Throughout Sylvester Stallone’s six-decade movie career, there has been one gaping hole.
The “Rocky” star has always wanted to get into the Mob (solely on screen, of course). As an aspiring stern-faced Italian-American actor, he was denied a role as an extra in the crowded wedding scene of 1972’s “The Godfather.” Attempts to persuade directors Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese for later roles proved fruitless.
“I wanted to grab Scorsese by the shoulders and go: ‘What are you waiting for? You mean I don’t look thuggish enough?'” Stallone says. “I made this a quest: ‘Someday, I’m going to play this Mafioso type, which I can embody quite authentically.'”
Decades later, his wish has been fulfilled as Stallone, 76, stars as Mob capo Dwight “The General” Manfredi in Paramount+ drama “Tulsa King” (streaming Sunday), the latest star in “Yellowstone” creator Taylor Sheridan’s expanding universe.
“Finally, it happens,” Stallone says in an interview. “I’ve been waiting a long time for this.”
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The three-time Oscar-winning actor is trumpeting his first regular TV gig. “It’s an evolutionary process – either adapt or you cease to exist. The golden era of film I came up with, in the 1970s and ’80s, is gone. These days, the best talent, directors and writers are going to streaming.”
Sheridan came calling after the second robust season of “Yellowstone” with the novel concept of Stallone playing a loyal New York mobster who, after 25 years of not squealing in prison, is exiled by his bosses to Oklahoma.
“The West is his genre; mine is East Coast,” Stallone says. Sheridan said “melding these two worlds has great potential.”
The premise has the slick suit-clad Manfredi as the ultimate fish out of water in the cowboy-hat-filled Tulsa. Manfredi puts together his own motley crew that includes a cab driver (Jay Will) a bartender (Garrett Hedlund) and the owner of a legal marijuana dispensary (Martin Starr).
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“Tulsa King” mines Manfredi’s comically old-school vibe after the ex-con emerges to a changed world after decades in prison. It’s an out-of-touch persona that Stallone plays effectively, if not naturally. For example, Manfredi is confused about this thing called the Uber app, and Stallone admits he has never used it, either.
“I still have my wife driving me around,” he says. “I’m not trusted behind the wheel.”
“Tulsa King” director Terence Winters, who has worked with some of TV’s greatest gangsters on HBO’s “The Sopranos” and “Boardwalk Empire,” says Stallone brings his own “inherent likability” to Manfredi. “Then he turns a dial, and he’s inherently menacing. When he scowls at you, you feel it.”
Shooting the 10-episode season was long and hard, especially on location in Oklahoma.
“Wonderful people, but a tough piece of topography. It’s called the Badlands for a reason,” Stallone says. “Hail one day, then it’s 100 degrees, then an air raid siren is going off for a tornado.”
Stallone says it was a “nightmare” being away from his Los Angeles home and wife of 25 years, Jennifer Flavin (along with their three grown daughters, Sophia, 26, Sistine, 24, and Scarlet, 20).
“It was brutally intensive,” Stallone says of the extended work that was “like shooting ‘Rocky I’ to ‘Rocky V,’ all nonstop. Keeping your focus and not becoming agitated while being away from your family, that’s not an easy balancing act.”
Stallone blames this kind of career tunnel vision and time away for the August blow-up that led Flavin to file divorce papers that called their marriage “irretrievably broken.” Stallone insists the marital problems have been patched up now that his marriage is no longer on the “back burner. We have a beautiful family that now comes first,” he says.
Roles in his most well-known franchises have already been culled, including Rocky’s mentoring presence in the Michael B. Jordan-directed “Creed 3” (out in March). “The studio, Michael B. Jordan and producers have decided to go in a different direction. And I wish them well,” he says.
He’s also stepping away from major time in “The Expendables IV” (due in September). Stallone says he’s taking a smaller role after enduring five back surgeries since 2010’s “The Expendables.” He blames the recurring action role.
“My ‘Expendables’ days are expended,” he says. “It’s the Olympics for past-due action guys. Enough already. Hit the hammock.”
But a new “Tulsa King” season looms should the audience demand. Paramount has not announced a second season, but should that happen, Stallone insists he’d have to mull.
“Is the pleasure of performing worth the pain of being isolated, away from your loved ones? ” he asks. “That will have to be debated.” Yet Stallone follows that thought by enthusiastically discussing his lunch in July with Al Pacino. He says that this time he was trying to lure the “Godfather” legend to “Tulsa King.”
“And (Pacino) was ready to go, until there were scheduling conflicts, But there are people popping into ‘Tulsa King,’ and I hope it’s him soon. He’s amazing. We have to work together.”
Story Credit: usatoday.com