Published: Monday, 14 November 2022 11:27 | Written by Jamie Ruby
Created by Taylor Sheridan, Tulsa King, which premiered yesterday on Paramount+ follows Dwight Manfredi (Sylvester Stallone), a mafia capo, who after being released from prison after twenty-five years is exiled by his boss to Tulsa, Oklahoma. No longer having his mob family, he slowly builds a new “crew” from unlikely characters to establish a new empire in a place that is totally alien to him.
Even after having an established career like Stallone, there is still more to learn with acting, according to the performer. “[A]cting, it’s a real delicate balance,” Stallone told SciFi Vision during a recent interview. “…there's an analogy between a boxer and an actor. So, if you're in there with a good actor, like with a good boxer, you're going to show a lot more of your moves and skill. When you're there with a bad actor, it's not a very interesting fight. So, you find yourself trying to bring out the best of an actor; you try to write dialogue for him. That brings out his best side.”
Stallone continued that actors get better with experience because they learn how to relax and know their strong suits. “There's no such a thing as the ‘best actor,’ he explained. “People have always said, ‘Oh, Brando is the best actor,’ or ‘De Niro is the best actor.’ No one's the best actor. You're the best at a certain part, or you're playing a great character. You're really good at that. Some guys are incredible Shakespearean actors, but they won’t be very good at a Western, but they're great actors in their genre…So, this is my lane, and I'm very comfortable in it. And it's taken a long time, believe it or not, because you try to overcompensate at some things…As you get older, you start to settle down. Like a quarterback, you start to see the whole field.”
During the interview, the actor also revealed that he and Manfredi are alike. “This is probably the closest thing that I've ever played to me,” said Stallone, “which, odd as it may [seem], playing yourself is the hardest thing ever.”
Tulsa King, according to Stallone, is a “different spin, a different interpretation of a subject we’ve seen before.” In the series, you feel sympathy for a character that you normally wouldn’t.
The actor first met Sheridan years ago while riding horses, and he identified with him. “I had a hard time making it as an actor, and that's why I decided to diverge into writing,” said Stallone. “…Obviously, I wouldn't be here if I hadn't become a writer. Taylor, I guess, because he wasn't satisfied with his acting career, actually opened up the door to a whole new world that probably never would have been presented to him, so we had a lot in common.” Stallone went on to say that four years later he got a call for the series, and that he knew instantly he wanted to do it, because he’d been wanting to play a gangster his whole life.
For more from Stallone, watch our portion of the interview and read the full transcript below.
***Edited for clarity and length***
QUESTION: What separates the Taylor Sheridan screenplay from others that you've been lucky enough to read over your career?
SYLVESTER STALLONE: Well, usually it's a different spin, a different interpretation of a subject we've seen before. But like boxing from the Rockys, there’s a thousand boxing films, but what separates that one? Well, his interpretation of a mafioso basically being banned out to the west where he's completely a fish out of water; he has to rebuild a family. And after keeping his mouth shut for twenty-five years, you sort of feel a little sympathy for a character you normally are not sympathetic towards. Then, you see him rebuild his life with the oddest bunch of characters you've ever seen. So, it's a journey that the audience goes on with me at the same time.
QUESTION: What parts of this character do you see in yourself?
SYLVESTER STALLONE: Well, I said it before, but I actually decided, like Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis, you wake up one morning; you're a cockroach, but you still have the same brain that you had before. I thought, let's say, “I’m Sylvester Stallone, but I woke up, and guess what? You've been now deemed a gangster, for real, like you're in the Genovese mob, but you still have the same personality that you have.” So, this is probably the closest thing that I've ever played to me, which, odd as it may seem to you all, playing yourself is the hardest thing ever. That's why when you see some actors on interviews, they're really boring. They assume on camera they're incredibly active. You’re [like], “Wow, how's that possible?” Well, this time, I'm trying to actually bring this character as close as I can to my sense of humor and the way I interpret things, where I can really get dark if I have to get dark, as you'll see later episodes, but also, he's kind of like off kilter. He's like your weird uncle.
