Sylvester Stallone: Robert De Niro persuaded me to get back in the ring again

The two actors reunite after 40 years in new comedy 'Grudge Match', but the decision to star in the film was more risky for Stallone, says Tom Teodorczuk

In their new boxing comedy film, Grudge Match, Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro portray rival pugilists who are enticed out of retirement for one last fight. But for Stallone and De Niro, the stars of Rocky and Raging Bull respectively, a misfiring comedy set in the ring risks landing a blow to the reputation of their iconic boxing cinematic triumphs.

When we meet in New York, Stallone admits that it was for this reason he originally demurred about starring in Grudge Match. "I was thinking, 'I don't know, this could be a parody'," he says. "I was overthinking it." A phone call from De Niro changed his mind. "He brought me to my senses. I was torturing Pete [director Peter Segal] to rewrite or change this scene. Then I realised that I was the one who had to change. He [De Niro] said, 'Let's do it, we'll have a good time', and he was right. It was a great script and it touched on all these things without getting maudlin."

De Niro, 70, and Stallone, 67, might both have had a good time filming their new movie in New Orleans, but they are two markedly different cinematic fighters. Stallone made his name with the 1976 boxing drama Rocky, which landed him Oscar nominations for both acting and writing. Yet no other Academy Award nominations ensued and he became an action-movie star in franchises such as Rambo, The Expendables and other less memorable fare. De Niro has two Oscars, for The Godfather II and for his performance as the flawed middleweight boxer Jake LaMotta in Martin Scorsese's Raging Bull, picking up an additional five nominations.

Over the past decade, De Niro has specialised in comedy (he hasn't collaborated with Scorsese since Casino in 1995). By contrast, Stallone has shied away from being funny since two comedic flops, Stop Or My Mom Will Shoot! and Oscar, in the early 1990s. Meeting them in person confirms that the on-screen variations extend to their personalities. Stallone is gregarious and perceptive; he knows his forte lies in action movies, but his creative intelligence reminds you that he's also an accomplished abstract painter and a romantic who turned down big-money offers when he was broke and starting out to make the first Rocky film his way. De Niro is his trademark bashful offscreen self, his face obscured by a flat cap. He feels no need to significantly expound on his craft; his performances do the talking.

Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro pose during the photocall for 'Grudge Match' in Rome Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro pose during the photocall for 'Grudge Match' in Rome

The pair have acted together once before, in James Mangold's 1997 police drama Cop Land, but have never sparred like they do in Grudge Match. The film also stars comedy veteran Alan Arkin as the trainer to Henry "Razor" Sharp (Stallone) and Kim Basinger as the erstwhile love interest of both Sharp and Billy "The Kid" McDonnen (De Niro). Segal says that Stallone had the most to lose: "Sly definitely took the biggest risk, because Bob had given a wink to The Godfather with [1999 mob comedy] Analyze This," he says. "This was a tricky thing for Sly. We adore those movies [Raging Bull and Rocky] and to even wink at something, a source material, you have to love it."

Stallone talks about De Niro's career with awe: "We started out at the same time and I'll never forget that Rocky and Taxi Driver were playing at the same time," he says. "I thought, 'who is this guy with the mohawk?' I wouldn't have the guts to do that kind of film. When I did First Blood, I had no intention of doing action. I just went down that route. He became this great dramatic actor. You just take these tributaries in opposite directions and we end up back in the ring 30 years later having had incredibly diverse careers. His is lucky. Mine is scorned. But it's a good scorn!" Sylvester Stallone in Rocky Sylvester Stallone in 'Rocky', 1976

Grudge Match required both actors to get in shape with boxing trainer Bob Sale, who previously worked with Stallone as technical adviser on the sixth Rocky movie, Rocky Balboa. But unlike Raging Bull, where De Niro famously gained 60 pounds to portray Jake LaMotta in physical decline, they needed to shed the weight. Stallone went on a 95 per cent protein, no carbs diet and went down to 168 pounds, his lowest weight since 1981. "For me it was an excuse to get back into training and boxing," De Niro says. "Bob Sale trained me in New York and Sylvester in California. He gave me the choreography that Sylvester had created. We did it separately and then met in New Orleans and worked on it."

Both Stallone and De Niro have further caught the boxing bug. Stallone will soon play Rocky Balboa for a seventh time in Creed, directed by Ryan Cogler, who recently made the acclaimed drama Fruitvale Station, while De Niro is playing the trainer Ray Arcel in Hands of Stone, a biopic of Panamanian boxer Roberto Duran. For Stallone, as in Grudge Match, boxing serves a metaphor for life. For him the actor is the underdog in the ring: "You feel like an underdog because when you’re trying to get a job you're going against a studio and it's a big mountain to climb. I don't know if you ever really get over it." He adds: "In acting you take a good beating now and then. You take a few falls." Robert DeNiro shown in a scene from 'Raging Bull' Robert DeNiro shown in a scene from 'Raging Bull', 1980

Indeed when Stallone is asked whether, like his character ‘Razor’9 Sharp in Grudge Match, he would like to go back and revisit anything in his life, he doesn't hold back. "How about everything!" he jokingly muses. "I'd like to start at July 6 1946!" [his date of birth]. Of course we have regrets but then again a lot of our regrets and mistakes in a sense develop our personalities... You show me a happy actor, I'll show you a sh**ty actor."

De Niro professes to be content with his lot: "I'm having a good time. I like doing comedies. They're different... I consider myself very fortunate. The choices I've made in my life are the ones that I'm comfortable with." One thing that does irk him is ageism in society: "When you get older there's a discrimination against age by people. You walk down the street and you see younger people and they don't recognise [you], they don't look as much, they don't turn, they're not interested." Grudge Match has received mixed reviews in the US, something I suspect that Stallone will take to heart more than De Niro. Asked about the climactic bout between the pair in the film, Stallone says, "It was lovely. To finally get in the ring with him [De Niro]... It's never going to happen again. It's one of those amazing moments where you think, 'is this possible 30 years after Raging Bull?'" De Niro has a different take on the concept of art and time: "You always care what people think about you. But I have to do what I feel I’m going to do, because it's not going to matter in 30 or 40 years."

‘Grudge Match’ is released on 24 January

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Summer nights: ‘Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp’
TVBut what do we Brits really know about them?
Arts and Entertainment
Dr Michael Mosley is a game presenter

TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

    Orthorexia nervosa

    How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
    Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

    Lady Chatterley’s Lover

    Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
    Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

    Set a pest to catch a pest

    Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests
    Mexico: A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life

    The dark side of Mexico

    A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life
    Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde. Don't tell other victims it was theirs

    Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde

    Please don't tell other victims it was theirs
    A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

    A nap a day could save your life

    A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
    If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

    If men are so obsessed by sex...

    ...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

    Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
    The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

    Rolling in the deep

    The bathing machine is back but with a difference
    Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

    Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

    Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border