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Interview: Robert De Niro and Sylvester Stallone talk 'Grudge Match'

See also had the opportunity to attend an intimate press conference with "Grudge Match" stars Robert De Niro and Sylvester Stallone in New York and today on Dec. 29, we are excited to share a few highlights from the conversation. The Warner Bros. film is now playing.

Can you guys talk about the training you did together? It sounds like Stallone, you were in better shape to start and you lost 35 pounds, so how was that? Was there any rivalry in the training sessions?

Sylvester Stallone: I couldn’t wait to fight him. I was dying. "Raging Bull"? He’s crossed the line. This was extraordinary, and he’ll tell you about his training aspect, in of course, a shorter amount of time. This is like if you were casting the lead in the "Nutcracker Suite" or "Swan Ballet" and you don’t get to see your lead dancer until the curtain goes up, he was training in Idaho on his own. So what happened is he had to work on the east coast, and I had to work on the west coast, so we couldn’t get together. By the time we got in the ring together, I going, ‘Oh God I hope he looks good, I hope he can play.’ Because we didn’t know, so this was really difficult. Usually with Rocky, it’s 5, 6 months preparation with the guy - everyday you’re working. We didn’t have that opportunity, that’s why this is pretty extraordinary so I have to give him a little credit for his professionalism.

Robert De Niro: We had this trainer, as I said, that Sylvester’s worked with for a long time, Bob Sale and I worked with him, and another fighter John Dunya under Bob but he was great. And I didn’t lose 35 pounds, I lost like 20 or so. And I worked hard as I could to get to the point where we would meet. He choreographed it, we worked and Bob would come and we worked on it. We got together worked for a couple of days, and we worked it out, he’s terrific - he made it all happen, I was just following him.

Kevin Hart: I was actually pissed off because I actually worked out and I never got to take my shirt off

Sylvester Stallone: He did. That’s true. He was working out every day.

Kevin Hart: He promised me a semi nude scene and it didn’t happen, so I basically wasted my time with my trainer in North Dakota.

Peter Segal: Alan said no. The scene was there for you and Alan.

This is for Peter and Sylvester. Peter, were you at all intimidated or grateful having somebody like Sylvester Stallone who knows so much about shooting a film that has boxing in it, and for you Stallone, how does it feel for you to be in a film with boxing, and you’re not directing? I think you choreographed, but were there times where you bit your tongue?

Peter Segal: I was both elated and scared because I had watched John Appleson’s commentary on Rocky 1 and how meticulously Sly had gone through beat by beats, choreographs, right left right left - everything. There is no one person the planet earth who has choreographed more cinematic boxing matches than this guy. But then there was this story that I had laid out and one that I had convinced him would be the right story for this because normally, he plays David to Goliath and this was a little bit different. So we worked together but I didn’t know how that was going to go at first. So we went to this little Jewish community center in Beverly Hills this time last year.

Sylvester Stallone: With a broken leg.

Peter Segel: And he was injured and for some reason they refused to heat the building so it was 50 degrees and we projected the fight script on the wall and day by day, we went through it.

Sylvester Stallone: The budget was a little tight. I remember just as in Rocky 2, they didn’t build gyms for you. And we used a clothesline with four broomsticks on an old carpet, in a freezing building.

Peter Segal: That he and I carried over by the way.

Sylvester Stallone: And at that time I had thrown all my tendons and I’m from the hip down to the boot. It looked like a pirate learning how to fight. I said, ‘Is this ever going to work?’ And he said, ‘Trust me, this is how it begins, you don't need a big ring, you don't need anything.’ And I just said, ‘Ok. Bobby's style and my style. He should be more of his Raging Bull type and I should be more of a boxer,’ because basically in our fight characters, we are both sluggers and that would look too interesting, so I had to be in reverse the whole time, I’m going backwards all the time, he is the aggressor. And eventually, I think you shot some documentary footage on, it is pretty interesting. I tell people, if you have a meager beginning, and it doesn't look like there is any promise to it, just every day gets a little bit better, and before you know it, you're ready to go. You don't have to start out in the penthouse, you can start out in the boiler room and get there, and this was as meager as can be. Also with the fight aspect of it, everyone has strong suits, Bob had a certain way in which he would throw his arms, his combinations, and so you cater to that, back and forth, move left to right, so there is a little bit of thought that goes into it, but the question that's most important here is, I realize it’s his movie, not my movie, and I had to be very sensitive to that, because it’s not my boxing film - my boxing film is more with nine cameras - he is telling a personal story, within a fight. I completely defer to the dramatic aspect of what he is trying to say rather than us just beating the hell out of each other, it was all story points. So, it’s definitely his vision.

