The Story Behind Rocky

Next: A Fight, A Dream, A Script


Next: Rocky Takes Shape


Next: First Break


Next: Getting It Made


5. Getting It Made

"We didn't have the money to shoot a normal film," says Stallone. So we would travel in a van and I would jump out of the van and just shoot stuff.

"We were working with Garrett Brown, who had invented the Steadicam and it was still somewhat experimental. He and Jon would film me running all over the city until my legs gave out and I was writhing on the ground, saying, 'Jon, I'm dying here!' And he'd say, 'Use the pain!' 'For WHAT?' ' It's giving your character some depth.' 'It's giving me bruises and I can't sleep at night!'

"Jon would use the environment - like the scene where I'm running beside the ship along the dock was just literally something he spotted and had be run alongside. I was so tired, I was about ready to collapse and I feared my face would hit the ground!

"People had no idea who I was. I was this strange alien invader running in a tattered, incredibly ugly grey sweat suit. I thought people were trying to hit me with stuff!"

Committed to living his dream role, however, Stallone endured.

"There were so many injuries. Running up and down the steps gave me a wicked case of shin splints, which was an old football injury from high school.

"As for hitting the meat, which we thought would be an interesting image, it's not easy. My knuckles were flattened out and became like a table leg. They rarely function as a hand anymore! I had to take all the injuries and use them for the character."

Another feature of the stripped-down budget was the lack of money to fund a big supporting cast. "I tried to get as much help as possible from friends, my brother is a street-corner singer, my dad is a bell ringer, even my dog is in it.

"Even my first wife was set photographer and though she only had the budget for about 100 pictures, they're some of the best set photographs I've ever had, because they were all great."

Above all, Rocky needed an Adrian. The love of his life, the woman whose love helps keep him going. And even that casting choice was a tough, last-minute affair.

"Talia Shire was a late choice because we just couldn't find the right person and then she came in and it was the same night as Carl Weathers.

"We just read and I felt the Earth move and I felt a tremendous kinship and vitality. I loved her - the way she looked, the way her hair fell, this timid, fragile character with the perfect voice.

"My favorite scene to shoot with her was the ice-skating moment, because that has a story behind it. Originally, it was planned as this big scene with 300 extras.

"When I turned up, they said, 'We have a slight change in plans. We have one extra.' 'I said, well, I have an interesting thing to tell you: I don't ice skate. I don't know why I wrote that scene!'

"So there we are in an empty arena and I'm running alongside her because I can't skate at all and she said she did, but if you look at it, she's only just holding on. And Rocky looks like such a fool and she doesn't care. These two people are two halves that really need to fit together.

"I started to realise that this is the key to the film. The heartbeat."

For the moment where the two first kiss, reality initially got in the way of romance, but actually helped make it work better. Shire had contracted the flu and was worried about getting Sly sick, so she was very hesitant to kiss him.

Her hesitation and behavior was actually such an improvement over the scripted scene that they decided to keep it. Indeed, this scene has become Stallone's favorite scene in the entire Rocky saga, and both he and Shire see the scene as a 'birth-scene' for Adrian, where she is awakened to a new life.

Next: A Worthy Opponent


Next: Knockout Success


7. Knockout Success

Given all the challenges that had been shoved in the film's way so far, even Stallone, the one who had believed in in all the way through, couldn't have predicted what it would become.

"I had no idea it was ever going to have this sort of response. I just thought it was some nice footage. So when the screenings around Hollywood were getting this incredible response, with people responding to the fights as though they were happening at the time, I realised people were invested in this character.

"I began to get phone calls from powerful people around town and I thought, 'wow, this could actually be a hit. This could actually work.' I had no true confidence in it, because I had no film history, no film knowledge, I was working from instinct.

"Finally, it was being shown at the Director's Guild, and that was going to be the big test. 900 people or so had been invited, it was a packed crowd. And the movie was playing terribly.

"My mother was sitting next to me and the laughs weren't coming where they were supposed to be and the fights seemed listless. I sat there as everyone filed out of the theatre and I couldn't believe it.

"I said, 'Ma, it was nice while it lasted, but I guess when you show it to the big boys, they just don't buy it.' There was no one left in the cinema and even when I walked out and was going down the steps. By the time I got to the third flight, the entire audience was down there.

"They started to applaud. Really applaud. And I turned to my mother and said, 'How could you doubt me, mom? I'm shocked!' I just completely came apart. There will never be a moment like that again. I figured I'd go home, take my dog and try to eke out a living.

"It's been all downhill since!"

Not quite… The movie would go on to become the first sports-themed film to scoop Best Picture, with Avildsen winning Best Director and Richard Halsey and Scott Conrad taking Best Film Editing.

And that wasn't all - Rocky also got nominated for a couple of Best Supporting Actor gongs (Burgess Meredith and Burt Young), Best Actor/Best Screenplay for Stallone and Best Actress for Talia Shire.

Box office-wise, the film was a huge hit, earning more than $220 million around the world and more now that it has been on video and DVD for years.

Success spawns one thing in Hollywood, of course… Sequels.

Next: Rocky's Next Bouts


Next: Balboa And The Future…


Rocky: The Undisputed Collection is out now on Blu-ray.

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Freelance Journalist

James White is a freelance journalist who has been covering film and TV for over two decades. In that time, James has written for a wide variety of publications including Total Film and SFX. He has also worked for BAFTA and on ODEON's in-cinema magazine.