Last ac­tion he­roes

Sylvester Stallone tells Don­ald Clarke about his old-school re­union

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Front Page -

IF THE MOVIE STAR re­ally is dead, then The Ex­pend­ables must be the wake. And who bet­ter to toast the de­parted than Sylvester Stallone? For the past few years, cin­ema’s an­thro­pol­o­gists have spent much time pon­der­ing the de­cline of Homo Star­ti­cus. It is not, you un­der­stand, that such su­per­novae have be­come any thin­ner on the ground. Stroll through your lo­cal per­fumers and you will en­counter Lind­say Lo­han’s Non­cha­lant, Cameron Diaz’s Sym­po­sium and Amanda Peet’s An­tithe­sis (or what­ever). Yes, stars can still sell per­fume. They – or their cel­lulite – can cer­tainly flog su­per­mar­ket tabloids.

Un­for­tu­nately, they are no longer as good at sell­ing films. The prime ev­i­dence for their im­mi­nent ob­so­les­cence came with the 2009 box-of­fice chart. Last year was, of course, a record year for the cin­ema, but none of the films that drew in the re­ally big money – Avatar, Harry Pot­ter and the Half-Blood Prince, Trans­form­ers: Re­venge of the Fallen – could be re­garded as old-fash­ioned star ve­hi­cles.

Think about it. When Ti­tanic broke the all­time box-of­fice record, ex­pec­tant eyes sud­denly fell upon Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. Their next moves be­came a mat­ter of great de­bate in the Clap­per­board Arms. Seven months af­ter Avatar passed out Ti­tanic, Sam Wor­thing­ton (he was the lead, re­mem­ber) can still buy a choc ice with­out get­ting mo­lested. Did any­body you know re­fer to Half-Blood Prince as “the new Daniel Rad­cliffe film” rather than “the new Harry Pot­ter film”? I thought not.

Fur­ther proof ar­rived last week when Forbes mag­a­zine pub­lished its an­nual chart of the most highly paid fe­male ac­tors. The five hottest moneybags were as fol­lows: San­dra Bul­lock, Reese Wither­spoon, Cameron Diaz, Sarah Jes­sica Parker and Jen­nifer Anis­ton. Hang on a moment. The most re­cent films by all but one of the stars – the resur­gent Ms Bul­lock – un­der­per­formed at the box-of­fice. In­deed, the last time any one of them could de­liver a guar­an­teed hit, the main mode of ex­hi­bi­tion was the trav­el­ling magic lantern show.

Things are slightly less grim for male ac­tors, but, when the seem­ingly in­de­struc­tible Will Smith laid an egg with Seven Pounds, it be­came clear that any large in­vest­ment in any ac­tor, how­ever adored, con­sti­tuted a sig­nif­i­cant gam­ble. For all Ge­orge Clooney’s fame, he re­mains box-of­fice poi­son.

All of which ex­plains why The Ex­pend­ables (res­o­nant ti­tle, in­ci­den­tally) seems so much like a quaint anachro­nism. An un­apolo­get­i­cally chaotic piece of work – some­thing about an evil dic­ta­tor and his beau­ti­ful daugh­ter – Stallone’s flick gath­ers to­gether more stars than you ex­pect to en­counter at your lo­cal neb­ula.

“THERE AREN’T MANY BAD ASSES LEFT OUT THERE WHO JUST WANT TO GET IT ON”

Join­ing Sly in the ad­ven­ture are Jet Li, Ja­son Statham, Dolph Lund­gren, Mickey Rourke, Eric Roberts, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Bruce Wil­lis and – briefly, but un­mis­tak­ably – Arnold Sch­warzeneg­ger.

Statham and Li should feel very hon­oured. They have been in­vited to join a royal fam­ily that, since its in­cep­tion in the 1980s, has gen­er­ated more rev­enue than Cen­tral Amer­ica’s un­der­ground coca-plant en­trepreneurs.

Glam­our still hangs about them. The hacks have to kick their heels grumpily be­fore, hal­fan-hour late, Stallone, Statham and Lund­gren en­ter a side room in London’s Dorch­ester Ho­tel.

The three men are pre­sented as equals, but the hi­er­ar­chy is ap­par­ent from the moment the in­ter­view be­gins. Statham, the 37-yearold English baldie, hangs back re­spect­fully. Lund­gren, still chis­elled at 52, punc­tu­ates the odd pause with a Scan­di­na­vian grunt. Stallone, also di­rec­tor and writer of the pic­ture, ra­di­ates pumped-up charm, but, a sil­ver­back of for­mi­da­ble bulk, he leaves us in lit­tle doubt as to who oc­cu­pies the al­pha-male boul­der. Take his ba­nana at your peril.

“At first it was just my­self and Ja­son and Jet Li,” the great man ex­plains. “Then I be­gan think­ing of other char­ac­ters: maybe Ben Kings­ley as the bad guy, For­rest Whittaker, maybe. Then I thought: why not go re­ally old school. I called Dolph and he was very re­spect­ful.”

He pauses and low­ers his voice in mock apol­ogy.

“Look, I mean no dis­re­spect to any­body, but there aren’t many bad asses left out there who just want to get it on. I do be­lieve there are some young guys who want to prove them­selves, but there aren’t many around.” Did any­body turn him down? “Well, we called Jean-Claude Van Damme

“Some­times I’m out there and I know I’ve got a turkey and it’s not even Christ­mas. This one was the other way round”

Planet Hollywood in or­bit again: Bruce Wil­lis, Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Sch­warzeneg­ger re­unite, briefly and Steven Sea­gal and they had, erm, dif­fer­ent ideas about their ca­reer. So . . .”

The el­lip­sis im­plies a half-hearted re­buke of those two mar­tial arts stars.

It’s al­ways a mis­take to think of any ear­lier era as “a sim­pler time”, but, for those ex­am­in­ing the re­la­tion­ship be­tween movie star­dom and cap­i­tal, few epochs ap­pear less com­pli­cated than the 1980s.

When, in the late 1970s, Ge­orge Lu­cas and Steven Spiel­berg – nei­ther great star-mak­ers, cu­ri­ously – ti­died up Hollywood af­ter its flir­ta­tion with post-hip­pie ex­per­i­men­ta­tion, they cleared the way for a new breed of eas­ily di­gestible movie ti­tan.

Stallone was al­ways Stallone: mum­bling, vi­o­lent, but good-hearted. Sch­warzeneg­ger was al­ways Sch­warzeneg­ger: robotic, but amus­ing in spite of him­self. Cruise was al­ways Cruise: an ac­tion doll whose veins ran with undi­luted self-be­lief.

“THERE IS A LOT AT STAKE TO­DAY ... EV­ERY AC­TOR IS WEIGHED AGAINST WHAT HE IS GO­ING TO AT­TRACT IN EACH TER­RI­TORY. IT’S LIKE A MATH PROJECT”

He may be 62, but Stallone trails waves of am­bi­tion about with him. Can Hollywood still con­tain this class of old-school icon? I ask him how the busi­ness has changed. Do

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