(Soundbite of movie "Rocky Balboa")
Mr. SYLVESTER STALLONE (Actor): (As Rocky Balboa): My name is Rocky Balboa.
(Soundbite of "Rocky" theme)
SCOTT: Later this month, the most popular pugilist in moving pictures makes his big screen comeback and exit. The film "Rocky Balboa" is a tender little love letter not only to the fans of the movie but to the title character that's become a synonym for the heavyweight little guy who makes good.
The movie opens decades into Rocky's retirement. His beloved wife, Adriane, is dead. He visits her grave every day. Their son, Rocky Jr., is Mr. Junior Executive, who's trying to become known as something more than just a chip off the old Rock.
Rocky Balboa runs an Italian restaurant in South Philly, where he tells stories to diners about his glory days and poses for pictures with people who still remember who he used to be. And of course Rocky returns to the ring for an exhibition match.
Sylvester Stallone wrote and directed the film. We stopped by his hotel room in Washington, D.C. to talk with him about why he wants Rocky to return to action once more.
Mr. STALLONE: I wanted to somehow bring it full circle, but he's older, wiser. He's dealing with, you know, loss and grief, things that come along with aging. And also the fire still burns in him, and it's his way kind of like feeling like he's alive. But there's a point in time when you say people don't want to see you anymore. It's like, okay, you had your moment. And I think for an athlete it's very, very hard to take. So I thought what if an opportunity presented itself, and we just built it up from that.
SCOTT: Even people who like the film, they have to shake their head and say the boxing commission would not let a man who's pushing 60 get into the ring against a man in his mid-20s.
Mr. STALLONE: Sure they would. But they would. The oldest fighter in world right now is a fellow named Sal Mamby(ph), and he's 58 and a half, and he's been sanctioned. You have Larry Holmes, who's fighting at 55.
SIMON: Larry Holmes is still fighting?
Mr. STALLONE: Yes, he is. And he's fighting kind of like the level that Rocky would be fighting at, not world class title shots, but just - almost club fights.
SCOTT: Club fights, yeah.
Mr. STALLONE: Or exhibitions. I know it's far-fetched, but there are a few anomalies out there.
SCOTT: Yeah, but someone can hurt against the heavyweight champion of the world.
Mr. STALLONE: Oh, absolutely. You can definitely get hurt.
SCOTT: I mean, a 20-year-old can get hurt against the heavyweight champion of the world, but a 60-year-old, really.
Mr. STALLONE: But you know, when you say exhibition - and we've seen Ali do exhibitions, a lot of people do exhibitions - the rule is, you go out there and nobody gets hurt. And the champion says in the movie, don't try anything funny, don't try any cheap shots, don't do - I will take you out of there.
This is like for - well, Rocky goes I didn't come to here lose. So you can see that it - what supposed to be just a little nice show for charity, it's taking on a lot more intensity.
SCOTT: Does Rocky - and I confess, I saw the first one; I've seen a few over the years; I haven't seen all of them. Does he have a problem handling success over the years?
Mr. STALLONE: Yeah, he does. He is - like in this one, he says, you know, you really never leave this place. Rocky is a creature of that neighborhood, of those streets, and anything outside of that, he really doesn't understand, he's not comfortable in. When he's in the market with people out there shopping, buying for his restaurant...
SCOTT: This is the outdoor market in Philadelphia.
Mr. STALLONE: Yeah. That's...
SCOTT: 38th Street? What's it called?
Mr. STALLONE: Yeah, that was in South Philly.
SCOTT: South Philly, yeah. Great market.
Mr. STALLONE: That's when you see him interact and blossoming - but when he's with his son in the office building, it's more high tech, he's uncomfortable...
SCOTT: His son looks like he's a broker or something - trying to learn how to be a broker.
Mr. STALLONE: Yeah. He is, a commodity broker.
SCOTT: I have to ask. All over the world, do people see you and shout...
Mr. STALLONE: Yo, Adriane. Yo, Adriane.
SIMON: Do you give it to them? I mean do you...
Mr. STALLONE: Oh yeah. You know, at first, you know, oh God, I'm more than that. And then you go, maybe I'm not. You know, maybe it's a good thing to be identified with such a noble character. So I've embraced it.
SCOTT: I must say, my favorite part of the film, without giving anything away, was during the credit roll, when there must be - you see shots of 50 people, I assume just average Philadelphians...
Mr. STALLONE: Right.
