By John J. Raspanti
At 29, Sylvester Stallone was a struggling actor with barely a hundred bucks in the bank and a pregnant wife. It was 1975 and he had just seen the Muhammad Ali/Chuck Wepner fight.
Something had clicked. Living off caffeine and ambition, Stallone took just three days to write a screenplay that he would eventually title “Rocky.”
MGM Studios liked his writing but not him. They offered the unemployed Stallone two hundred thousand dollars, to not play the lead.
The studio wanted a "name" instead.
Stallone held to his guns. He said later he knew that the character of Rocky, a down on his luck boxer from Philadelphia, was his big chance to show his stuff.
MGM eventually blinked.
They paid him scale, and tossed in some box office points. The "suits" hoped the picture would make back their investment of a little over a million dollars.
Privately, they muttered that "Rocky" was a failure.
The film opened with little fanfare, but word-of-mouth created a box office smash. A high school friend of mine at the time urged me to see it. As a young fight fan, and a lover of boxing movies, I decided to go.
We went on a Friday night and I can remember being bored at the beginning. As the story played out, like magic, things picked up and I could feel the people around me stirring in their seats.
By the time the final fight scene hit the screen, the audience, myself included, had become a crowd of raucous fans, cheering Rocky on.
A little movie with a character named “Rocky” had touched a nerve. The performances were outstanding. The film earned Oscars for Best Director John G. Aviidsen and Best Film.
Stallone lost in the best actor and best screenplay categories.
Nevertheless, the ultimate victory was his.
Fast forward almost forty years. I was invited to an early screening of “Creed” in San Francisco. My expectations were minimal. I had seen a trailer for the flick a few weeks before.
How many times had a trailer look promising, and the movie stunk?
“Creed,” directed and written by the talented Ryan Coogler, didn’t stink, it rocked. I was captivated by the film, and stunned by Stallone’s performance.
He had succeeded in turning back the clock and, even though he was playing the same character for the seventh time, made it fresh, deep and compelling.
When Stallone as Rocky says, “Everything I got has moved on, but I’m here,” I teared up—caught up in the nuance and depth of his acting. I was floored.
Sylvester Stallone, ridiculed by some as a lousy actor, had pulled himself off the canvas, and knocked out everyone.
To prepare himself to play Rocky again, Stallone left his ego on the doorstep, and hired an acting teacher. He admitted in an article that his acting skills had wasted away.
Still grieving over the death of his oldest son Sage, Stallone, was forced by his acting teacher, to use his pain to tap into the emotion.
The process sounds very much like "The Method"-- a type of acting that forces the individual to "use" their own suffering. It’s not easy, requiring the performer to plunge into areas that most of us hide.
"The Method" obviously worked as it did for a number of acting icons including Marlon Brando, James Dean and Robert DeNiro.
Stallone’s performance was deep, moving, and quietly impressive.
After "Rocky" premiered, many critics at the time compared Stallone to some of the names above.
So, should we really be surprised by his astounding showing in "Creed?"
Yes and no.
Stallone has appeared in a number of films that left film audiences shaking their heads. Maybe the worse was, "Stop Or My My Mom Will Shoot."
Obviously, though he’s a witty conversationalist, comedy and Stallone don’t go hand and hand.
Drama is his forte. I thought his performances in “F.I.S.T,” and the crime drama "Nighthawks," were vastly underrated. His physical style of acting in "First Blood" was intense and exciting.
In 1997, Stallone went mana-a-mana against acting heavyweights DeNiro and Harvey Keitel, in the police drama "Cop Land." He held his own and garnered mostly unanimous praise.
I was surprised when I first heard Stallone had committed to "Creed." His love for the character he had created was understandable. But could he deliver the goods once again?
The resounding answer was yes. The proof is in the 15 best supporting actor awards he’s picked up since "Creed" opened last November.
Winning an Academy Award would be the highlight of his career.
Does he deserve it?
I think he does.