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Interview: Frank Stallone on His New Documentary, Oscar Snub for the ‘Staying Alive’ Song, and Persevering in Hollywood

For nearly his entire career, Frank Stallone has nearly always been known as one thing: Rocky’s brother. 

However, a brand new documentary seeks to uncover why one of the “least known famous faces in Hollywood” – with his multi talented range in music, acting, and boxing – never seemed to climb to the top of the mountain peak in reaching ultimate Hollywood stardom. From his breakout song Take You Back in Rocky, Golden Globe- and Grammy-nominated song Far From Over in Staying Alive, famous boxing match with Geraldo Rivera, and expansive acting portfolio including Tombstone and cult hit Barfly, “Stallone: Frank That Is” goes behind the scenes of Hollywood’s elite told my Frank and those who knew him best including brother Sylvester Stallone, mother Jackie Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Talia Shire, Joe Mantenga, Burt Young, Billy Zane, Danny Aiello, and many more.

In his exclusive interview with Awards Radar, Frank chats about how the idea for this documentary came to be, why he never reached ultimate Hollywood success, and rails against his Oscar snub for the song Far From Over while connecting it to his own brother’s surprise loss for best supporting actor in Creed in 2016.

Awards Radar: Frank, thanks so much for chatting with me today about your new documentary titled “Stallone: Frank That Is”. This is an insider look at your upbringing, musical endeavors, and acting career with all the ups and downs that came with it over the last several decades. The film really provides us as the viewers the ability to see you step out of your brother Sylvester’s shadow and understand who you are as a songwriter, entertainer, and actor. I know the director, Derek Wayne Johnson, had this idea for the documentary. When did he approach you and what was the pitch like when he did? When did filming begin and when did you finish?

Frank Stallone: Well, it’s pretty simple, he said that they’d like to do a documentary about me. And I was kind of taken aback a little bit because, you know, it’s not like everyday someone offers to do a documentary about you. So I was flattered, and taken aback at the same time, then confusion. Now what? You know, and so he kind of knew what he wanted. And the only thing I suggested is that we get people from the beginning of my career in it because you always have to start somewhere, and I believe that that tells the story. It’s not like just someone appears out of nowhere. It’s a long, arduous process to get wherever you’re going to get. So it took a long time, took almost two and a half, three years. Like 2018. But then it didn’t get rolling until a little sooner after that. But I mean, for sometimes, I was like “guys, is this ever gonna happen?” and they diligently worked at it. And here we are and here we are today.

I know that Derek isn’t new to working with a Stallone, having directed a documentary on the life of Rocky director John G. Avildsen and, most recently, worked with your brother on a documentary to commemorate 40 years of Rocky. When did he enter the Stallone orbit to begin making all these movies?

Yeah, that was all before he met me. Yeah, that was before he met me, he had already done the movie with John G. Avildsen, king of the underdogs. He’d already done that before I met him. So I just happened to meet him at a function at a party. And that’s and we took it from there. I met him at a party and I didn’t know anything about him. Then he mentioned they just did this thing with my brother and all that. And I was there. So he showed it to me and I thought it was excellent. I thought it was really well done. Really well done. And sometime down the road, they approached me. And then the rest is history. But yeah, he’s a good filmmaker. He knows what he wants and he strives very hard to get what he wants. And I thought he did a really good job. I’m very proud of it.

I know that you initially gave him a list of people that were significant in your life and career to include in the documentary. How did that work? Also, you later became a producer on the film. What added responsibility did you have for the film when you took on that role?

They’re all my list. And that’s all my guys, that’s all my list. You know, I’ve been in the business a long time, so, you know, you accrue a lot of friendships over the many years and that’s what happened. I have known these guys for a long time, and I was kind of jazzed about doing it. Then I started to get a little jazzed about it. At first I was kind of like, well, I don’t know, maybe. And then I got really jazzed about doing it. If I do it, let’s do it right. And that’s what we did. And we went out and we found all these different artists from all walks of life and different genres and came together. We have everything from actors to Hells Angels. I wasn’t an immediate producer on the movie. That came later, that was after the movie was done. So in other words, so maybe what might people think is that since I’m a producer, it was my idea. Furthest thing from the true truth. I mean, David and I didn’t become producers until after it was done. Movie was finished already. And they bumped us up to producers because we contributed a lot to it, I mean, all the people in the movie and the financing and stuff like that, David brought in a lot of the finance. So it seemed like it was logical.

One thing that really struck me in the movie was when you talked about how shocked you were that you didn’t get at the Oscars in 1984 for your song Far From Over from the movie Staying Alive. You said in the movie how it was due “insider Hollywood B.S.”. Could you go a little deeper there? Was it political?

