance with the champion. david: so, does it surprise you, disappoint you or make you feel good that people actually think "rocky" is your life story and that you actually are a boxer in life? sylvester: it befuddles me. it does, really it does. [laughs] david: because people really think that you are a boxer and that this is your life story. sylvester: i know, they thought they found some fellow who was a pug at one time. and to this day, a law of people -- a lot of people think that i am a little short on the gray matter and more of a rockyesque character in reality. david: to go back, where were you born? sylvester: i was born in hells kitchen, new york. david: then you grew up to some extent in silver spring, maryland? sylvester: yeah, the grandparents lived in washington, d.c. and then they sort of migrated to bethesda, and then silver spring, maryland. david: what did your parents do? sylvester: my father was kind of
a tough guy, but he focused on hair. the stallone family were very into cosmetology. and then, my mother was, too. she was the first woman to open up a women's gym in new york. she called it barbella's. i thought it was a great name. david: were you a great athlete when you were younger? sylvester: no, that was completely manufactured. i wasn't a physical specimen at all. i just had an epiphany when i saw steve reeves in "hercules unchained," and my head exploded. i finally found -- that's the role model. david: when you told your parents what you want to do is be an actor, did they say, get a real job? sylvester: that is the line in "rocky." "you better start using your body." they did not put much faith in that particular occupational choice. so i just said, look, it is one
of those things where they said have something to fall back on. i go, what? literally, what? i'm not good at anything other than daydreaming or imagining. i am not pragmatic at all, i am totally abstract. and they took me to -- i don't know if i ever told anyone this. at 16, after being expelled from 11 schools, at 16 they took me to the drexel institute of technology. and they ran a battery of tests. and in conclusion, i still have it, they said sylvester seems to be deficient in this, sylvester seems to be deficient in that. we recommend him to be an electrician's assistant or tab sorter, whatever that is. and i keep that as a reminder. david: so, you wrote the script called "rocky," but before that you were an actor, is that right? but not exactly a very successful actor. so, how did you support yourself in those early days?
sylvester: i cleaned lion cages, i cut fish heads, i was good with sturgeon in the deli. i was kind of a night watchman in this building. i just did a multitude of things, delivery boy, you name it. primarily i did those things, this is after four years of college that i took these jobs, i would have my days free so i could "make the rounds." david: you are making the rounds as an actor, but people were not saying we really want you so much. but you are writing at night or what were you doing? sylvester: what happened was i said, i'm not going to make it. now i am starting to get around 26. so i got a job as an usher. and it was $39 a week, who could turn that down? but more importantly, i could watch films all day long. and i started to dissect them at night. i had a little one room thing, kind of a transient hotel and i would take a tape recorder, record the soundtrack and the dialogue and go home, and try to replace the dialogue. it's like a game.
after a while, i started picking up a tempo and rhythm. and the first five screenplays they were pretty horrendous, like "what i did last summer"-type screenplays, until finally, i came to the new york library and i went down to the basement and they showed me parchment writings of emerson, dickens, and edgar allan poe. and that's where the light went off. poe, talk about a misunderstood artist, way ahead of his time, the literary van gogh. that is what triggered -- that is what changed everything. david: how long did it take to actually write "rocky?" sylvester: three and a half days. david: that's all. sylvester: this is not a finished product, but you are a writer. but you had the format. david: you write longhand? sylvester: i write longhand. david: so a producer, mr. winkler, right, so you give him the script. sylvester: yeah.