QUESTION: This is your first time doing kind of a long run series as a writer yourself. How different is it getting ten hours to tell a story as opposed to two hours? I feel like it would be a huge transition.
SYLVESTER STALLONE: Yeah, it's a lot, because I had to learn about 410 pages of dialogue, a lot, because I'm almost in every scene, but hopefully, eventually, it'll start to have all these little tributaries where it will lead to other characters, and you start to get into their lives. But what I found working with these fellows is that they understand that I'm also a writer. So, when certain scenes just didn't fit, what I was explaining just to the previous reporter, I have to use my sense of humor. So, it's almost a Rockyesqe trying to thing where he's ad libbing and throwing things in there. And they finally said, “Oh, he's not going to do it our way, so let his do it his way.” So, I convey what they're trying to say, but I tried to put it in my words.
QUESTION: After [your character is] exiled from what you thought was originally your family, how do you redefine family after the events of what happens in this series?
SYLVESTER STALLONE: Well, the deal is this. Growing up as Italian, this super macho kind of gangster aura around you, and you're very happy with the streets in New York. So, to be ripped up, ripped off, and sent out to a place where you're completely alien, you might as well be going to the moon. Everyone can identify with, like all of a sudden, you're taking from your comfort zone, and you're stuck almost in a witness protection program, and you have to start from scratch without any of the luxuries or any of the connections. You don’t know one person in town. It's really kind of a genesis that is highly unique, because the audience gets to see his trials and tribulations and has to go up with him as he begins to pick out new members of his family. One will be an Indian, one's a cowboy, one's like a nerd, one’s this guy, the people that are completely alien to anyone he's ever been around in his entire life. So, that, to me, provides a portal to comedy. No question.
QUESTION: Taylor Sheridan is known to reach out to actors directly, is that how Tulsa King was presented to you, or originally, Kansas City?
SYLVESTER STALLONE: Yes, and no. I met him at a barn, actually, riding the horses at the LA Equestrian Center, and he hadn't quite made it yet. I think he was still working on Sicario; that hadn't even come out yet. He was just a guy who was just - actually, I identified with him, because I had a hard time making it as an actor, and that's why I decided to diverge into writing. And it seemed to be obviously I wouldn't be here if I hadn't become a writer. Taylor, I guess, because he wasn't satisfied with his acting career, actually opened up the door to a whole new world that probably never would have been presented to him, so we had a lot in common. We also rode Western horses together, and we kind of competed in these arenas. Nothing high level, just to try to hang on for dear life. Little did I know that four years later, I get a phone call like, “Hey, remember me?” “Slightly. Yeah, how you doing?” “You want to play a gangster.” I said, “Go no further.” “You want to hear the rest of the story?” “I don't even care. You say gangster. I've been wanting to do this my whole life. Wake me up later on.” Bang. Seriously, and that's how it started.
SCIFI VISION: Hi, Jamie Ruby from SciFi Vision. Thanks so much for talking to us this morning. So, you've been acting for so long, but are there still things that you learn about acting just from being on the set or from the other actors that you're around?
SYLVESTER STALLONE: You do; you do. Actually, acting it’s a real delicate balance. I'll use the kind of comparison; there's an analogy between a boxer and an actor. So, if you're in there with a good actor, like with a good boxer, you're going to show a lot more of your moves and skill. When you're there with a bad actor, it's not a very interesting fight. So, you find yourself trying to bring out the best of an actor; you try to write dialogue for him. That brings out his best side. The main thing [is], I think actors get actually better, because they learn how to relax. They know their strong suits. Like there's no such a thing as the “best actor.” People have always said, “Oh, Brando is the best actor,” or “DeNiro is the best actor.” No one's the best actor. You're the best at a certain part, or you're playing a great character. You're really good at that. Some guys are incredible Shakespearean actors, but they won’t be very good at a Western, but they're great actors in their genre. So, you try to bring out - like, I realized my lane. So, this is my lane, and I'm very comfortable in it. And it's taken a long time, believe it or not, because you try to overcompensate at some things. I was like, “Oh my God, what was I thinking?” And as you get older, you start to settle down. Like a quarterback, you start to see the whole field. You learn the most important thing, which is breathing. In the middle of a tense scene, you’re just calm. Whereas when you're young, as the phrase goes, “When in doubt, shout.” So, that's why young actors are so loud, because they think that's acting. And as you get older, you realize you can shout very quietly just with your eyes. Matter of fact, the silence is even louder than the shouting.
