Gunnar Peterson says it feels like he's been training Sylvester Stallone “from time immemorial.” Movie lovers may feel that they have known the actor for equally long. His two iconic characters, Rocky Balboa and John Rambo, have personified Underdog and The Outsider for decades. And now, Rambo is doing what seems to be his final stand in Rambo: Last Blood, hitting theaters on September 20.
To hear this from Peterson, Stallone's greatest character is himself.
"Hands down, Sly is the most interesting person I've ever met," says a Beverly Hills star trainer, talking on the phone during the afternoon break after training with the Los Angeles Lakers. Peterson says that if you expect a rough monosyllabic balboa when you meet Stallone, you will be surprised. "He is ridiculously smart and an incredible vocabulary."
Stallone is the only person besides Orson Welles and Charlie Chaplin who won the Academy Award nominations for Best Original Screenplay and Best Actor in the same film.
However, one feature that Stallone shares with his characters on the screen is the enormous physicality forged over the decades when you hit it and hit it hard. Curious how the 73-year-old boy is preparing to portray John Rambo in his last incarnation, I interviewed Peterson to get his ideas.
When I was preparing for earlier films about Rambo, Sly's goal was to be as exhausted as possible, I suppose. Was this time different?
With training, when people do not have a deadline or event for which they can train, they must create their own goals. I do it for myself. For six decades, Tricky constantly shook carrots in front of him, whether for creating a new character or returning an old character. Remember how many franchises this person had – not to mention those that were supposed to be franchises, but for some reason did not turn into one.
He returns the cult character here, so should he be such a departure from the original? Did this character go through something that made him completely change, and that would change his appearance? How does he move? Or did he just keep getting better? If you watch the Rocky series, it gets better and better until it peaks in IV (1985). This changes in V (1990). In Rocky Balboa (2006), to which I trained him, he brought another character. He was supposed to be 57 years old in this film, and he wanted to be thicker, denser and with more mature muscles. He wanted to inflict “injury with a blunt object” – such is the quote from the film. He wanted to be so strong that when Rocky hit his opponent, it just destroyed him.
If you watch Rambo films, he looked like a model for the cover of First Blood (1982). Not to mention agility, mobility, how he could move in his environment in the forest, in the mine – all this. Everyone wanted to be this guy. That is why Rambo is not only a proper noun, but also has become a verb.
Did Sly come to you this time with a vision of John Rambo and how did he feel that he needed to train to achieve this?
Since I am currently working with the Lakers, I am not there in the morning when Sly is training. Therefore, he recently trained at my facility with Brad Siskind. Brad and Sly always have a vision. There are some things he wants to promote – he wants to make sure that he can still move and be agile enough for you to remember the military history of John Rambo. This guy is a serious soldier, so you must support this.
But at the same time, I would suggest that John Rambo does not approach training in terms of vanity. He trains for work and strength out of necessity. So, there will be training in capturing and raising many different objects, whether it’s cars, stones or logs. This will include the power of the upper back, the power of the trap – all those things that are the signatures of the characters of Sly for almost everything except the Police Officers (1997) and Spy Kids 3-D (2003).
How much has his training changed because he is now over 70?
It’s all the same in that it’s the basics. These are airplanes of movement. This movement, and it works around, never injuring. And some of these injuries occurred many years ago. You can imagine a guy who shoots so many fighting scenes and action films, is surrounded by so many explosions, so many cars, motorcycles and horses. With some of these injuries you get better enough to complete the film, but then this area becomes a nagging.
He likes to say: “At some point, the time for verification comes”, which applies equally to karma and injuries.
An obvious connection connects Trick and boxing. Is this still part of his training?
I do not box with him. Over the years, I have worked with a number of elite boxers, from Mike Tyson to Antonio Tarver, but I did my best and their preparation. So if I pulled out gloves for Sly, it would be insulting to him. When the time has come for this type of film, he definitely goes for this type of training. It is no coincidence that he is the same adept in the ring as he is.
What can you tell me about his current approach to nutrition?
I do not directly participate in his diet, but Sly is quite intuitive in this, and he knows what he is doing. But he also indulges when he wants. He is not a monk. If he is going to cheat, he is going to cheat. You can count on it.
I would think that his recovery should be more extensive and important than, say, 20 years ago. Are you talking about this, or is he after training?
He is on his own. I know he understands the importance of sleep. He also has other activities that relax him. Obviously, he is a writer, and who knows whether it relaxes or causes stress, given that he is such a perfectionist and has to come up with so many scripts, he may have to write five different endings for the film. He is also an experienced artist who has had exhibitions in Europe and Russia. I have one of his paintings hanging in my living room.
In my experience, such things are very important in terms of recovery. He is also a family man who is very involved in the lives of his children.
How excited is Sly about Last Blood? This should be an important film for him, bringing closure to the cult character.
A couple of years ago, he told me that when he reads scripts or writes a script or considers the possibility of doing something now, he looks at it like: “Can I devote a year to my life? my life to this? Because he is so invested in projects. Not only in his character, but in the whole process.
This is a guy who writes and transcribes, and even if he does not direct, he will definitely take this aspect into account. And as a director, would you not want that? The guy has so much experience. I would say: "Everything that you think, I want to hear."
Not only that, he goes to editing. He goes to music. He is involved in all of this. I would not say that it absorbs it, because it means a lack of balance – and it is definitely balanced – but it embodies the entire project.
The fact that this is called "Last Blood" is such a wonderful name. This is very well thought out. It's great. I would not expect anything less from Tricky.
Sly Stallone Training Example
Warm up: 2 minutes at the Synergy Air Power Tower, emphasizing the multidirectional mobility of the shoulders.