david: and they say yes, we will buy it, provided that you are the writer, not the actor. sylvester: totally, absolutely. david: you said no. sylvester: i said guys, it's not for sale. it is just not for sale. and at that time, i was broke. and when i say "broke," i mean broke. david: finally they said ok, but i heard they give you a 15-day trial period. sylvester: they did. they had all kinds of morality clauses. basically if you spit on the ground, we can replace you. and the first scene we did was me shaking down the fellow along the docks. you know, "come on, give me your coat." "you owe the loan shark money. if you want to dance, you have to pay the band" kind of thing. in something happened. and they saw this might actually work. ♪
david: so, when the academy award nominations come out, you get 10 academy award nominations, you are nominated for best script writer and best actor. and that only happened twice before. orson welles and charlie chaplin. sylvester: who? david: and also, the movie is nominated for best picture. so, were you all of a sudden
amazed and astounded? all of a sudden, your high school friends call you up and say, i knew you were great. can you give me a job? sylvester: everyone, the back slappers were there. it was mystifying. also, it emboldened me in a negative way. because i said, i told you. that kind of thing, see? and i think i swung that pendulum way too far. obnoxious. david: did you expect to win? sylvester: not at all because every film back then was kind of a statement film. i mean "all the president's men," "network," "bound for glory," and then there is "rocky," which is no statement really. it's just about a man wanting to have a little bit of respect. there's respect and love. -- respect and love. david: you get the academy award, best picture and then your life changes, all of a sudden you're famous and you are extremely wealthy and you made a lot of money because of the
film? sylvester: no, i don't own a percentage. i think there was some devious machinations behind the scenes. when you are naive, you are going to get burned. so, i have no ownership. david: george lucas owns "star wars." he owns everything. sylvester: he is a smart man. david: and you own nothing. sylvester: i'm an employee. david: but you did ok. sylvester: i did fine. david: most actors are thrilled if they have one part like rocky in their whole career. you had another one, rambo. now, rambo was not something you created, is that right? sylvester: no. "rambo" was a novel by david morrell. and i was the 11th choice. everyone -- i don't know who was next after me because they had gone through everyone. and they pass, pass, pass, pass, including three different directors. so, this had become sort of a pariah of sorts. the first time we go in there, "rambo" was, in the original screenplay, he was horrible. he was a psychopath. he killed children, he killed
fishermen, this and that. i said, if i am going to get involved with this, i see the character going on beyond this. they said, what do you want to do? i said, i want to rewrite the screenplay and i want him to go right to the edge of violence. right to the point where he is being pushed, but he pulls back. because it's similar to james dean in "east of eden," he wanted to be accepted back into the family of man. david: so if rambo got in a fight with rocky, who would win? sylvester: rambo, easy. not even be a fight. unless it's in a ring. first of all, rambo is a killer for real. he is almost a psychopath, when that switch flips. rocky is a good guy. he has mercy. the other one has no mercy. david: when you do these movies, let's say "rocky," you are performing in the fighting scenes and isn't that hard? because you're not a professional boxer, so how did you learn how to do that and not get hurt? sylvester: david, the hard part
is the choreography. it is trial and error because it's one thing to just film a regular fight, but to create dramatic beats, it takes hours, months of trial and error. so, it ends up being written down like notes. left, right, switch, move, fake, and i thought if i do not do this myself, it is never going to be done right. david: in the end, when you're boxing in the movie "rocky," somebody is hitting you? sylvester: all the time. david: did anybody really hurt you a lot? sylvester: oh yeah, i have a lot of photos where you actually see distortion. david: how may times have you been injured doing movies? do you have, like, 70 some stunt injuries? sylvester: i would say more than anyone in the world. david: why do your own stunts? why don't you get a stuntman? sylvester: i don't know. it's just something, it's like the "call of the wild," the jack london novel. i just get up there and i can do
this. there is a difference between stunts and when you hook yourself up, for example, you are jumping from train to train to train and this and that, that is just a certain kind of actor doing those sorts of james bondian stunts. and there is a kind that you become very physical and you engage with other people and you do it yourself completely. no doubles. that is going to lead to a lot of injuries, you know? so, i chose more of the confrontational kind of stunts, you know, jumping off of waterfalls, fire stunts. of course, i would have some very good doubles. at the time, mark d'allessandro and dallas farnsworth. the majority of them, you do it yourself. they come with a lot of injuries. david: you have a successful "rocky" series and the successful "rambo" series, but after all of these successes, at some point, people say to you well, maybe you are too old to play these parts. all of a sudden, your agent says maybe we cannot help you as much. and you are seen as a washed up
actor by some. how did that feel after you are at the top of the mountain to all of a sudden, all of the people telling you how great you were telling you they can't help you, was it a real disappointment? sylvester: it was. then again, is that fourth crossroad. ok, do i listen to them, or how do you feel? do you feel competitive, is there, as rocky would say, "stuff in the basement?" i'm like yeah, but i just have to do it age-appropriate. that is when i came up with "the expendables." you can't do it alone, but i will take a group of actors that are not doing so well and you put it altogether. and i got the idea when i took my wife to a rock 'n' roll revival where you have like, 20 groups. and each one was worse than the next, but together, it was an interesting ticket. like, oh, look at this. and i thought, why don't i do the same? i take all these guys who perhaps on their own were
struggling, including myself, put them together, and i want to see how this turns out. this is kind of interesting. ♪ david: when you go to a restaurant or go out anywhere do people come up to all the time for pictures, autographs, do people come up and say i want to arm wrestle you or something like that? sylvester: they do all the time. and usually with an arm wrestler, you do not know who is the killer in the room. ♪
david: so, you have the success of the "rocky" movies and then you have a sequel, the creed movies. and by the way on creed, there is another "creed" movie coming out. sylvester: i believe so, yes. david: well, you would know. but i'm told that you are not going to reprise your role as rocky. is rocky ever going to reappear on the screen? sylvester: boy, you're really -- there is a possibility. i've written half a screenplay, because this is a story where obviously, his days in the ring are long gone, where he now tries to save his neighborhood or he thinks he can. because that area right now in philadelphia is littered with fentanyl. it's terrible. and he involves himself. he realizes you can't save the neighborhood. you know, rocky has a simple mind, so he starts to focus on a couple of these characters and it becomes like the new adrian, but with all the 2020 problems of today.
