Rocky Balboa – A Christian?

Rocky Balboa debuted on December 20th, 2006 in theaters across the U.S.A. Sylvester Stallone recently spoke with a group of Christian leaders on his newfound faith in Jesus. You have to listen to the conference call to fully appreciate it.

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While some have cynically dismissed this claim as a marketing ploy, I didn’t find it too hard to believe Stallone when he said that he always intended his character of Rocky Balboa to be a Christian. Rocky forgives those who hurt him, tries to help those in need, and he prays frequently in many scenes. In fact, the opening scene of Rocky (I) has this image. In the conference call, Stallone said that he always intended the Christian theme of redemption to be part of the story of each movie.

In the conference call between ministry leaders and Sylvester Stallone, he talked about his Christian faith and described himself as being “reborn” and dependent on church life for help in his spiritual walk.

Stallone also talked about the plot of the new Rocky Balboa movie as having a Christian theme. And, believe it or not, an upcoming Rambo 4 movie will have an even more overt Christian plot. Apparently, Rambo will also be reborn after encountering group of persecuted Christian missionaries in Burma.

If you find this fascinating, you can listen to the whole phone conversation or read the following transcript:

Q: It’s been a long time since we’ve seen a Rocky movie (Rocky V, 1990). Why this film and why now?

A: “I guess it’s one of those things which just had to have its time before it percolated and did come out. I had gone through a lot of trials and tribulations in my own personal life, and a lot of ups and downs, and I just felt as though I was being compelled to do something. In the first ‘Rocky’ movie…I was never a writer and all of a sudden one day I felt like I was being asked to write this. And I’ve said it before, I felt as though God was moving me to do this. That’s why I started the first “Rocky” out with a picture of Jesus. And I feel the same kind of feeling moving through me now, like (it was) Jesus. I wanted to get to this resurrection or redemption, and this personal relationship that I have with Rocky and with God. I had gone through seventeen years of peaks and valleys and I felt that now was the time to try to put it in the voice of something that people would come to see. They had trusted the character and that character would be able to give the message.”

Q: Tell us a little about the faith of Rocky and the journey of Rocky.

A: “The journey of Rocky was kind of like mine. I was raised in a Catholic home, a Christian home, and I went to Catholic schools. I was taught the faith and went as far as I could with it until one day I got out into the so-called real world. I was presented with temptation and I lost my way and made a lot of bad choices. I felt the character of Rocky sort of did that too. He just didn’t have the right guidance. And then he was given an opportunity in the movie—like he was being chosen. Jesus was over him and he was going to be the fella that would live through the example of Christ. He’s very forgiving—there’s no bitterness in him. He always turns the other cheek. It’s like his whole life was about service. And I said, ‘Man, if I could take my story, my feelings, and put it into the body of a boxer—because no one cares about an actor so much—the boxing is symbolism of the constant fight, and the example of Christ,’ I thought, ‘this would be really interesting’ and that’s exactly what happened. It was like an unexpected gift, really.”

Q: I know you weren’t happy about the way the last “Rocky” movie ended, and that was part of the motivation for doing another one. Tell us about that.

A: “It was very disappointing on all levels. I had directed the third one and the fourth one and the second one and I thought, ‘Ok, we’re moving along.’ And then I became very, very distracted and became self-absorbed. I didn’t put my heart and soul into it the way I should have and there was no message there. I thought there was nothing really clear—it was just a movie being done for the sake of making a film. It [Rocky V] was the first time of all the other “Rocky” films people had no feelings one way or another. It was just like, ‘We like the first four but the fifth one…uh, ok, well, it had to run out of gas.’ That really hurt me because I knew it was my fault. It was totally my fault and I needed something to jumpstart the whole situation. I needed time. I needed to actually go through my trials and tribulations before I could be man enough to know how to write the kind of story that ‘Rocky Balboa’ is. I was so dissatisfied—I felt I had let down everybody who had followed the series and the last one just wasn’t serious enough. It was all about me and it wasn’t about ‘we.’ Again, I made some bad choices and I wanted to come back when I was ready to make some good choices.”