SCOTT: Just coming up the stairs to that museum and jumping up in the air and pumping their arms, Rocky style.
Mr. STALLONE: Right.
SIMON: And it reminds you, this is a character, Rocky Balboa, that's important to millions of people.
Mr. STALLONE: That's what I was hoping to get across with that. Though the character's moved on, that fictional character, 24 hours a day, there's people running up and down those steps. Maybe not 24 hours, but a lot of hours during the day, and from every walk of life. You wonder what can they possibly be identifying. Somehow there's a very strange connection. It's kind of like, you know, like it's something I haven't been able to figure out, not specifically. I'm almost afraid to analyze it. I just want to like enjoy it and take it for what it is.
SCOTT: A lot of people, I must say, even a lot of critics nowadays, forget how acclaimed that first Rocky film was, and that it marked the debut of a great filmmaker, which was you.
Mr. STALLONE: I know. Actually, that was a real blessing in disguise. Also, if set the bar so high, it's tough to top that. And you don't top it. So you kind of like go, oh my God, first time a bat you do this? So you're chasing that your whole career.
SCOTT: The inevitable question. How much of that stuff in the ring is you? How much of it is special effects? How much of it...
Mr. STALLONE: No, there's no special effects. Special effects are pretty good. They have their place in filmmaking. But I wanted this fight to be as realistic as possible. So we went in and shot it in hi-def, on tape, to give it a crisp look compared to the rest of the film. And that most people, if they want, they can literally freeze frame it and you'll see which punches connect, which ones don't, and the ones that don't connect, we don't put a fake sound. I mean it's a - what you see is very authentic.
SCOTT: Excuse me. That must have hurt like hell.
Mr. STALLONE: There was a...
SCOTT: I mean - wow.
Mr. STALLONE: No, actually, I...
SCOTT: You're rich and elderly and successful. You don't have to make a living that way. That's amazing.
Mr. STALLONE: I know, I know. But we hired a guy like Antonio Tarver, who you know, had recently just knocked out Roy Jones, who's considered pound for pound the best fighter in the world.
SIMON: He's a real prizefighter.
Mr. STALLONE: He's a real prizefighter. And he was the right size, he wasn't overwhelming, but he was big enough that it just added a sense of realism to it, and it was real.
SCOTT: Yeah. Is there a role or a kind of role that you've always wanted to play, or at least be considered for over the years, and people won't just think of it because you're Rocky or you're Rambo?
Mr. STALLONE: Oh, I think there's many roles that when you've played Rocky or Rambo, it's not - you're not going to just slip into another character unannounced. "Cop Land" was kind of a...
SCOTT: You were great in "Cop Land." That was a great film. In New Jersey, yeah.
Mr. STALLONE: But "Cop Land" had a Rocky-esque feel. You know what I mean? He was an underdog.
SCOTT: You were - yeah, you were fighting against the establishment.
Mr. STALLONE: You're exactly right. But if were to play something else, people tend to hesitate, which I understand. Wow, he really draws too much attention to that part that shouldn't have that much attention to it. So...
SCOTT: Is there an ultimate Rocky film to be made of Rocky just dealing with what it's like to grow old gracefully, the greatest challenge of all, just maybe run his restaurant, get along with his son, sign autographs, pose with people?
Mr. STALLONE: Well, hopefully that's what he gets out of this one. You know, but I - you'll never see it, you know. This is the farewell.
Mr. STALLONE: Oh, absolutely. It was designed for that and there's really nothing more to say.
SCOTT: Yeah, but if it does well, I mean...
Mr. STALLONE: He can't get back to ring again. And that, I think, was the problem in "Rocky V," when Tommy Morrison got in the ring and Rocky was on the outside, basically playing the Burgess Meredith part.
SIMON: Yeah, right. Training.
Mr. STALLONE: The trainer. It didn't world. Something about him being in the ring, that whole visual that I believe audiences want to see. And I'm not going to pull it off...
SCOTT: You could have Rocky move into a senior citizen's home and mix it up with the guys there.
Mr. STALLONE: That's right. He can fight older guys. That works.
SCOTT: Mr. Stallone, thanks for your time.
Mr. STALLONE: Thank you very much. That's right, he beats up grandfathers. There you go. There's an upper.
(Soundbite of "Rocky" theme)
SIMON: Sylvester Stallone. "Rocky Balboa" opens December 20th.
(Soundbite of "Rocky" theme)
SIMON: And this is WEEKEND EDITION. I am not going to say yo.