Michael: So you’re saying it’s my fault? From day one, we leaned on him to lead us through the fight, and he brought Rob Stallion, who everyone has such a great experience with, and it was interesting because Pete have Sally play each of the guys, so we began in Beverly Hills with Rob playing De Niro and then we moved to New York for those portions of the training and Rob played Sly. So you can see the little documentary on the fight, the creation of the fight and it’s pretty fascinating stuff, because Pete had to keep it all together, but Sly was the guiding light through the whole fight, no doubt.

Alan, any training involved?

Alan Arkin: Did I need any training? Oh God I worked with a trainer for months. I got in it and I turned the thing and then went. I think I screwed up the first take and they made me do it again, once. Exciting stuff.

This movie is equal parts, dramatic content and comedy, were you torn in either direction on where to take the story?

Peter Segal: Well what attracted these guys to it was obviously we're winking at their iconography, and so I am always attracted to stories that straddle the line between comedy and drama. I knew that this was going to be a funny movie, but I also knew that the fight had to be taken really seriously for this thing to work, and there were really only two people that could do that. These two guys. So it was the good and the bad of getting this movie green lit. The good was that we knew who we needed in this movie, the bad was if we didn't get those guys, there would be no movie. And Bob had a little more experience winking at The Godfather with Analyze This, so I had to convince Sly that this was a way to do a really interesting story, without holding a gun and killing someone.

Bill Gerber: The script I handed Pete originally, that we had developed, had a lot more of those kind of jokes we talked about. To Pete's credit, he said to me, ‘Look, this could easily be grumpy old boxers, but I wanted to represent something else, something more meaningful, something more Gran Torino esque.’ And we started working with the script and got to that place where it wasn't just going for the "Viagra joke."

When you Google old men fighting, you get all kinds of results from football players to a head concussion conference. There’s obviously material for a sequel here, whether it’s boxers or football players. Any chance we might be treated to something like that?

Peter Segal: I think we thought about that question at the end of the movie. We actually shot three different endings because we didn't want to give it away in front of the 500 extras every day, so we shot one for one character won, one where the other won, and then one as a tie, and then in the tie there was then left the question, ‘Do we have a tie breaker?’ And then we all looked at each other and said, "Hell no, not happening.’ But I think there are always going to be stories about, ‘Do you have any gas left in the tank?’ You know there was that famous Youtube footage of Joe Cap, one of the actors in the original The Longest Yard, he was a pro football player, and they beat each other with their canes on a dais, and it just goes to show you that if you still think you have it, you going to just use it until you don't have anything left, I think there will always be stories like that."

For Mr. Stallone and Mr. De Niro, when you made Rocky and when you made the LaMotta film, if someone asked you then what you would be doing at 60-70 yrs old, what would your answer have been?

Sylvester Stallone: I would have punched him. I would have said, ‘Are you crazy?’ Because when we started out, I did Rocky I and thought that was it. I didn't know there would be a Rocky 90. It was one of those things that just kept going. So no, I did not think I would still be making fight movies at 60, 70 years old.

Robert De Niro: I didn't know. I didn't know if I'd even be around.

Mr. Stallone, you were inducted into the boxing hall of fame. What did that mean to you as an actor, as a person?

Sylvester Stallone: Well first off I was embarrassed by it because I wasn't even a fighter, but they looked at it by someone who helped promote boxing. So there I am with Mike Douglas, one of the toughest men I’ve ever seen, Mike Tyson and Cesar Chavez Jr. so it was just another validation that I was helping promote the sport. But I’ve always loved the sport, there's just something about it even when I was like seven or eight years old, I was fascinated with this idea of the two men showing their hearts and going for it.

Did you do any amateur boxing?

Sylvester Stallone: Yeah a little bit, and not well.

I’d like for you two to put on your critics’ hats and Mr. Stallone, what did you think of "Raging Bull," and Mr. De Niro, what did you think of "Rocky"?

Sylvester Stallone: I never saw his movie.

Robert De Niro: It’s alright, I’ve never saw his either.

Sylvester Stallone: Was it any good? At first, I thought "Raging Bull" was about home staying. No, no. It’s one of the most brilliant biographies of all times, just incredible. And it’s timeless, just a perfect, perfect performance. Now I know he’s not going to say that about me so just move on.

Robert De Niro: They’re two different styles of film. They were very well done and I was impressed with the ones that I saw with what Sylvester had done with them as a craftsman in all seriousness. And I thought that scene, and it was one of the Rocky’s with James Brown, that was great.

Sylvester Stallone: Oh yeah.

Robert De Niro: Yeah, I told you about that scene.


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