“Life isn’t about how hard you can hit
but how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.”

Q: There’s a scene in the movie where Rocky confronts his son. You said that mirrors a little bit of the spiritual journey in your own family and what you’ve gone through with your own son. Can you talk about that?

A: “I guess there’s always been this balance of power and trials and tribulations between father and son, mother and daughter. I can only relate to it as far as the father and son since I went through it. Because the father, meaning me, had cast a certain large shadow, all of a sudden the son started to shrink and he sort of withdrew and he blamed all of the failures of his life on his father: If his father hadn’t taken all of the glory, if his father hadn’t left such big footprints in the sand…. I thought, ‘Boy, he is setting himself up for such complete disaster.’ He was going to blame me for any kind of failure. He was assuming a defeatist role and going to go down in flames and there’s no way to save him. We tried to be as gentle as we could and use kid gloves but be pretty adamant and say, ‘Here’s how it is, kid. Life isn’t about how hard you can hit but how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. You can’t keep blaming your life on this person or that person. Cowards do that—not real people that want to get ahead. You’ve got to pick yourself up by your own bootstraps and stop blaming me.’ And finally the father and son come together for the first time in many, many years and that was to me, a very profound moment in my life. I didn’t know it was going to have that kind of effect in the film but I guess a lot of people related to it.”

Q: And you related recently that you had a kind of spiritual re-awakening?

A: “Oh, there’s no question about it. As a matter of fact the first thing Rocky does after he leaves the ring—and I don’t want to tell people how it turns out—he points right up to God. Right before the fight he’s read scripture. At the very end, as the people are applauding his farewell, he points up to the heavens so he understands where his strength comes from. He’s not under any illusion that he was born with incredible gifts but he was born with the fire and the need to carry on God’s work—that is bringing people together and that’s what he does in this film. He brings a lot of broken people together because he himself is broken.”

Q: Sly, you have said you are taking your son and family to church now. You guys as a family are on that journey. Can you speak to that?

A: Without the church it’s like having a boat without the rudder. You think you can do it on your own and this may sound pedestrian or trite but I’ll equate it to this: all my life I’ve been involved with exercise but no matter how much—and I know a great deal about the body—you need help. You need a trainer. You need to go to a gym and you need to have the expertise and the guidance of someone else. You cannot train yourself. I feel the same way about Christianity and what the church is. The church is the gym of the soul. And the priests, the reverends, the ministers and the pastors— they are the trainers—they are the ones that guide you over that difficult time and take you to that place that you don’t think you can go, but with their help you can go. By the way, everyone in the church is on the same page in the sense of spirit and unity and oneness and you don’t get that alone. A lot of people say, ‘Oh, I can do it on my own. I have a one-on-one relationship with God,’ well it’s not quite the same.”

“The church is the gym of the soul”

“Some people maybe try to justify their laziness. You take out what you put in and the more I go to church and the more I turn myself over to the process of believing in Jesus, and to listening to his word and have him guide my hand I feel the pressure’s off me now. I really do. If you put in the time you will reap the benefits. And for example, and this is the truth, and maybe it sounds egotistical, but the movie has been reviewed by Newsweek and Variety and the L.A. Times, and they’ve all said that it’s my best writing and best acting ever and I can only assume that it’s because of this letting go and this lack of egoism. I didn’t care where the camera was put—I didn’t care about lighting. All I cared about was getting out the message that I knew I was supposed to get out.”

Stallone went on to say that he is working on a new “Rambo” movie which will essentially be about Rambo attempting to rescue some missionaries who are being held hostage, so that film will include a spiritual flavor as well. The film involves the Karen people in Burma. The people have been murdered, held hostage, and actually crucified. Rambo becomes a crusader for these people.

“It’s not about ‘me,’ it’s about ‘we.’”

