Sylvester Stallone's movie, "Samaritan," premieres Friday. Photo courtesy of Prime Video
NEW YORK, Aug. 25 (UPI) -- Rocky and Rambo icon Sylvester Stallone says his new movie, Samaritan, stands apart from other superhero action-thriller stories because it is grounded in reality.
"It's not like Rocky was a superhero. It's something that is identifiable and street-like. It's not set in some super-fantastic universe," the 76-year-old actor told reporters in a recent virtual press conference.
"It's set among brick and concrete and identifiable situations, the neighborhoods we live in, and that's what I liked about it."
Directed by Julius Avery and set to premiere on Prime Video on Friday, the film co-stars Javon "Wanna" Walton, Pilou Asbæk, Dascha Polanco and Moises Arias.
It follows 13-year-old Sam Cleary (Javon), who suspects his mysterious neighbor, Mr. Smith (Stallone), actually is the extraordinarily strong titular vigilante believed to have died in battle with a foe 25 years earlier.
Throughout the course of the movie, Sam tries to persuade the hero to get back to work and save their crime-ridden city.
"The tug of good and evil is something that is just eternal because it is the tug within us," Stallone said about what attracted him to the story.
"We could be the highest of angels and the lowest of devils, and it's all in the same body, if pushed into certain directions. It's like: 'How were you raised? What are your ethics? What sets you off and what breaks your heart?' It's this constant struggle."
Meeting Sam forces Smith to confront his past and awakens in him the desire to help others again.
"I looked at him as, 'Oh, God, this is the future.' But I don't know if I want to belong to the future, and this kid just is pulling me back and saying: 'Stop being a coward. Be who you are. Save me. Be my father,'" Stallone said.
"He fixes me, unbeknownst to me, but he just pulls me along, because I realize he's so vulnerable. And I go, 'My God, I've got to do something.'"
Stallone described Smith as a "modern-day Hercules" who tries to stay under the public's radar, working as a sanitation worker and repairing items he finds in the trash.
"Redemption's everything. Unfortunately, we only learn through stupid mistakes," he said, noting this story gives Smith the chance to right a wrong and own who he is.
"He said: 'OK, I made mistakes, but I won't again. Now I know and I'm going to do the right thing,' which, I think, is the ultimate fantasy."
Another theme in the film that people may connect to is isolation.
"That 'Ah, I know what it's like. I know what it's like to be lonely -- I know what it's like to have a heart broken.' Otherwise, if the hero doesn't give a damn, I don't give a damn about him," Stallone said.
"You need some sort of relatability, which means they're vulnerable. They're fragile at times."
Although he has been rich and famous for decades, the actor sought inspiration in his own modest roots and "boots-on-the-ground experience" to play Smith.
"I have been everything from a door man to a bartender to cutting fish, working in lions' cages to a movie usher where you're the third one who wears the same tuxedo," he said.
"You've got to be a little humble and eat a little humble pie to get through it all. But you learn, you really learn, and I think it just adds to the human experience."
Stallone, who also produced Samaritan, describes the film as a cautionary tale for people who dismiss someone they need to protect them before they are ready to fend for themselves.
"It's almost very reflective of what's going on," Stallone said, seeming to allude to the rise in real-life crime that some attribute to a more relaxed legal system that puts criminals back on the street before they are rehabilitated.
"Quite often, people go: 'You know what? We're basically good people who can take care of ourselves and let's be on the honor system,' and quite often it backfires," he said.
"And then you go, 'How do we get rid of all this violence?' In the movies, it's always this mythic character. But, in the end, I say to the people, 'You have to take care of yourself.' That's what it's all about."
Smith became a garbage man so he could disappear into a job and help people in a less ostentatious way.
"No one pays any attention to these people. Yet when you think about them, without them, we're in big trouble," he said. "So, there's all these metaphors in there.
Stallone confessed he likes acting more now than when he was in his 30s and thought he knew everything.
"You know nothing," he said of that age group. "The soft spot in a man's head doesn't get hard until about 41. You're still learning. You think you got it under control -- not quite."
However, Stallone also acknowledged that working with up-and-coming stars like Javon kept him on his toes and helped stave off what he calls "cranky old man syndrome."
Symbiotic relationships like these, he said, often result in an exchange of wisdom and energy that benefits both the artists and the projects they are working on.
"There's something so invigorating and infectious about this kid who's full of life and he just wants to explode and he wants you to help him, educate and take them on this journey," he said of Javon, whose credits include Euphoria and The Umbrella Academy. "In a sense, he's winding the clock back for me."
Stallone remembered meeting aging screen legends Robert Mitchum and John Wayne when he was starting out.
"It throws you off your game. You think you're ready, but you're not. So, I put myself in their position and I kept it light, like a child. I would joke, I did things, humor. So, he was completely relaxed," Stallone said of Javon.
"He's kind of a wise guy in a good way, and his father was there. So, we had this very comedic kind of light, one-up, big trash-talking kind of thing. When the camera rolls, he's right there. It isn't like, 'Oh, here's Mr. Stallone, I must not speak too loudly.'"
Stallone - who directed Paradise Alley, Rocky II, Rocky III, Rocky IV, Rocky Balboa, Rambo and The Expendables - said he was also happy to take a chance on a young filmmaker like Avery for Samaritan because of the enthusiasm he brought to the project.
"I've directed a few things myself and it's kind of like having your spleen pulled out through your nose with a tractor," Stallone joked.
"It's not fun. It's hard work. It's not glamorous. It's brutal. It takes a toll on your private life. Forget about sleeping. You answer 8,000 questions a day. It's tough and then you have post-production. So, you have no life."
Training for a physical role in his 70s wasn't quite as easy as it was in his heyday, the actor admitted.
"You can't do the 29-year-old Rambo kind of a thing, because you also have to honor who you are at your age," Stallone said.
"You're not who you were, but you're still there. Actually, there's a line in [the movie] where you start to fall apart when you stop caring about everything, meaning life, yourself, everything. So, I thought that this guy, his trait would be in his resolve," he said.
"He still has great physical power as opposed to speed and he's not jumping through the air. He's not that kind of guy. ... He's just a unique sort of superhero."