Sylvester Stallone has been so busy making franchise films in the “Rocky” “Rambo” and “The Expendables” series that it’s been several years since he starred in a movie that wasn’t a part of any of these series. “Bullet to the Head” is a throwback to violent action films that were popularized in the 1980s. So it’s fitting that the movie was directed by Walter Hill, who is best known for directing the Nick Nolte/Eddie Murphy films “48 Hrs." and "Another 48 Hrs."
“Bullet to the Head” is based on the graphic novel “Du Plomb Dans La Tête” by Matz. In the movie, Stallone plays James Bonomo also known as Jimmy Bobo, an ex-con who has become a hit man. When Jimmy’s assassin partner is murdered, he reluctantly joins forces with a straight-laced cop named Taylor Kwon (played by Sung Kang) to find the killer, a ruthless mercenary named Keegan, played by Jason Momoa. Stallone talked about his experience making “Bullet to the Head” in this interview that he did at the movie’s Los Angeles press junket.
You and “Bullet to the Head” director Walter Hill almost worked together years ago. What was it like to finally get a chance to work with him?
It was a relief. It was unexpected. I thought we were going to do “48 Hrs.” and other projects that I should’ve done but I didn’t. This film started to fall into the valley of trouble … started going down in flames. The other director just didn’t work out. Everything was becoming way too technical and visual. I wanted “old school.” I thought, “Walter Hill.” And they said, “No. He hasn’t worked in a while.” Either did I for 11 years, either did [John] Travolta. They guy is good.
We had the meeting, and it just brought out Walter’s chops again. And we had to do this on a tight budget. So I think what he got on film is very entertaining, kind of a retro flashback with modern-day technology. He got his wings back. It felt good.
What do you think of Walter Hill as a person?
He’s a raconteur. He loves to tell stories. He’s kind of a historian. There’s not many of them left. He’s got a photographic memory. And he’s probably the biggest fight fan, besides me. We’re just fanatical. And the only one who knows more about it is my brother, who’s just a complete historian. So it was good working with him [Walter Hill]. He’s extremely calm. I don’t have that gear. I don’t have the calm gear. He does. So working with him, I said, “Is it over? Are we finished? We’re wrapped? That’s it? We’re done with the movie?” Yeah, it was that kind of trip.
“Bullet to the Head” is based on the graphic novel “Du Plomb Dans La Tête” by Matz. Did you have a chance to read it before you started the movie?
No. I read once I got involved. I look exactly the way I did in “The Expendables,” with the goatee. So how do we go with this? The characters are interesting but they’re kind of like the new culture. So we went Asian. And Jason Momoa. And the girl Sarah [Shahi, who plays Lisa Bonomo, James’ Bonomo’s daughter] is actually very strong and actually has unlimited talent. So it was pretty good.
What did you think of your haircut in “Bullet to the Head”?
I liked it. I have to say it was a big leap of faith. They kept cutting lower and lower. It took about nine cuts. And finally, I walked out and went, “Damn. I don’t wake up with bed head anymore. This is nice. This works.”
What do you like most about the “Bullet to the Head” story?
I like the morality of it, that the guy still has an Achilles heel. He’s not flamboyant. He doesn’t have an unbelievable amount of skill. He’s not Rambo, but he’s sarcastic. “You can’t kill people like that.” “Sure I can.” It’s very, very dry humor, which I like.
I like the name Bobo, because it’s based on this Turkish taffy that we used to eat as a child, called Bonomo’s Turkish Taffy, which has now become extinct. And I went, “How strange is the mind to keep that stupid name in your brain for all those years, and it eventually comes out as a hit man, but it started out as Turkish taffy?”
How did you and Walter Hill decide to have the dry humor that Jimmy Bobo has?
A lot of people that know me, recognize me as that’s more of who I am. I just like to look at life sarcastically and cynically and just try to throw some humor in there without being boorish about it. He got it, because he has that sarcastic side too, Walter. So we just clicked on that.
How do you reconcile the fact that Jimmy Bobo is a killer but not necessarily a bad guy?
Who he kills. It’s that simple. If you just take out an anonymous person for a fee, you’re scum. You’re a real dirtbag, You’re the most vile human being going.
But if you’re taking out worse guys than you, in the movie lexicon, you are kind of a black knight taking on blacker knights. So that’s OK. That’s doable. So you might say that might be manipulating the morality, but it works.
What do you think of an assassin pairing up with a cop?
It’s kind of an idiotic, idealistic cop. It couldn’t more anti-buddy than if you had planned it any other way. When they brought in this guy, Jimmy would shoot him in the face in three seconds if he didn’t need him. And this guy would shoot me, just out of naïveté.
So it was a perfect kind of combination. At first, I thought, “This is never going to work. He’s so different than I am.” Then I go, “No, dummy, that’s what works.”
Jimmy Bobo makes a lot of politically incorrect comments in “Bullet to the Head.” Was that fun for you?
Totally fun. Everyone got a chance to say what they say, sometimes in jest in comedy, but now it’s become politically incorrect. In films, it’s a really good device to show how crude he is, but that’s his sense of humor. And sometimes, he’s not even trying to be funny. He’s trying to entertain himself, but he lives in that goombah, dark hit man world.
He goes, “Yeah, they’re all Orientals.” No, they’re Asians. We’ve all moved on. He would never think of the word “Asian.” Never.
There’s a big fight scene in “Bullet to the Head” where you and Jason Momoa use axes. How was it to work out that scene?
That was a tough thing to work out. It’s one thing to get in a fist fight, or fighting Steve Austin, and you get hurt a little bit. But when you add the element of an axe, an extended piece of wood, which is hard enough to knock the hell out of you, things happen. It’s three-and-a-half feet long, longer than your reach. The perception is always you’re out of movement, so you catch it on the forearm.
And the blade is made out of this very hard, kind of like carbon-type fiber, so it will split you open. But the wood, the oak? That is the bad part. That’s the part that every time you hit, the vibration goes threw your body and slides down through your hands. [Jason Momoa] got a lot of cuts on him, on his face, and so did I.
But when I walked onto the set, I was like, “Come on, Walter,” because it’s so over-the-top. But that provides an interesting visual, whereas normally if it was just a fist fight or shoot-out, you go, “Seen that. Been there.”
How’s your fitness regimen these days?
The regimen is starting to be activated again. I had a real, real serious setback in the past eight months. And it was a big injury I had on “The Tomb.” And now, I’m just starting to kick into gear again, which is great.
I’m starting a film called “The Grudge Match” for Warners. And I wanted to drop about eight pounds lighter, so it’s a whole different kind of working out, but I’m enjoying the process. But for certain kinds of characters, you have to avoid weights and work with different pieces of equipment for flexibility and movement.
As I get older, I don’t have to have the bigger muscles. I don’t need it anymore. It almost seems ludicrous, you’re walking around at 70 years old with 18-inch arms. It’s odd. But you can be really tight and toned, not excessively so.
Can you talk about filming “Bullet to the Head” in New Orleans? Some of your other recent movies have been filmed there too.
I tell you, I might as well buy a house there in New Orleans. It’s amazing. New Orleans is providing the ability to make many films that wouldn’t have a chance otherwise because of costs. So, in a sense, it’s a god-movie-send.
For more info: “Bullet to the Head” website