In finishing the interview, Stallone was asked:

Q: What do you want the legacy of “Rocky” to be?

A: It’s all about self-sacrifice and love— it’s hard work and perseverance and everyone should have the warrior spirit. It’s not about ‘me,’ it’s about ‘we.’ All of us have something to give inside. It’s like Rocky says, we have something in our basement. Give it—don’t just horde it to yourself. You have a lot of love to give and a lot of service you can give to other people. And the last is, you should overcome your past with some help. If you look to God, you can overcome your past and be reborn and that’s what Rocky is, he’s reborn.”

Rocky II

The following is from a second conference call with Sylvester Stallone:

Sly: Hello?

Paul Lauer: Hey Sly.

Sly: Hi.

Paul Lauer: How’s it going?

Sly: Pretty good, thank you.

Paul Lauer: Alright, how was Thanksgiving?

Sly: Thanksgiving was very thankful. It was a good one. We had the kids over and it was just great. Just great.

Paul Lauer: Well that’s great, well thanks for joining us. We’ve got Pastor Ken Baugh who was actually at our screening — the one we did at MGM a couple weeks ago.

Sly: Right.

Paul Lauer: And he got to, you know, hang out with us, and hear from you about the movie and we invited him to host this call today with us. So I’m going to turn it over to Ken, and Ken you can share any of your thoughts about the event, when you saw the movie, and just kind of get into some of the questions here with Sly.

Pastor Ken: Great. Hey Sly, how ya doing?

Sly: Very good, thank you Ken.

Pastor Ken: Yeah, thanks for the opportunity. You know, Sly, one of the things that struck me in the previewing of the film was you know, just the vivid picture of the spiritual journey of Rocky Balboa and I’m sure that all of our listeners are curious as to what does this film say about your personal journey with Christ and kind of where are you at in that journey?

Sly: Well, it is very biographical. In the beginning, when I started out with the idea of doing it, I felt as though I needed to say something — that I felt as though I had been kind of wayward and lost and how would I get on my feet again. That’s why in the beginning of Rocky I it starts on the picture of Christ, it’s called — actually it’s an old chapel, and it starts on the picture of Christ on the rafters and comes down to Rocky’s face and then the movie begins — as he’s being hit, you know that with the picture in the background that this man is being chosen for a spiritual journey like I was.

And, and I believe that out of the ashes that what I think was my life at that time because I was just not feeling anything. I just felt very isolated, that I acquired a newfound success and I always felt as though I was a conduit for God’s word, that I wasn’t creating it, because it didn’t come from an academic background, I was never a writer per se. I never was a major in English and all of a sudden I write a screen play that is being nominated for best picture of the year, so I figured it had to have come from God because it certainly didn’t come from my education.

Pastor Ken: Yeah. Rocky, I’ve seen all the — or, Sly — I’ve seen all the Rocky films and — couple different times. This film is probably your boldest profession of faith. Why now? Why this film at this point in your life?

Sly: Because I realize now that I’m a mature man, that that’s all there is. I think as a young person you tend to think that the world somewhat revolves around you, that you can recover from anything, that you tend to have this kind of vim and vigor and energy to take on the world on your own shoulders. Well, after you’ve been knocked down a few times and the world has shown you it’s dark side, you realize that you need guidance, you need God’s word, you need spiritual help and that’s when your journey will begin.

So I, as I get older, I realize how – very much – I rely upon Jesus, the word of God, and his support and how I pass it on to my children because I want them to learn at an early age by – usually find out that we have to sometimes learn the hard way and then it really takes hold and that’s what this is all about. Rocky, in the last — in Rocky Balboa — has lost everything. And, we see him triumph and the last thing that he hears before he enters the ring is scripture and that’s what gives him the strength and people realize that he doesn’t fight for money, he doesn’t fight for glory, it’s fighting for a purpose and fighting for a divine reason to show that through him, through the ability, the God-given ability that he has that he can show other people the way to be an example. You don’t have to be the biggest, or the strongest or the fastest. But if you believe — truly believe – you will find a way to win.