and then there is a fellow that comes in from mexico and rocky takes him under his wing and before you know it, it's rocky and adrian, and he is the mentor in this horrible existence, until he becomes powerful. david: what is more pleasurable, writing, acting, producing? directing? which do you like the most? sylvester: directing is fantastic, but you lose your life. it's seven days a week, you wake up in the middle of the night, jotting notes. writing is a complete horror, complete horror. have you ever seen a truly well, fresh-faced writer? david: like edgar allan poe. sylvester: yeah, exactly my point. haggard, gone, dead at 39. writing is rough. and i have tremendous -- it is almost like being a composer. every word, as you know, is a note. it's not just typing. anyone can type, anyone can talk into a recorder.
but to actually get the fluidity and the essence of dialogue, it is beautiful. but it's hard. david: so, if you were starting today in hollywood and you are giving advice to a young actor, writer, producer, what would you say? would you say forget motion picture theaters and go into the streaming, or what? sylvester: i would say that, yeah. i think you could do a couple of indies to learn your chops. but the day of the kind of entrepreneurial, of grabbing life by the seat of the pants, going with your gut instinct, is over. for example, "rocky" would never be made today. this never would've happened. the majority -- "the godfather" wouldn't be made today. david: so today, you think the motion picture business is changing and streaming is taking over? do you think the motion picture industry as you knew it will survive? sylvester: i don't think it will ever have the golden era it has had, by far.
because the audience, the demographic is different. they are watching films on their iphones. so it is not as though the theater has become this habitual shrine to coming attractions. and streaming -- actually, i'm going to do one very soon called "the tulsa king" or "the king of tulsa," and it just allows you to breathe the characters, breathe out, to take 10 weeks, which is beautiful. whereas in a film, you have maybe 95 minutes, 110 minutes. and it is all a crapshoot. in other words, with films, you have a james bond, $200 million, you have one opening weekend. david: so when you do that, a particular picture, are you writing any of it or are you just acting? sylvester: this one is being written by taylor sheridan and of course terrence winter.
and i am kind of like the -- david: the hired actor. sylvester: i am the hired gun. but you do put your input. you try to, as you say, it is easier to remember your own dialogue than someone else's. so, you try to construct the sentence so it is easier to recall. david: so, you have three daughters. would you recommend they go into the motion picture business? sylvester: if they are hyphenates. if they are going to go in it solely, as in i am an actress, rough, rough. the day of the 30-year career is long gone. i have been really fortunate and something happened, i'm very proud. i am the only one person who has had a number one film in six different decades, which is remarkable. david: as you look back, what would you say you're most proud of? sylvester: i am most proud of "rocky balboa," the sixth one, because that was done with such
skepticism and i was at my career low. because it is all peaks and valleys, peaks and valleys in any career, any sport, anything. and i was in some serious valley of the unknown. and i came up with this idea at 59, 60 years old to play rocky as a boxer, this and that and they said this is absurd. david: if "rocky" had not worked and it had been a flop -- sylvester: the first one? david: the first one had been a flop, what would you have done with your career? where do you think you would have wound up? sylvester: probably something in the equestrian world. david: really? because you're interested in horses? sylvester: i am very good with horses. david: isn't that kinda dangerous? sylvester: it's very dangerous, but it is something i grew up with. david: any regrets in your career? sylvester: yeah, there are tons of regrets. there are always regrets. and it's frustrating because you can't do anything about it, but there are certain roles you turn
down, the politics were not right. and perhaps, not being as adamant about surrounding yourself with like-minded people. and because, you know, you are dealing with very fragile egos and everyone is usually running on a lot of fear. that's the fuel. and you've got to really trust your own instincts because those other people are looking out for their part of it. the directors looking out for his vision, the the writers guarding the words, the actor is looking, do i have more lines than the guy next to me? everyone has a different motive for what they do. david: do you have a bucket list? is there anything you haven't done that you really want to do? sylvester: i was thinking about "the nutcracker" suite but my ankles are not what they were, so that's not happening. david: when you go to a restaurant or go out anywhere, do people come up to you for pictures, autographs, people come up and say, i want to arm wrestle you or something like that? sylvester: they do all the time. all the time.
and usually with an arm wrestler, i go, oh, having done a film about it, you don't know who is the killer in the room. some fellow will come with pipe stem arms and he is a savant in arm wrestling, so you never know. david: you and i were having dinner not too long ago and a little boy came up. sylvester: that's right. david: he wanted to arm wrestle you and you arm wrestled him and you let him win. sylvester: of course. because what if he did win? this way at least i can fake it. ♪
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