How the director of the new Netflix documentary 'Sly' was able to examine Sylvester Stallone as the man, not the myth or the legend

How the director of the new Netflix documentary 'Sly' was able to examine Sylvester Stallone as the man, not the myth or the legend
  • "Sly" director Thom Zimny told Insider how he got Sylvester Stallone to open up about his life.

  • Zimny was able to get Stallone to talk about his troubled relationship with his father.

  • The director said the trick was to ignore the trappings that lead to short soundbite responses.

Many people will hear the name "Sylvester Stallone" and think of either of the two franchises that catapulted him into an overnight success.

So when it came time to make a documentary about the"Rocky" and "Rambo" star, filmmaker Thom Zimny figured there was no use chronicling the story even the most casual of fans will already recognize. Instead, he made "Sly."

The 90-minute Netflix documentary spends less time running through Stallone's filmography in favor of spending more time on the man whose endless energy and storytelling abilities led to the creation of some of the most iconic characters ever brought to the big screen.

Zimny decided this was how he wanted to tell Stallone's story after meeting him for the very first time.

"Sly was standing right across from me, we didn't sit down, and he was talking, and he was going from one subject to another and I knew that the film would have to have that kind of energy," Zimny told Insider in a recent interview. "I had to keep him in a space that he would wander around, be spontaneous. That's what ended up happening."

Sylvester Stallone holding a camera
Sylvester Stallone on set of the "Rocky" franchise.Netflix

"Sly" features tons of rarely seen archival footage, but the majority of the documentary is set inside of the actor's home, which is its own form of archive of his past. Scattered around Stallone's house, you'll find Rocky Balboa statues, old props, and even giant life-size busts of Stallone as his famous characters, including Rocky, Rambo, and Barney Ross from "The Expendables."

With that foundation, Zimny let Stallone run wild — literally, the man rarely sits the entire movie — so he could speak candidly about the making of his biggest movies and share little-known, behind-the-scenes stories that show how his work goes much deeper than explosions and big box-office dollars.

In one major revelation, Stallone discusses the troubled relationship he had with his father and how it influenced his work. He described his dad as someone who was "physical," or "Rambo in reality," which meant he and his brother Frank dealt with a lot of pain when they were kids.

"I knew right away that that was going to be my doorway into understanding who the man was," Zimny said.

Through the documentary, viewers learn that both the intimidating one-man war machine John Rambo and the constantly moving Rocky were each influenced by Stallone's dad's personality and mannerisms. From there, we get one of the documentary's most surprising moments: Never-before-seen archival footage shows Stallone's father knocking him off his horse during a heated polo match.

Before Stallone aspired to become an actor, he hoped to be a polo player. He was always around horses during childhood because his dad, also a polo enthusiast, owned a few of them. So when he grew up and became successful, he devised a polo match, inviting top players and his dad to play in it.

Sylvester Stallone sitting down
Sylvester Stallone in "Sly."Netflix

During the heated contest, Stallone's father plowed his horse into his son. Stallone crashed into the ground, injuring his back, he said.

"Sly mentioned a polo match in which he said he fell down and got injured and hurt his back," Zimny said. "Then at the end, he referenced that it was his father who caused it. I remembered that and went to 'Tulsa King' on set and was talking to him and brought it up again and said, 'I'm haunted by this idea, what was this about?'"

"He unpacked it and told me that story again and he mentioned that there were TV crews there," he continued, explaining that they found out "Entertainment Tonight" had unseen recordings from the match. "Sly had never seen that footage before. So it was one of those great discoveries."

The polo footage was just one way Zimny took care to present photos and videos about Stallone that his fans haven't already seen a million times over the years.

"I would work on the choices of photos and images very carefully because at any moment you could take someone out of the world," Zimny explained. "If you show Sly from a studio movie and it looks like a glossy photo and you just cut to it to demonstrate an idea, you can take the viewer out of that dream space because of the emotional disconnect; you are putting him into icon mode when you need to keep him in a space of being vulnerable."

Having previously worked on movies about Bruce Springsteen, Johnny Cash, and Willie Nelson, Zimny is no stranger to documenting a legend. He said the best way to find the personal truth of someone larger than life is to ignore the trappings that lead to short soundbite responses. What he's looking for, he said, is "confession."

Sylvester Stallone and Thom Zimny in black suits
Sylvester Stallone and "Sly" director Thom Zimny at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival.Ryan Emberley/Getty

"It's not treating celebrity as a blessing that you chase. Instead, how did it hold back the work? How did it challenge the work?" Zimny said. "If you look at Sly as a Renaissance man and as an artist, then you can leave behind the iconic figure that you grew up with. If you stand in his room and it's covered with memorabilia and you see a dozen notebooks on 'Rocky,' and focus on that, the work, the craft, then you get to a space where you're talking to him as an artist."

Committing to that mindset helped Zimny deliver a fast-paced, inside look at the actor beyond his celebrity status, bulging muscles, and action-star mystique.

"I hope a viewer can step into Sly's world, see a sense of himself, feel the inspiration of his characters and his movies, and also feel they could revisit that body of work with a new understanding," Zimny said of his hopes for what people get out of the documentary.

"It doesn't matter if you're a casual fan or an überfan, the film leaves you wanting to go back to his work and also reexamine some of it to get closer to the man himself."

"Sly" is now streaming on Netflix.


Read the original article on Insider