Pastor Ken: Now, you know Sly, you’ve already mentioned that you’re dependence upon the word of God to guide you. Even in the movie Rocky VI, there’s scripture that is part of that which again I think is a bold statement. Talk for a second about — maybe you have a favorite verse of scripture or there’s a favorite person in scripture that you relate to, just personally, what would you say to that?

Sly: Well, I think there is no question that there is a lot of truth in that because I wanted — you know the hard thing is to find what is the best piece of scripture to live your life by, and I have a — here it is — I just had it. I’m glad you bring it up. It’s St. Mark’s, chapter 4. I think that is incredible where it goes, "And it came to pass, as he sowed, some fell by the wayside, and the fouls of the air came and devoured it up, and some fell on stony ground which it had not much earth, and when the sun was up, it was scourged, and because it had no root, it withered away." And I believe, I mean 13-29 first of all it is some of the greatest writing ever, so beautiful the verse of that, and I try to live by these verses, but that’s one of my favorites.

Pastor Ken: So that the word of God is springing up inside of you, and this film is one of the ways that you are trying to kind of let that be manifested.

Sly: No doubt about it. Because you are what you leave behind and though we have an obligation to entertain, there’s no reason you can’t also leave the word in there for all time for people to see.

Pastor Ken: Well, and I think in the community of faith, you’ve hit it right on the head because we’re looking for good films that have family values that are really safe for the family to go to, and I certainly felt that way seeing this film. I’ll take my kids to see it. And the other thing I thought was important in the film is that, there’s multiple themes, there’s multiple themes in the film, that if you’ve watched all the Rocky movies it’s pretty powerful. Again, the scene of you and Paulie, when I think you were at the ice rink…

Sly: Right.

Pastor Ken: …and Paulie was just — this look on his face when the camera panned on him, the regret that he had for not treating Adrienne as well as Rocky did in the film, and you just saw that regret, and I’m hearing from you now that there is a desire for you to leave a legacy, a spiritual legacy, to influence Hollywood with the scriptures and Christ.

Sly: There’s no question about it, and I have been negligent I think in the past by not reaching out for the people that really also want this, and have the power to make it happen. As we know, Hollywood is somewhat of an isolated community and it is a money-driven community and I wouldn’t say faith is right up there at the forefront and people need to drive home that fact and though it may sound mercenary and self-serving, if we are to continue to do films like Rocky, like The Passion, like films that you can take your family to it, and by the way you can show year after year after year because the theme never goes away, then we have to go out and support it- that’s the only message they understand and though they supposedly, you know, are very liberal; what rules here, unfortunately, is success and it doesn’t matter in what form. Well, I think it does matter. Everything that I’ve done that has been bad deserved to fail, because it had no spiritual message — nothing. This one deserves to succeed because it has a message, that like you said, you can bring your child to and he can bring his child to it, long after I’m gone. And that is as long as you have, as Mickey says "an angel on your shoulder", as long as you have Christ in your heart, there is no such a thing as losing. Period.

Pastor Ken: That’s right. Sly, you mentioned just a time in your life where you were wayward and lost and how this film is a little bit of a reflection of that. Tell us a little bit, I know we don’t have a ton of time, but tell us a little bit about what that journey was like and then what was it that kind of turned you around to really embrace God.

