Sylvester Stallone wrote and re-wrote Rocky Balboa until his hands were worn, as if they had just gone 12 rounds in the fight of his life. With each draft, the story became increasingly true to life; Stallone had woven in so many of his own experiences that Rocky was becoming a parable of himself. He had pitched this story over and over again, to every producer and higher-up he had ever met.
And it was starting to become overwhelmingly apparent that this fight of his life would never even have a chance to take place.
"They said, basically, 'it never will happen. Period,'" Stallone said in an interview with The Beacon.
One studio executive even told Stallone he was doing the star a favor by not making it. "He wasn't doing me a favor. It was a personal thing. It was very personal, for whatever reason," Stallone said.
Rocky Balboa is not too much of a departure from the previous five Rocky films. Even though it isn't altogether groundbreaking, the act definitely hasn't worn thin.
Sylvester "Sly" Stallone-Rocky Balboa, Rambo, the face of action movies-was on the verge of complete societal irrelevance and he knew it.
"You have to address the age," he said, always waving his hands across the table with every word for emphasis. His hands and fingers were scratched and calloused from countless action movies, six boxing movies, hours upon hours pounding away at screenplays on typewriters and keyboards and all of the rigors that go along with 60 years of life. "You're not what you were.
The world has moved past you. Yes, I am archaic. I'm an anachronism."
This script was beginning to not only represent the culmination of Rocky's career, this harrowed fighter's last triumph, but also Stallone's last fight for what he knew was right.
"All the Rockys are somewhat autobiographical. The ideology of him, like there's one scene where he was talking to the boxing commissioners," Stallone said, alluding to when Rocky is momentarily denied a new boxing license due to his age in the newest installment. "I did it all and then, 'No.' So there was that kind of thing. I've played by the rules and in the end, where is the reciprocation?"
But, as miraculous as any Rocky fight, Stallone got his last wind in the last place he suspected.
"It was turned down for seven years. It was a dead issue as ever," he said. "I was very depressed. This was 2004. 11:55, New Year's Eve. Little Mexican restaurant, miles outside of Cabo. In walks the last guy on the planet."
That last guy on the planet was Joe Roth, a producer at Revolution Films. Roth sat down with Stallone, caught up and asked for a script of Rocky Balboa.
"Really? No one wants to make it," recounted Stallone. "Next day he calls up and says, 'I wanna make this film.'"
"This," he added, "was fate."
So Stallone started work on the final Rocky without the help of MGM, trying to salvage the image of a Rocky Balboa who may seem just a little too defeated, both on- and offscreen.
"You leave Rocky at ground zero in this scenario. Now you can build him from something," says Stallone. "Now, he's almost where he was in Rocky I."
It took a revamp for Stallone, too. Rocky's revitalization had to be just as believable as his own script made it out to be and, physically, that became a challenge.
"I went into this really out-of-shape because they said, 'we suggest that you let yourself go.' Then about a month before the movie, I couldn't get in my trunks," Stallone said with a chuckle. "And everything they say in the film, about 'your knees are shot' and all of that-that's all true."
Balboa's transformation into a fighter is an equally epic one. Plus, it has all the trappings of Rocky nostalgia: the highly touted and unbeatable opponent in Mason "The Line" Dixon (Antonio Tarver), the fight for the name of the now-deceased Adrian and even a climb up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
In the end, Stallone hopes Rocky Balboa's final resurgence is creative enough to bring in both the old and the new on its Christmas release date, because a lot of this last part of his life, and all of his heart, are in it.
"I wanted to end it exactly this way," says Stallone. "This is, to me, my finest involvement. It was so impossible to get done and I'm so happy at the way it brought Rocky full circle. And, at this age, what more can you ask for?"
And as for those critics who thought that Stallone, three decades removed from his very first appearance as Rocky Balboa, is too old for this? Well, he's just grateful for the chance to prove them wrong.
"Men, they're crazy sometimes. They want to get out there and they push themselves and, if they get hurt, they get hurt. But that's their prerogative; that's your right," said Stallone, before. "As Rocky says, everybody around you is gonna say, 'no, no, no.' But he says, 'I want to.' Sometimes, the pleasure is worth the pain."