The Expendables panel at Comic-Con was a fairly raucous and certainly macho affair, with Terry Crews bursting onto the stage and tearing his shirt off to do his trademark pec-bouncing, followed by the rough and tumble crew of action heroes who made this movie – Stone Cold Steve Austin, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture and writer/director/star Sylvester Stallone. Despite the fact that the Guinness Book of World Records came out to recognize one of Stallone’s achievements, the biggest topic of conversation was how many injuries Stallone had suffered at the hands of his co-stars – Lundgren had put him in the hospital during Rocky IV, and on this film, Austin actually broke Sly’s neck.
“He broke my neck. It was my fault, but it drove a little bone spur in there,” Stallone said, indicating the front of his throat. “So, Steve, thank you very much. I now have this little thing with three screws. People say, ‘Don’t get screwed,’ and I say, ‘I already have! Three times right there.’”
Austin was contrite, realizing he was never going to live it down. “It was a very physical fight,” he said in his own defense. “One of the things I learned from Sly working with him was just the intensity. We fought for two days, and it was always about intensity and bringing it a level up, and he wanted it to look real. When the writer, the lead actor and the director tells you to kick the sh*t out of him, you kick the sh*t out of him. Sly is a veteran film maker and an icon, and if he told me to do the same thing tomorrow, I would.”
Stallone was quick to make sure we knew all the ribbing was in jest. “I love this guy,” he noted. “It’s just stupid. Same thing when I said to Dolph, ‘Punch me as hard as you can in the chest,’ and he did. Next thing I know, I was in Intensive Care at St. John’s Hospital for four days. It’s stupid!”
He went on to mock his own box office bombs by suggesting that there’s a correlation between the success of his movies and the pain he suffers on them. “I tell you what, every time I do a film and I don’t get injured in it, it really stinks. It’s like, ‘Oh, Rhinestone was fun.’ I didn’t get hurt on the set of Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot. So I go, ‘You know what? Hurt me. If that’s what it takes, cut my head off and use it for a bowling ball. I don’t care.’”
Some time later, a fan asked Stallone about any arm wrestling matches behind the scenes, in reference to the ridiculous Stallone movie Over The Top, and that led to Sly jokingly challenging Austin to just such a match, and then Austin asked “You’re not really holding a grudge, are you?”
Stallone later elaborated on how intense fight scenes can be different when there’s actual tension between the actors who may be hitting each other a little too hard. “I’ve worked with actors that, when they did that, you can’t wait until they go to take 2 to put your foot right through his friggin chest,” he explained. “So I’ve had that. I had that on Demolition Man, believe me! I had that on Death Race 2000 with David Carradine. Every day he had to smash me in the face. I’m like, ‘What are you – nuts?’ I couldn’t do anything because he was the star, but when it was my turn… Anyway, I know that Steve and I in the first scene, we cracked our heads together. The scene is one second old, and I needed a little stitch here, he’s bleeding, and it was just c’est la vie. I think if you like the other actor, no problem. If you dislike them, they’re gonna pay.”
Apparently, he still likes Austin, although maybe the same can’t be said for his Demolition Man co-star Wesley Snipes. But was there any tension that led to some of the other old-school action movie franchise heroes not making the cut for The Expendables?
“I explored people like (Jean-Claude) Van Damme and I talked to (Steven) Seagal, I talked to Chuck Norris. There’s availabilities or there are other extenuating circumstances like insanity that prevent things like that from happening. But we tried.”
So what was that about a world record? Toward the end of the panel, a representative from the Guinness Book of World Records came out and presented Sly with a certificate stating that the Rocky series is officially the most successful sports franchise of all time – and Lundgren got one as well for participating in Rocky IV. Seeing as how Stallone was initially greeted by the Comic-Con fans with that familiar Rocky chant, it’s no surprise to find out how humble he is about that achievement.
“Please don’t think I’m just saying this,” he said about how he thinks about the success of that movie now. “I am in total, constant awe. I’ll wake up in the morning, the fog is still outside, I walk around, and I think, ‘I can’t believe this house, my life, my children.’ Everything I have, I owe to this little, humble character. I don’t know where it came from. It just came up one day just writing about my insecurities, and I put them into the body of a boxer. I never knew and I never take it lightly. That’s why I was so depressed when my career was going down. I said, ‘Geez, if I could just do one more thing, it would just be to end the Rocky series with dignity.’ Because Rocky V, I blew it. I made a big mistake. I take all the blame for it. So I said, ‘If I could just do that one thing,’ and it took seven years because it was really tough to make a sequel to a failed film 18 years later, play this 60-year-old fighter. Talk about a tough sell, that’s a tough sell. But it wasn’t about fighting. It was about gracefully going on to the last part of your life. Anyway, when [Rocky Balboa] worked, I was ready to retire. I was done. I had nothing more to prove. And then I thought maybe I should close out Rambo because that worked. And I got greedy again, and here I am! Now I don’t want to quit!”