Almost four decades after Rambo first drew blood – along with box-office gold – in First Blood, Sylvester Stallone’s elite Special Forces veteran returns for a fifth outing, Rambo: Last Blood.
More importantly perhaps, the films shed an early light on PTSD, with the battle-scarred veteran John Rambo struggling with civilian life.
While Rambo will always be placed firmly in Vietnam, when STACK meets with Stallone he says he hopes his films help all veterans. “Back then, it wasn’t really taken seriously,” he says of the forever-damaged soldiers returning from Vietnam. “But I think the fact that its forefront now in the news, that Rambo represents the younger soldier even though he’s of a different generation. They didn’t talk about it back then but, since we’re talking about it now, I think there’s a cross-collateralisation that benefits both.”
In Last Blood, Rambo has finally settled down, living a quiet life on his family’s sprawling ranch in Arizona which he shares with his adoptive family; Maria [Adriana Barraza] and her granddaughter Gabrielle [Yvette Monreal].
“He’s just so withdrawn that he cannot give affection to a cat, which is why it’s so profound; that it’s the first time he’s opened up or even hinted at love,” explains Stallone, whose mission becomes very personal when Gabrielle is kidnapped by a Mexican cartel.
In true Rambo form, Last Blood does not shy away from gore and violent action scenes, something the 73-year-old action hero says doesn’t get any easier. “When you’re dealing with situations like that, a lot of people accidentally get hurt – usually it’s me – because the other guys are pretty smart. But things will come down or a beam will hit you or a flash will come very close and burn you and I’ve had them all. Someday I’m going to have a wing over at Cedars Sinai hospital – you could call it the ‘Rambo wing’ – where people have no hope. Bring what’s left of your body here! That’s my wing,” he laughs.
“But let’s just talk about gore,” he says, suddenly serious. There’s ‘Hollywood gore’ which is like Budweiser Lite, and then there’s the real thing and if you study it – when you actually see what the cops go through every day and you wonder why they drink so much or take their own lives – it’s so brutal when a friend is hit by a shotgun in the face, and instead what we see is a little nick on film.
“But it’s actually horrifying so what you see in Last Blood is the real deal – what it’s like to get hit with a 50-calibre – there’s nothing left of you. So I’m trying to show how horrible war is and how you never get over it when you participate in it and once you commit to it, you are now condemned by it. I know it’s horrifying but I don’t want to fake it – if you go to a Stallone film, a Rambo film, expect to be uncomfortable when it gets to the killing fields. I love when these guys get hit by a bullet and “pff”. No! It takes about nine bullets to kill somebody. It’s not easy. A man or a woman fighting for their life is a very difficult thing to kill, and it’s a horrifying situation. So I just try to depict war as what war really is.”
Worth an estimated personal US$400 + million, creating two of the biggest franchises of all time – Rocky and Rambo – Stallone’s films have generated nearly USD 4 billion for the studios. But, he says, he checks in his tough-guy image at the door when he‘s home with former model wife Jennifer Flavin and their three daughters.
“It’s not easy and, if they had more muscles, I’d be in trouble. I lose every debate; I’m never right; every piece of furniture I pick is wrong… you name it. So I think it’s very funny but there is no way you can be with five women and not understand that you‘re going to lose every time. And, actually, I’ve got used to it. I’m like: I’m a loser. No problem. Even the dogs are female,” he muses.
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Stallone sends his three daughters a message on Instagram
Surrounded by so much success and plaudits, it’s surprising he doesn’t want his daughters to also act. “As a matter of fact, I had this conversation with them: You can’t go in it half-way, it’s not a half-way job, you’re all in and your heart is going to get broken, many, many times. It’s a unique business. When you study law or you want to be a salesperson or whatever. Or real estate. Oh, you don’t like my house? OK. I lost a case in court? Well, the judge is stupid. But as an actor? Well, we don’t like you, you’re not good enough, you’re a failure. So I say, ‘you better be ready to have your soul torn apart – and then you’ve got to glue it back together and keep going on, and still there’s no guarantee. So, if you’re going to be an actor, be prepared to go through hell. So they’re thinking about it now, but I don’t recommend it unless its something you can’t control and you breath it.”
Stallone reveals he used some of his own interactions with his daughters’ boyfriends in his script for Last Blood, when Rambo meets his adopted granddaughter’s guy friends. “I do a thing called the ‘crushing the hand’ test. My hands are very strong so when I meet her date, I really clamp down – and they’re not ready for it and I see their faces changing colour because they wanna be Alpha Dog, and I know they’ll never forget it.
“So I thought to throw that in the film because, when you have a daughter, it’s a form of temporary insanity. You know, when some guy walks in the house, you’re not yourself anymore.”
With Last Blood being the character’s swan song, Stallone says that John Rambo will always be a part of his heart. “Between the first one and this one, this to me is the most profound because this is as close as he’s ever gonna get to understanding what its like to be human, to really live for someone else, for love, to actually love – and when that is taken away and jeopardised, as an actor, the rage I felt… I try to incorporate what other people would feel.
“I think when there’s nothing left, when you’ve ripped out a man’s heart, my god, that’s not even a man anymore. Now you’re dealing with pure feral, primitive rage, and that’s the last thing he ever wanted. He just wanted love. So this is really an important film for me and for a character that has literally gone for decades, pretty remarkable.”