LOS ANGELES- Sept. 18 (UPI) -- Rambo is one of two characters with whom Sylvester Stallone is most identified. His Rocky Balboa gained new life as a mentor in the Creed films. Now he's brought Vietnam War veteran John Rambo back for one last mission in Rambo: Last Blood, in theaters Friday.
In First Blood, based on the novel by David Morrell, John Rambo (Stallone) was having trouble adjusting to life in peacetime. There have been three more American wars since Vietnam, and more military veterans coming home with post-traumatic stress disorder and other issues. Stallone is just happy that society addresses veterans' issues more than in the past.
"Back then, it wasn't really taken seriously," Stallone said at a press conference in Los Angeles. "Can you imagine what it was like in World War I when nobody even thought about what these guys went through? I think the fact that it's forefront right now in the news, that Rambo is representing the younger soldier."
At the end of 2008's Rambo, Rambo left the jungle of Burma and finally came home to his father's farm. Last Blood picks up over 10 years later. Rambo is tending to the family farm with Gabrielle (Yvette Monreal), who calls him Uncle John. Gabrielle's grandmother, Maria (Adriana Barraza), is a ranch hand on the Rambo family farm and took Gabrielle in when her mother died of cancer, according to Rambo's distributor Lionsgate. Gabrielle's father abandoned her after his wife's death.
"This is the first time he's ever opened up," Stallone said. "This is the first time he's actually hinted at love. It kills him. He doesn't have a pet. It's just that he can't focus on anything other than himself. He's just so withdrawn that he cannot even give affection to a cat. So this is why it's so profound [that he has a surrogate family]."
Rambo's lack of a family goes back to his Vietnam history, as it took him some 30 years to even return to his home, preferring the solitude of war zones.
"I always thought of Rambo when he was 16 and 17," Stallone said. "I hope someday they can do the prequel. He was the best person you could find. He was the captain of the team. He was the most popular kid in school, super athlete. He was like Jim Thorpe. The war is what changed him. If you saw him before, he was like the perfect guy."
Stallone suggested that such overachievers have trouble focusing on their personal lives.
"I've met these men," Stallone said. "They cannot even take care of themselves, so therefore they can't take care of anything else. So that's bothered him. This is, to me, between this one and the first one, is the most profound because this is as close as he's ever going to get to understanding what it's like to be human, to really live for someone else, for love, to actually love."
Gabrielle goes looking for her biological father in Mexico and doesn't come home. That's when Rambo unleashes the killing machine.
"Now you're dealing with pure feral primitive rage, and that's the last thing he ever wanted," Stallone said. "He just wanted love. So this is really an important film for me and for a character who's literally gone four decades. It's pretty remarkable."
Focusing on family
In a crisis, Rambo knows what to do. It's in real life, when Gabrielle was just getting ready to go off to college, that Rambo was out of his element.
"I think it's a dilemma that every parent goes through," Stallone said. "He's never had a nest, much less an empty one. I don't know what your opinion is of the real world, but it's rough, and the last thing you want your kids to do is leave, because you think they don't quite get it. You're like, 'You don't understand, it's dangerous out there.'"
Rambo's life lessons for Gabrielle come from his heart. Stallone co-wrote the screenplay with Matthew Cirulnick and included his own philosophy. Stallone has three daughters with Jennifer Flavin, including model/actress Sistine Stallone, as well as Scarlet and Sophia Stallone.
"That's why he says to her, 'I can understand how black a man's heart can be because I've killed many. I know them. I've been there. I know how dangerous people are,'" Stallone said.
"I truly feel, when I write that stuff, that's very biographical. I believe every word of it and so you can imagine me and my girls, you're not going anywhere unless you've got a Lojack here, a rope around your waist, 30 bodyguards, a floodlight."
Now 73, Stallone still does a lot of the stunts in Rambo: Last Blood. He joked about the injuries he's suffered in this film, and during his whole career.
"When you're dealing with situations like that, a lot of people accidentally get hurt," Stallone said. "Usually, it's me because the other guy's being smart. But things will come down, a beam will hit you or a flash will come very close and burn you. I've had 'em all. Someday, I'm going to have a wing over at Cedars-Sinai, the Rambo Wing for people who have no hope. Bring what's left of your body here, that kind of a thing. That's my wing."
For Rambo: Last Blood, Stallone turned over directing duties to Adrian Grunberg. Stallone said a scheduling conflict prohibited him from directing Last Blood, but also reflected how difficult it can be to keep in Rambo shape while directing a film.
"I don't recommend anyone do that," Stallone said. "When you're directing an action film or a boxing film, the calorie consumption on me is so low that it's hard to just keep upright sometimes. It really is. I don't recommend it. It looks good, feels bad."