Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro had only worked on one film together, the 1997 crime drama "Cop Land, in which Stallone played a suburban New Jersey sheriff, and De Niro was a New York Internal Affairs officer. The other significant thing the two actors have in common is that they both played iconic boxers in much-lauded movies. Stallone was, and in some eyes still is Rocky, and De Niro nabbed a Best Actor Oscar for his Jake LaMotta in "Raging Bull." In the new comedy "Grudge Match," they play long-retired rival boxers who are convinced to don the trunks and lace up the gloves for one final rematch. Stallone, 67, and De Niro, 70, recently got together in New York to swap a few good-natured jabs at each other and to share some love.
Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro had only worked on one film together, the 1997 crime drama “Cop Land, in which Stallone played a suburban New Jersey sheriff, and De Niro was a New York Internal Affairs officer. The other significant thing the two actors have in common is that they both played iconic boxers in much-lauded movies. Stallone was, and in some eyes still is Rocky, and De Niro nabbed a Best Actor Oscar for his Jake LaMotta in “Raging Bull.” In the new comedy “Grudge Match,” they play long-retired rival boxers who are convinced to don the trunks and lace up the gloves for one final rematch. Stallone, 67, and De Niro, 70, recently got together in New York to swap a few good-natured jabs at each other and to share some love.
Had you two been talking about doing a boxing comedy together?
Stallone: Actually I had no intentions of doing this. It was something I thought was absurd. But then Robert called me, and we talked a lot about it with the studios heads, and they convinced me that I was completely wrong.
De Niro: I liked the idea of US doing it. But we had never talked about it. The idea came from [director] Pete Segal, who I met at a party around a year earlier. Then it started, and then WE started talking about it.
The storyline centers on aging as well as staying in shape. What are your thoughts about that?
Stallone: I’ve always enjoyed working out, but this thing was pretty extraordinary. We got to prove that you don’t have to be crawling around at a certain age, or that you’re obliged to start winding down. Plus I think a lot of people, as they reach 60 and above, think, you know, I have some unfinished business. Unfortunately life does not afford you the opportunity to go back and kind of right the wrong. So this is the beauty of fantasy and imagination, to be able to have these guys go and correct the moment in their life that will make them feel somewhat fulfilled. That’s the fantasy, and I think that’s where the empathy comes in with the audience.
What kind of training did you go through?
De Niro: The training was hard. I worked with the same trainer Sylvester has worked with for about 10 years, and he was a big help. In fact we used him in “Hands of Stone” [in which De Niro will play Robert Duran’s trainer Ray Arcel].
Stallone: Oh, I couldn’t wait to fight Bob. I thought, since “Raging Bull,” he’s crossed the line! But the way we trained here, it was like if you were casting the lead in the “Nutcracker Suite” or “Swan Lake,” and you don’t get to see your lead dancer until the curtain goes up. He had to train on the East Coast and I had to train on the West Coast. We couldn’t get together, so by the time we finally got in the ring together, I was thinking, “Oh, God, I hope he looks good, I hope he can punch.” With the “Rocky” films it was five or six months of preparation, with the [other] guy, and you’re working every day. But we didn’t have that opportunity, so I have to give Bob a little credit for his professionalism.
De Niro: I worked as hard as I could to get to the point where we would meet. Sylvester choreographed it and laid it out, and my trainer would come over and we would work on it. Then we got together and we worked for a couple of days, and we worked it out. Sylvester made it all happen. I was just following him.
Back when you made “Rocky” and “Raging Bull,” if somebody asked you if you thought you’d still be doing this at this age, what would your answer have been?
Stallone: I would have punched him. I would’ve said, “Are you crazy?” (laughs) No, when we started out, there was “Rocky,” and that was it. I didn’t know “Rocky” would just keep going. So the answer is no.
De Niro: No, I didn’t even know if I’d be around, but I’m glad I am.
Sly, what did you think of “Raging Bull,” and Robert, what did you think of “Rocky?”
Stallone: I never saw his movie.
De Niro: I never saw his, either. (both laugh)
Stallone: “Raging Bull” is probably one of the most brilliant biographies of all time. It’s just incredible. It’s timeless. A perfect performance.
De Niro: They’re two different styles of films. “Rocky” was very well done, and in all honesty, with the ones I saw in the series, I was impressed with what Sylvester had done as a craftsman.
“Grudge Match” opens on Christmas Day.
Ed Symkus covers movies for More Content Now.