QUESTION: What did you love about Tulsa, Oklahoma?
SYLVESTER STALLONE: Well, I love the people. I thought the weather could use a slight adjustment. Tough weather, boy, I'm telling you. These guys out there, wow. I have such respect. I used to think that everyone from New York are the toughest guys in the world. Forget it. These people that really went out west and settled and [have] been there for generations, I have tremendous respect for their resiliency and just their actual camaraderie. They're very friendly. But when we were there, we went through hail storms, tornadoes, freezing weather, boiling weather up to 114 degrees. It got so hot once that outside the motorhome was 136 degrees on the asphalt. Literally fried an egg.
QUESTION: I have to ask, you mentioned younger actors and you kind of hinted about sort of gathering the gang that couldn't shoot straight. What’s it like for them? I mean, I have to believe obviously these younger actors have all grown up seeing you. So, what's the factor of kind of calming them down and getting to work?
SYLVESTER STALLONE: Well, actually, I joke around with them a lot between [takes]. I don't go off and mood up some, tend to be a little distant from them. If anything, I'm constantly joking with them. And then sometimes you see a character, and you go, “Who is that guy?” Well, it was a local guy. I said, “He's got it.” I want to make them part of the gang. For example, the heavyset guy that I hit with the thermos. That was his only scene. That was it. Done. I said, “No, no, no, he's going to be around. He's going to be my sidekick.” And as the series goes on, Fred becomes my conciergerie, if you know what I mean. Because you could just tell this guy has the it factor. It’s just a certain way he moves. Next time you see it, it's so detectable. So, I talk to everybody. I'm not standoffish at all. And right away, they start joking with me, and I go, “Okay, we're ready to move.”
QUESTION: Working so closely with Taylor Sheridan now, do you see a Yellowstone crossover happening for this universe? I feel like the two shows would blend really well together.
SYLVESTER STALLONE: I go over and I kill John Dutton, no problem. You got it. Take over the ranch. Yeah, no, I think we're getting kind of close to it. You'll see later on in the episodes, I do get into the cowboy aspect of it, and some of these real tough guys and it's going to continue that way. When I started to get involved with like the oil baron types and the real tough guys, they don't mess around. So, we're kind of blending the two together, but will I actually be staying in John Dutton’s guest house? I doubt it.
QUESTION: We’re used to seeing you in gritty roles…and you spoke a little bit about this, that playing the gangster was something that you've always wanted to do. Can you expand upon your dream of obviously, this role, and what about a mafia centered story made you really want to dig your teeth into this?
SYLVESTER STALLONE: Well, the the idea that some guys want to play cowboy and Indian or whatever, for an actor to get to play that kind of mysterious mystique that surrounds the gangster for some odd reason, but we're just addicted to it. And I was absolutely shunned. I was left out of it, I couldn't even get a job as an extra. And finally, about 45 years later, opportunity comes knocking on my door from the guy that I was riding horses with. So, you never know where it's going to come from. And actually, the whole idea started, probably, about five years earlier, [with] David Glasser, the producer, wanting me to do, I guess it was the equivalent to Godfather 3. It was a book called Omertà, written by Mario Puzo, and I wanted to do it. It was great. It was actually with the Weinstein Company at that time, and it just didn't go; it didn't happen. But David thought, “Wow, there's still something to this. I met with Sly.” So, he calls Taylor Sheridan at about midnight says, “You know what? Start thinking about something, a mafia guy going west, becoming a cowboy, so on and so forth.” Taylor put it into his brain, and about 48 hours later, we had a treatment.