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Sly Director Reveals How Sylvester Stallone Used Movies Like Rocky To Process Childhood Trauma

Sylvester Stallone as Rocky in the original movie.

Sylvester Stallone joined the growing list of celebrities releasing intimate documentaries about the highlights and lowlights of their life through his Netflix documentary Sly. Given Stallone's pedigree as a top-notch action hero, the Hollywood star was surprisingly candid about not only his career but also his past. Now, the documentary’s director has revealed how the Samaritan star used projects like the Rocky franchise to process his childhood trauma.

Sly director Thom Zimny opened up to Variety about the process of filming a vulnerable Stallone for the doc on Netflix's 2023 movie schedule. Zimny admitted that filming wasn’t the typical celeb-controlled shoot as the action movie icon gave “a confessional conversation about who he really was.” He tried “chasing after a narrative that was unfolding” in front of him. Of course, this meant diving into the physical and emotional abuse he suffered from his father Frank Stallone Sr. This little-known trauma led to the documentary filmmaker being questioned about focusing on the actor's career as well as his past trauma. Much like the viewers, the director was taken aback by how influential Stallone’s traumatic childhood was to his decades-long acting career. He said:

One of the biggest discoveries I had in my conversations with Sly was when he was revealing moments of details of his childhood and some of the trauma and experiences he had with his father. He never gave the impression that it defined him. He would discuss how he used it in his art again and again. In many ways, the guiding force of the edit was to look at his stories from his life and then to go back and look at the films through that POV.

Every artist draws influence from their life in some way, and Stallone was no different. In the documentary, the Oscar winner delved into several situations involving moments of jealousy from the elder Stallone. Their tumultuous relationship influenced his most iconic movies to varying degrees. Doing so helped the younger Stallone become one of Hollywood’s most successful actor-screenwriters. Zimny recalled how he connected Rocky Balboa’s background to that of the Rambo star as the latter spoke about his Hollywood breakthrough, saying:   

Oh, okay. So Rocky goes beyond just a film about a fighter. It’s a man finding a place in the world. Well, what does that mean when you think of Sylvester Sloan’s childhood? He was rejected, like this fighter. Sly didn’t have a close relationship with his father. What does he do with his pen? He creates a character called Mickey, who believes in him and gives him the chance. Sly, again and again, demonstrated to me that he was processing and at times overcoming or giving a sense of coming to terms with some of the difficulties of his life through writing. Through creating these stories.

Screenwriting served as an outlet for the Hollywood star to process his difficult relationship with his father whether it was a conscious effort or not. In Stallone’s writing, he crafted a more idealized father figure in Mickey. The longstanding boxing franchise served as an alternative whereas another iconic role – John Rambo – drew from the darker aspects. There are scenes from the action thriller franchise that channel the younger Stallone’s unspoken frustration and anger from his childhood.

Of course, the Stallone mens' troubled relationship wasn’t the only one dealt with over the years. Arnold Schwarzenegger opened up about his long-running feud with Sylvester Stallone. He recalled how out of control the competition got as they tried derailing each other’s careers. Fortunately, the rivalry calmed down after the two action icons invested in the restaurant franchise Planet Hollywood. Overall, it seems like Sly has done a lot of work to process and reflect on some of his harder and more tense moments in life.

You can learn more nuggets by watching Sly through a Netflix subscription. After watching the critical-acclaimed eye-opening documentary, stream some of the best Sylvester Stallone movies.

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