Sly: I guess it was right after, around 1980, and I — my marriage was not good and I felt myself being seduced by all the temptations that Hollywood has to offer. And it’s a very, very morally weakening situation because you are given the keys to the candy store, people will say yes when you’re wrong, before you know it your morals and you’re outlook on life is corrupted. You actually start to believe your hype, and when that happens you just want to surround yourself with people who will never tell you the truth and only tell you what you want to hear. And then, well my career spiraled down and every time when it was at its very bottom, I would end up writing a Rocky and somehow the moral compass of Rocky tends to give me new life. But then again I would not find love, not find anything I can really hang my hat on, and I would just give myself in to the, again, to the kind of like lackadaisical, irresponsible, immature lifestyle that a lot of stars live. And it wasn’t until finally, that when I hit rock bottom after my second marriage, and I realized my career also was stagnant that I said this is where I really have to take a moral compass and point it in the right direction, and I started to bring Jesus into my life and I said, you came here, you made it by writing passionately, you made it by living in a sense "in the moment", and not worrying about money, and not worrying about what people thought of you and just writing what came from your heart or what was driven through your heart by a greater power meaning God. And as soon as I did that and I started to really take into account what I had given away and what I could get if I just started to live the right life — right away I met my wife, who is the greatest person on the planet, who’s given me three kids, who I would die for in a second and everything just fell into place once I stopped trying to do it my way and did it the right way, and asked for help and God gave me help. I can think of no other reason how it would turn around because it sure didn’t come from lawyers, and it sure didn’t come from agents, and it sure didn’t come from friends.

Pastor Ken: Sly, thank you, that’s awesome to hear your story that way. What would you like to see be the end result of Rocky VI? What would you like to see this film accomplish?

Sly: I would love this film to, on a personal level, it’s accomplished what I want in that Rocky, the series, ends with dignity and a moral message as Rocky ascends into a different plane, that his journey on earth is done. I would love for the people to support this film which will send a message that we need more films of an ethical and spiritual nature for our children to see because they are influenced by films. MTV, make no mistake about it, it has an indelible impression and there’s no reason they can’t do both, so I’m just hoping that the people — because that’s who I wrote this film for. I didn’t write this for the studio, I didn’t write this for Sylvester Stallone either. I really, it was almost a challenge. I wanted to like, do something that was different today. And I said, can you do it? Thirty years later, let’s see. Well, if you just write about your journey, if you write about where you fell and how you got up, who got you up, then I think it’s worth putting on the paper. And now I just hope that everyone loves and enjoys it as much as I enjoyed being part of Rocky.

Pastor Ken: Yeah, you know, no doubt you’re going to be on a lot of talk shows and late nights and such promoting the film as it’s going to be released in the end of December. Are you planning on utilizing that opportunity to drive home some of the things that you’ve mentioned here today?

Sly: No question about it. I think that’s so important and every now and then, you know, people, if you get on a certain show, like Jay Leno, they want to do jokes. You know it’s an entertainment show. And you have to pull back and say No, I’m going to stay the course and the course is the message I want to get out and it may not be "jokey" but it has real weight and impact on your life, so yes I do plan to get out that this is a film with great spirituality, this is a film that to me was driven home by the guidance of God. There’s no question. I did not do this by myself, by no means. I know I didn’t, it’s impossible. I’m just — I’m not that kind of person. And it just seems to work through Rocky. Anything else I write is so — such a burden sometimes, so difficult. When I write Rocky, when I write that story, it just seems — it’s such a spiritual story — it just flows.

Pastor Ken: Well, it’s you — it’s your story.

Sly: Yeah, maybe that’s it. (Both laugh.)

Paul Lauer: Hey Pastor Ken, let me jump in for a second. We’ve gotten a bunch of emails that have been coming in and we really only have time for one (laughs) because our time has just evaporated here, but this is from Paul Elliot who’s an editor and publisher, and his question for Sly is, "Based on your personal experience, what advice do you have for actors, directors, anyone coming up in the industry?" and by the way I would add for all the pastors out there who know people who are coming up in the film industry, what advice would you have for them regarding personal conviction or belief in God that has given them this mission to be in the entertainment industry?