Oh, of course. Well, I don’t know if it’s political; it’s Hollywood politics. I mean, there’s so many great people that have never been nominated or have not won. I mean, like Peter O’Toole is nominated like nine or 11 times, one of the finest actors we ever had. And, you know, and I must say myself, I wasn’t expecting to win the Oscar, but I thought it would’ve been great to be nominated because it would’ve been two brothers, one nominated for film, the other for music. And that’s what I was thinking. I always thought, and I was wrong, I thought Maniac was going to win. Not “What a Feeling” from Flashdance. But the thing is, with the Barbra Streisand song, it didn’t even chart. I mean, and I’m a fan of Barbra Streisand, don’t get me wrong. I mean, I’m a fan of her music but, like, fair’s fair. I mean, come on. I mean, you have one song, the number one record, another song that’s like 90 with an anchor, you know, that never even charted in a movie that kind of didn’t do anything. And I figured, you know what? I was a little bug because I said, listen, she’s had a great, great career. This is something I waited for for twenty something years at that point. And so I was a little bugged by it because I just, I can take a loss if it’s fair and square, I can take a loss. I can do that. I can accept that, being a boxer, and having so many ups and downs in my life, I can totally take a hit. I’m not worried about it. I just thought it was unfair. The song. I mean, she got nominated. It’s not that one song she got nominated for two songs. One that was more obscure, the one that knocked me out was somewhat more obscure than the original one, so that that’s. Yeah, like no one went to see it.

Do you see any connection between your Oscar nomination snub in 1984 and your brother Sylvester’s surprise loss for best supporting actor in 2016 for Creed? I really felt like there was a connection between those two moments. It seems like it was just a stunning rebuke of just the Stallone brothers in those two moments, and that it sort of came full circle what we saw a few years ago. What do you think?

Yes, I got totally criticized and I was really pissed. My brother lost because everyone thought he was going to win. I mean, everybody, even the guys that he was up against thought he was going to win it. And they were kind of happy in a way, because, you know, they all grew up watching his movies. He’d been around for all those years. And, you know, he created a big industry and lost to a guy [Mark Rylance] that was in a movie that no one saw. And his screen time was like nine or ten minutes. Yeah. I mean, but that’s politics. Who’s the most powerful guy in Hollywood? Steven Spielberg. Who was the director? Steven Spielberg. It’s just the way it goes, you know. And the same thing happened when we did Rocky. Same thing. He should have won the Oscar. If Peter Finch wouldn’t have died, he would’ve won the Oscar. But Hollywood is weird that way. You know, you give Paul Newman an Oscar for one of his worst movies, Color of Money. I mean, John Wayne gets the Oscar for not one of his great movies, I don’t know why it is when someone dies. OK, fine. But why do you get an Oscar? Because you die? You know, if it’s supposed to be about the work, it’s not supposed to be about politics, it’s not supposed to be about if this guy is a libertarian or whatever. It’s supposed to be exactly about the work. And listen, I respect other people’s work, and again, I do respect Barbra Streisand. I mean, she has had an amazing career, but that night wasn’t right. That’s just the way it goes as far as my book goes. But I mean, Ennio Morricone. He was nominated like 13 times, one of the greatest musical geniuses of film, I mean, so when Three 6 Mafia wins the Oscar or Eminem and a guy like Ennio Morricone or Randy Newman, the greatest, they don’t win. So just a lot of it is politics. And that’s just the way businesses and I talk about the documentary. You have to have a thick skin. This is not like, you know, when they talk about the Mafia, like The Godfather, that’s not the Mafia, it’s a movie of the Mafia. Mafia is not like all sentimental and warm fuzzy, you know.

The documentary seeks to uncover why someone like yourself is one of the so-called “least known famous people in Hollywood”. Despite the glimpses of real success whether that be your Rocky song Take You Back, Grammy- and Globe-nominated song Far From Over in Staying Alive, and your consistent acting portfolio following including Barfly, there was also a confluence of bad luck, bad management, and bad timing. Can you speak to the lack of having a support team which was mentioned in the doc?

Well, I mean, if you look at a lot of successful acts and some of them that aren’t really that great, but they’re tremendously successful, I guarantee you they got a big machine behind them and a good machine. Now, would’ve my career been different if Irving Azoff or Miles Copeland or David Geffen were my manager? Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. It would be different because they left no stone unturned. So these guys were really aggressive. And I still had the same manager I had when I was playing bars in New Jersey, see what I’m saying? And they’re my good friends, don’t get me wrong. But they just didn’t have the chops to take it to the next level. I mean, here’s a weird situation. And what I’m saying, I’m saying because I want other people out there to be aware these are the pitfalls of this business. OK, now, I had a Grammy and Golden Globe nomination, big movie, you know, gold platinum albums off that record. And I couldn’t get a record deal. Does that make sense to you? So I only had one offer for a record deal after a year of all this stuff going on. That’s not good management because they would have been on that eight months ahead of time, they would have had four labels going for you. You know what I mean? That is bad representation. That’s what it is. And so when people say, “well, if you have things to do over again, what would you do over again?” I said what I would’ve done over again would probably be…like Kenny Rogers says, “Know when to hold and know when to fold them.” I would have just said, you know what, you’re good guys, I love you guys, but we’re not going to the next level. It’s just stagnant. And I didn’t do it because I was too much of a nice guy. I was a loyalist and all that stuff like that. But I paid the price. And when I say pay the price, I didn’t pay the price monetarily. In other words, financially, I paid it career wise because again, it wasn’t about the money with me. I wanted to do more records. I wanted to write with all the great writers out here. That’s what I wanted to do. And that didn’t happen. So that was kind of the downside to that. I mean, that’s why I went out and spent all that [Staying Alive] money on a Steinway piano. And I’m not even a pianist, but I’ve had my most success writing with pianists. I bought it because I figured after Staying Alive, all of a sudden all these great writers I’ll be writing with and come to my house, with my seven foot Steinway and stuff like that. And then what happened was a real drag, and those are the pitfalls of this business. And if you’re not prepared to be able to bounce back and fight and stay in the game, I mean, most guys in my position would have quit years ago. They would’ve said “hell with this man, this brutal”. But I know I’m a different guy, I’m the guy that this is what my quest was and this is what I was supposed to be doing, and that’s why I stuck with it.

