"You’re not at fault if you did your best."
It seemed to cost him a lot of strength and it looked strange. The planks sagged under his feet and he had to pull his knees up like a stork to move forward. As soon as he reached the middle of the suspension bridge, he saw something in front of him that startled him and then he ran back. And everyone on the set started counting out loud from 1 to 11. The director, the cameraman, the 100 assistants, all counted in unison, and Stallone, who was now racing across the bridge with full commitment and speed, also counted aloud. At 11 he was one foot off the bridge. “Fantastic,” said the director. "Perfect. But I want to do it again.” They repeated the scene seven times, only on the eighth attempt did they blow up the bridge at 11.
I got up to the filming location by cable car. There, they had stretched a rope bridge between two cliffs, underneath it was an endlessly long way down. The bridge was narrow, very wobbly and secured on either side only by two running ropes. Eight times I watched Sylvester Stallone run across it.
We conducted the interview in a snow-white, Igloo-style mountain tent. Hairdryers hung from the tent poles, blowing warm air onto Stallone, who was stuffing himself with Swiss chocolate and sheep's cheese. He wore skin-tight black trousers, a carefully soiled brown mountain guide T-shirt and a trickle of encrusted blood on his forehead.
"How are you, Mr. Stallone?"
"How am I? Well, I was born with a fear of heights, and it's pretty high here. And the unbelievable cold and lack of oxygen are really exhausting. But since I've noticed that I'm getting older, I've been pushing myself even harder.”
"And what is the suspension bridge scene about?"
“About morality. A woman falls while climbing a mountain and I try to save her, but I can't. I feel guilty and I disappear for months. Then a plane with a lot of money on board is kidnapped and crashes in the mountains. As fate would have it, I am supposed to get the passengers of the jet off the cliffs. So I get a second chance."
"What’s the moral?"
"You’re not at fault if you did your best."
"And that's why you still do the stunts yourself?"
"Most of them. I would hate myself if I didn't. "
“Does stress have anything to do with the competition? For a decade you were the undisputed number 1 in action films. Schwarzenegger has been right up there with you since ‘Terminator 2’."
“That’s healthy competition. When I saw how well Terminator 2 was made, I was really encouraged. But the big difference between his and my films is that we don't use a lot of special effects. I'm more modest. I rely more on action. That's why I like ‘Rambo I’ so much. It was pure action."
"Tell me about Rambo V"
"No. I don't know anything about it myself, except that this time he’ll fight against environmental criminals."
"Very good idea. What do you do personally to protect the environment? "
“Well, I limit my water consumption, and I give money to Greenpeace. But basically I think it's my job to make films. That’s what I’ve learned. To show people what good and bad is. "
“The stories of good and bad you tell are quite straightforward. But personally, you are interested in art and poetry, collect paintings and read Sartre. Isn't there a contradiction between the often complex expression of art and the less complicated stories in your films?"
"Not at all. Most of the paintings I have are about people and myths. My films deal with the same subjects. Myths are ancient, so old that they are almost part of our DNA. In our subconscious. In dreams. Hercules is such a myth, for example."
"The myth of the hero."
"Exactly. It's always about the same question: how does a person become a hero? He's hanging out somewhere, then goes on a mission, survives being put to the test, and in the end he gets the girl and half the kingdom? Is that complicated? No, it's easy. And the closer you are to these archaic myths when creating a movie hero, the more you appeal to the audience. You tell them a story that everyone understands because everyone recognizes it, it’s a story that is already deep within everyone."
"So you awaken the hero in the audience with Rambo or Rocky?"
“I kiss the frog and it becomes a warrior. It could be made a lot more complicated. You spoke of Sartre, he is very elitist. But I see it as my job, and I deliberately call it ‘a job’, to speak to the common man. For that I need a common language."
"The language of violence?"
“Well, I think I have to explain something. My films contain violence, but violence is like air. It’s everywhere. Any attack on the senses, physical, psychological or verbal, is violence. It's always about ... I have something and you want it, you have something and I want it. So I take it away from you. This is violence. It's biblical. This has existed since the beginning of humanity. We are born with this aggressive disposition. We always want more, and our films are just a reflection of that. Rambo appeared because someone was starting a war. I invented Rambo. But not the war. If you really want to see violence, watch the news."
"The day before yesterday LA was on fire."
"Yes, and what I saw about it here on TV depressed me very much. It wasn't thought through. They weren’t organised. Nobody wanted to change the system, it wasn't a political act. It was frustration. Ninety percent of the rioters didn't even know who Rodney King was. They used his name as an excuse to demolish houses and shops. If the Rioters had set the court house on fire, I'd say, well, that's a statement.
If they had set the police stations on fire, I would say: Good, I can understand that. But what do they do? They steal sneakers. That really gets me down."
"Can you not understand the situation of black people in the US?"
"I'll tell you what I don't understand. I've read that rappers are the symbolic figures of black youth in America these days. They don't believe in Malcom X, they don't believe in Martin Luther King, they don't believe in Frederick Douglas: No, they believe in fucking rappers. That depresses me."
“The black youth is depressed by a having weekly budget of only five dollars. You earn 25 million per film.”
“Well, I come from the street. I grew up in Hells Kitchen, a New York slum. My father used to beat me half to death, and I spent a lot of my childhood slashing car tires. I pulled myself up by my own bootstraps."
"Exactly. And I made Rocky to show people that if they work hard they stand a chance. A man has to believe in something, why not in himself?"
“That’s an interesting point. I read that your mother is an astrologer."
“The idea that souls are reborn and, in both success and failure, continue where they left off in the last life, seems to me quite logical. But its speculative. You can only believe it, we will never know. At least not as long as we are alive. Nevertheless, I know one thing about reincarnation."
"Please, tell me"
"The harder we work, the better the outcome."
“You worked hard and made it. But there are a thousand others who work just as hard and still don’t. What is the difference between you and the others, is it luck or destiny?"
"Do you mean reincarnation?"
Interview Helge Timmerberg
Illustrationen Maielin van Eilum
Translator Artemis Meereis
Proofreading Ada Delsolco & Patrick Alfter