Sly: Well, Paul, that’s a good question. I think that it’s pretty evident today that, it’s pretty evident today that there are many young directors out there who have a visual eye and they can shoot anything and it also is very evident there are many directors out there that cannot tell a story. They can shoot pretty pictures but they can’t move the heart. And that is the key to longevity, and that is the key to owning your audience is you have to become part of them, you have to write about them, and more importantly, you have to make what they’re doing passionate and compelling; which means it has to have heart and energy, not just visual excitement, or car chases or fist fights. It’s like why was the car chase so important, who was in the car, what was at stake, where are they going, what is the dilemma, what is the outcome, what do you hope the outcome to be? There is so much. So, my advice is heart, energy and if you’re lucky like with Rocky sometimes, you can put in there humor. Because when you write from the heart, out comes the spiritual message. You just know that you’re dealing with the human condition and quite often, even though you may not say the word Jesus in every line, you can feel it working through the characters, you can feel the Christian brotherhood, the humanity, the compassion, the God-fearing script is what, I’m serious a God-fearing script is what Hollywood needs. It had that a long time ago, but they’ve kind of abandoned it, and now it seems to be en vogue to be just cold-hearted and blunt and without compassion. We need the God-fearing script, the script that really deals with compassion and deals with the word of Jesus and God, and believe me, people will rally behind it because we need it. It’s like, you watch some of the films, they only save these kinds of films Paul for Christmas. "Oh, this is the time." Well, how about making every weekend Christmas?

Paul Lauer: Yeah, that’s awesome.

Sly: Thank you.

Paul Lauer: I wanted to read one other final thing we got in from the internet. This is from a Denise DeFalco. She says, "Thank you Sly for today. As I have recently been diagnosed with a spinal cord disorder and have lost a great deal of my physical capabilities. At fifty, I regularly worked out and was quite strong but since this disorder, I have been down. I have found inspiration in the saying which comes from Rocky Balboa, ‘It’s not how hard you can hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.’ God bless you and your lovely family. Always, Denise."

Sly: Well, God bless you, and I love you for remembering that quote because I mean it with every fiber of my being, and you’re living proof that it’s reaching the people I want this film to reach and touching them. Thank you very much.

Paul Lauer: Ken, can you close in a prayer?

Pastor Ken: You bet, I’d be happy to. Lord Jesus, thank you for the opportunity and the privilege to influence others for you and I pray that that would be the case with this film. That Lord the personal spiritual journey that Sly is on, that Lord, that would be communicated clearly and that each opportunity you give him through the media to be a bold proponent of faith and Christ and the truth of God’s word, that Lord he would cease that moment and capitalize on the opportunity. Lord, we just pray your blessing on the film and that you would use it in a significant way to impact people’s lives. And I pray your blessing on Sly and his family, and Lord, thank you that we are getting more and more voices in Hollywood for you, and Jesus name. Amen.

All: Amen.

Paul Lauer: I want to remind everybody to visit, bunch of free stuff there. We’ll also be sending you the Rocky box for free. And, we have screenings of the movie coming up in 75 markets. We will be emailing everybody to let you know where you can see the film prior to its opening so you can come, bring other members of your church, who can help us get the word out. And then over the next week and a half, there will be just one screening in the following cities: Chicago, Detroit, Denver, DC, Boston and Dallas. We will be able to invite a handful of people to those screenings and again we will let you know by email if you RSVPed today for this call, we’ll be able to let you know about those screenings coming up. So thanks again for joining us. Sly, thank you for your time and…

Sly: And Paul, I’m going to send you out those photos of the, from the original shot in Rocky I with, you see Jesus in the background, and the church rafters and Rocky boxing in the front. It’s really an extraordinary shot.

Paul Lauer: That’s awesome, I know Ken you got yours, didn’t you?

Pastor Ken: Yes I have mine. I did.

Sly: Oh you did? Isn’t it wild?

Pastor Ken: Yes, it’s awesome. I didn’t even notice it before.

Sly: I know, no one notices it, I said there’s no accident here.

Paul Lauer: Alright, thanks Sly. Talk to you soon.

Sly: Thank you, bye now. Bye-bye.

Pastor Ken: Bye.

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