The documentary highlights a lack of opportunity you had throughout your career. However, did you ever turn down any roles or projects?

I turned down things that were exploitations like films with nudity and gratuitous sex and stuff like that, I mean, that started becoming a big thing in the 90s. And I am a lover of classic films. And I think some of the greatest romantic stories, films ever made never had gratuitous nudity and just crazy stuff like that. And so stuff like that. I turned down stuff that was trying to exploit me as my brother’s thing, kind of a sideways thing, trying to kind of make fun of me, which I said, “well, that’s not going to work”. I’m doing that to protect my family as well. I’m not going to do something that’s going to be an embarrassment to my family. I love my family. I love my brother, and I’m not going to do something that’s an embarrassment. That’s all of a sudden he’s has to come out, and start defending me because I did something that was very stupid.

One noteworthy moment in the documentary was when you talked about how you were shot accidentally? How did that affect your career, specifically in music? And how did that inadvertently show you what Hollywood thought about you?

I was shot like quasi point blank. It was made three feet away. It was like 60 stitches. I had the photo somewhere. And I was trying to get the lawyers to give me the photo. They were grotesque and my fingers were blown up like huge black scars all through them. And it was a whole thing. I’m right handed. So I had to learn how to write left handed. I walked around with my hand bandaged up. And Dr. Miles Cohen was a great, great surgeon. I mean, but we never know how it’s going to turn out in the end, though. Do we? I mean, it could have ended up with paralysis. I have a little trouble with my hands now. But again, what I covered in the documentary, which is funny, I don’t want to give too much away from folks, but they hardly even really acknowledged me as being shot. It was “Rambo’s brother is shot”, which was kind of like, yeah, I mean a picture of him dressed up as Rambo and saying how mad he is. I’m the one that got shot. So I mean that is the dark side. That is the weird side of Hollywood. That is when you read the books by Otto Friedrich, The City of Netz or Day of the Locust. There is a dark, vicious side of Hollywood, I mean, people have killed themselves because of this town. People have jumped off the Hollywood sign. So there was a dark, mean, vindictive side to this town that if people don’t think it exists, they’re crazy because it’ll come up and bite you right in the ass before you know it. And, you know, no one gave a shit about it. I was shot. My career, all of a sudden, I’ve done all these TV shows but no one came to see me. No one cares. They really don’t care. They care about what affects them at the moment. My brother said that once he called me. I was just so emotionally distraught at one time. He goes “Frank, let me just give you something I want you to understand. And this is brutal. They don’t care about you, they don’t care about me, they care about them. It’s us and them, and you see it all the time.” There are movies written about it like A Star Is Born. When you’re on top, you’re good there. The guys that you thought were your best friends, they couldn’t give a crap about you. It’s all about them, and someone told that to my brother once after Rocky came out. Because we don’t care about you we care about us. And that shouldn’t make you an angry, bitter person. I think it should make you an aware person. Listen, there are some good people in this town. Not many, but there are some good people in Hollywood. And there’s some people that do try to do the right thing. But on a whole, you have got these, carpetbaggers basically come in like pushcarts, like John Barrymore says in Grand Hotel, the pushcart producers. They don’t know anything about movies and could care less. All they want to do is make a profit. I didn’t get into this business to make money. I never did. I got into it because it was something I could do that I enjoyed. I grew up in a screwed up upbringing. So it was a way for me to make friends and kind of break down barriers. And so that’s what it meant to me.

Pre-Rocky, you had already been working for well over a decade in music. It must have been so crazy just overnight, your brother being a success. And for you, being thought of, immediately, as just his brother, even though you had a track record and a career for I think it was 13 years up until Rocky. How did that feel?

Well, I started in 1965, so that was like 12 years [until Rocky] and Staying Alive was almost 19 years later. So that’s a long time to wait to have a record. And in between, I mean, in the documentary it will show that ninety percent of the people I worked with quit. Got married, got a regular job. Most of them quit. They said, “well, there’s no way to make a living. I can’t do this.” Well, there you go. Not me, I was in for the long haul. And you see in the documentary, they talk about that. I was there for real. I wasn’t like this wasn’t like a weekend jaunt for me. 

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Written by Max Geschwind

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