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Italian American movie star Sylvester Stallone is having the time of his life. Last November he brought back fan favorite character Rocky Balboa in the new picture Creed, which follows Apollo Creed’s son Adonis strenuous rise to the top, with the aid of Rocky. The movie debuted to much critical praise and strong box office and since then there has been talk of Stallone’s work being recognized in the current Award season.
The actor/screenwriter/producer/director whose grandparents were from Gioia del Colle, province of Bari, didn’t chase this; it was director Ryan Coogler who had a special bond with the original film, a love that he shared with his father, that wanted to resurrect the character.
The director’s father got sick with a neuro-muscular condition and for Coogler seeing his old man, a strong tough guy, losing his strength to a disease got him thinking, what if what was happening to his dad was happening to their hero. Stallone was hesitant at first, but the decision to come back, this time outside the ring, turned out to be a great one. In fact Stallone just won a Golden Globe as best supporting actor and in his emotional speech he talked about the character of Rocky Balboa as an imaginary friend, “the best friend I ever had.” Stallone received a standing ovation by the room, obviously touched by his return to the scenes and the way he portrayed an aging boxer, a legend now faced with the challenges that arise later in life. And then on the morning of the Oscar nominations he woke up to another pleasant surprise.
A nomination to the Academy Awards as best supporting actor, becoming the sixth actor ever to be nominated for the same role in two different films.
He created the character back in 1976 and although this movie is not Rocky VII by any means, it is Creed’s offspring’s story, the beloved character is back and it has been welcomed with open arms. The way Adonis Creed tries to convince Rocky to be his mentor in the film parallels the way the director Coogler wooed Stallone to take part in the project, especially since at the time of the meeting he had not made a movie yet.
His first feature film, Fruitvale Station, was still one year away. “Of course at the beginning there was a bit suspicion and insecurity,” says Sly. “I was very gratified that we came back from Rocky V which didn’t work at all and I sat around and said, how did we make that bomb, and Rocky Balboa which worked. I was very gratified with that; I was happy to put the character to bed. Six years later this guy comes up; he reminds me of somebody, he reminds me of myself. He just had a vision, enthusiasm, but I thought where he wanted to go was a territory that I was not very comfortable in. There’s really a different kind of fight outside the ring that many people will have to go through, and it took me a while to be convinced into doing it. So he goes away and then he went to the Cannes Film Festival and I went, wow. [I was still,] can you get somebody else to play the part of the aiding fella? Rocky could be his neighbor. Finally my wife said, why don’t you stop being a coward, take the leap and try to be who you are. In the end I had to be shamed into it by a woman; there’s always an Adrian somewhere.”
Now Stallone has a strong possibility to walk away with an Oscar statuette as well. Back in 1977 he was nominated for best original screenplay and best actor; the third man in history to receive these two nominations for the same film, after Charles Chaplin and Orson Welles, but did not win. This time Rocky could strike gold. It must feel surreal almost 40 years later. “I’m very, very humbled. I cannot take credit; I just followed a young man’s vision. Our industry depends upon young blood; you forget that you were there once, now it’s their turn. Our responsibility is to trust them; they will interpret it in a fresh and vital way that is applicable to today’s world. While Rocky was more of a seventies character, that doesn’t fly today. It has to be something more relevant; I don’t know how to do that, but they do.” Maybe if he wins Sly could make the trek and go celebrate running up the famous steps in Philadelphia one more time, like his character.
Jokes aside, the steps make their mandatory appearance in Creed in a powerful final scene, in which Rocky, who we have seen all this years being able to do it effortlessly, now needs to rely upon a young man for his strength. “The steps are representative of life in general. That’s what I love about it. Our entire journey is almost always uphill, there’s always a climb, always another challenge. Finally you hope you get to the top.”