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06 12 22 - The Turks have been killing that subject for 85 years."
Stallone's deft as Rocky in the Q&A ring- (A. Melikian)
By Michael Booth
Denver Post Staff Writer -
Article Last Updated:12/16/2006 12:27:21 PM MST

Facing the barbs of the insatiable media, Sylvester Stallone is as gracious and imperturbable in answering all questions as Rocky was deflecting the insults of classless opponents.

With the sixth Rocky movie arriving in theaters Wednesday, Stallone at 60 knows full well many critics label him a one-note writer and actor.

No one will cry for Stallone, with his millions in crafty percentage deals, but he can be called a victim of his own success: Thirty years ago, he wrote and starred in one of the iconic American movies, and as Stallone put it in an interview here, "therein lies a dilemma."

One career direction means "you fall back on something you know the audience wants to see, but it's not going to break any new ground or gain any new respect from your peers. Next thing you know, it will be 'Cobra 3.' That is a real problem," Stallone said, in Denver to publicize "Rocky Balboa."

"Or is it that you're so locked into the 'Rocky' persona, that anything other than that is going to be a disappointment, a letdown. That happened in a real good film like 'F.I.S.T.' There's an expectation. That's human nature," he said.

In other interviews, Stallone has spoken nostalgically of the 1976 "Rocky" as "setting the bar too high." His first major role, his first finished script, and the film was the year's top box office draw, won the best-picture Oscar, and garnered acting and writing nominations for Stallone.

With "Rocky Balboa" putting the aging Philly fighter seemingly irretrievably into retirement (yes, again), Stallone said he's ready to put the Italian Stallion's saga behind him.

"If this film reaches the audience the way I hope it does, and I had a chance to never act again and just direct, I'd take that in a second," said Stallone, looking appropriately middle-aged yet fairly buff in blue jeans and an open-necked shirt.

"Rocky Balboa" finds Adrian dead and Rocky wandering his old haunts in Philly, running a restaurant and reminiscing to excess. Then ESPN pits champion-era Rocky against current champ Maxon "The Line" Dixon (Antonio Tarver) in a simulation. Rocky wins, and the miffed Dixon challenges long-retired Rocky to an exhibition.

While the movie is no revelation, it revives a beloved character that Stallone plays well. Rocky is part of the collective American consciousness of perseverance and decency, whether real or imagined. There is something sweet and appropriate in watching both Stallone and Rocky contemplate aging and making their later years useful.

And the truth-myth of how "Rocky" got made only adds to the movie's place in popular culture. Stallone was a small-part actor struggling to break through who began writing scripts with parts to suit his ambition. He'd knocked around the Philadelphia docks and gyms, getting to know people with severe "lack of expectations," he said.

Hollywood producers loved the script and said they'd buy it. Stallone refused to sell unless he could play Rocky. David Thomson's "New Biographical Dictionary of Film" tells it this way: "Instead of taking $265,000 for it from Robert Chartoff and Irwin Winkler, he held out for $75,000, a percentage and the lead part."

Fifty-six million dollars later, "Rocky" won the box office that year over runner-up "A Star is Born," at $37 million.

Asked why he thinks people love the Rocky character, Stallone said it has little to do with sports and victories.

"Rocky is about abandonment. He had no parents, never did. He literally is a waif of the streets. He's America's waif. He gathers these other broken people and they create a family unit," Stallone said, a theme he continued in writing the script for "Rocky Balboa."

Then, once Rocky begins to see some success, he acts in a way that people admire, but which they don't see often in their real-life leaders in sports, politics or business.

"Rocky considers himself better than no one. He's not judgmental. He's just a sweet guy. He'll accept your insults and still reach out and try to embrace you. Those are real Christian ideals," Stallone said.

Stallone acknowledges he also has considered making another "Rambo" picture, the money-dangles from producers too lucrative to ignore. But his better self pushes him to spots behind the cameras for the remainder of his career.

"I would like to spend it in writing and directing, less in the public eye but providing something for the public."

So what is the Stallone Surprise, the project he's always wanted to write or direct?

For years Stallone's wanted to create an epic, and the book that intrigues him is Franz Werfel's "The Forty Days of Musa Dagh," detailing the Turkish genocide of its Armenian community in 1915. (After futile attempts to turn the novel into a movie, filmmakers finally succeeded in 1982, but it was a low-profile production.)

French ships eventually rescued some Armenians, and Stallone has his favorite scene memorized: "The French ships come, and they've dropped the ladders and everybody has climbed up the side. The ships sail. The hero, the one who set up the rescue, has fallen asleep, exhausted, behind a rock on the slope above. The camera pulls back, and the ships and the sea are on one side, and there's one lonely figure at the top of the mountain, and the Turks are coming up the mountain by the thousands on the far side."

A pretty great shot.

The movie would be "an epic about the complete destruction of a civilization," Stallone said. Then he laughed at the ambition. "Talk about a political hot potato. The Turks have been killing that subject for 85 years."


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