Sylvester Stallone's "Tulsa King" premieres Sunday. Photo courtesy of Paramount+
NEW YORK, Nov. 11 (UPI) -- Screen legend Sylvester Stallone says it didn't take long for him to decide he should star in Tulsa King, a new crime drama from Yellowstone creator Taylor Sheridan and Sopranos writer-producer Terence Winter.
"It took two seconds, maybe three. Gangster goes west. I'm in! Done. Thank you!" the 76-year-old actor told UPI in a Zoom interview Thursday.
Going into the show, which premieres Sunday on Paramount+, Stallone said he was a fan of both The Sopranos and Yellowstone.
"Sopranos is the perfect [instance of] man meeting material. James Gandolfini was born to play that. It was flawless. No one in the world could do it better. Every now and then you see that. You go, 'I will never buy another actor in that role.'
"His son? It's just not going to work," he said, referring to how Michael Gandolfini played his late dad's mob boss character Tony Soprano in the 2021 Sopranos prequel, Many Saints of Brooklyn.
"Yellowstone, I can't identify as much because I am an East Coast guy, but I can understand the family dynamics because my family is pretty irregular, a little bit. Between the two, I thought, 'Brilliant.' And when they finally put the two together, here we have Tulsa King."
Stallone's first major dramatic TV role is as Dwight "The General" Manfredi. a New York mafia capo looking to resume his criminal career after serving 25 years in prison, but surprised to find the mob family he always tried to protect shipping him out to Oklahoma to see what he can establish and earn there.
Stallone said he was happy to have 10 hour-long episodes in which to introduce Dwight to viewers.
"You can show a lot more of the underbelly, the weaker parts, the odd parts that people can relate to. If you just have 90 minutes, you can just tell the gangster story," he said.
"But, when you have this much time, you show the frailties. You'll see as the show progresses, you'll go, 'Ah, he's not that different.' He may have a different occupation, but he has the same insecurities, the same optimism and pessimism that we all have."
Dwight doesn't waste his time behind bars. He does what he can to stay in shape and keep his mind sharp.
"He had incredible discipline and finally took the opportunity, instead of being bitter, to educate himself," Stallone said.
"He's reading Marcus Aurelius, he's reading Vera, Plato. He's very well-versed in philosophy and tactics, The Art of War, Machiavelli. Everything. When he comes out, he doesn't see himself like 'those guys.'"
Stallone pointed to an early scene in which Dwight reunites with his fellow gangsters and is disappointed by how they are running operations in 2022.
"He says, 'I gave up everything for this and then you banish me like Napolean to Elba?'" Stallone said. "That's when he realizes he needs all that intelligence, not to be threatening, he needs to embrace this new culture and get [people] to work with him."
Dwight is something of a man out of time when he lands in Tulsa, having to figure out the Internet, cellphones, debit cards, apps and even laws regarding the legalization of drugs.
"He lives in the past. He even says: 'It's a little late in life to change my occupation. What else am I going to do? I'm pretty good at what I do,'" Stallone said. "The audience is always amused that he's just not with it. He's like your crazy grandfather."
Other gangsters call him "The General" because he is a tactician. The first thing he does when he lands in Tulsa is shake down the owner of a lucrative marijuana dispensary and then try to assemble a crew from among the locals.
"He's like: 'This one here has a weed store. This one has a bar. I can put those two together and that's how I launder money.' Eventually, I'm going to take over the bank," Stallone said. "He just keeps gathering this family of outsiders and ne'er-do-wells, but together they form a great team."
Father-child relationships is a strong theme in Tulsa King.
Dwight is estranged from his adult daughter and speaks of being ashamed of his Italian immigrant barber father, while Tyson (Will) and Mitch (Hedlund), two of the young men he befriends, have close bonds with their own dads.
"We deal with regrets later on a lot," Stallone said.
"We are so vulnerable and formed at a very early stage. That stays with us. If we don't get an appropriate amount of love by the time we are 4 or 5, that is a void we never quite fill it.
"I know that's why the majority of actors act -- to get the love, the love of strangers. They constantly need validation. I don't care what they say. Most of them had screwed up childhoods. That's what makes them so interesting in a way."
Tulsa King co-stars Andrea Savage, Martin Starr, Jay Will, Max Casella, Domenick Lombardozzi, Vincent Piazza, A.C. Peterson and Dana Delany.