What if the one chance to prove yourself to the world idly stands by as you wither and age? What if your chance to get something you worked hard for your entire life just blew away with the mockery of others? What if people just kept insulting you and you so terribly wanted to prove them wrong?
Well that’s exactly what Robert De Niro and Sylvester Stallone did in Grudge Match, the new hilarious comedy from director Peter Segel, featuring the two as retired boxers who decide to break their 30 year absence from the sport in a tiebreaker and prove who is the better boxer once and for all. Also starring Kevin Hart, Alan Arkin and Kim Basinger, the film comes out Christmas Day.
Below is a conference the cast as well as director Peter Segel and producers Billy Gerber and Michael Ewing participated in, and you can just feel the amount of fun the cast had with each other.
Warning: Thou might find thee upon spoilers
Mr. De Niro and Mr. Stallone, you’ve stared in the most famous boxing films in cinema history and I was just wondering if this was an idea that you guys had and were kicking around for decades, a boxing comedy, and if you talked about it on Cop Land?
Sylvester Stallone: No I actually had no intentions of doing this. I have no credibility in suggesting this. This came from all the other gentlemen up here- Pete, Michael, Bill- and it was something I thought was absurd. I thought, ‘Yeah, no we can’t do this. No one wants to see another boxing film, especially when you’re approaching 160 years old. I might be a little rickety, with bones coming out and so on.’ But then Robert called me and we talked a lot about it and we talked with the studio heads and they convinced me that I was completely wrong.
Did you talk about it?
Robert De Niro: No I didn’t talk about it- it came from Pete who I met at a party about a year earlier or something. And we went over it and I thought it was cool then.
So alcohol was part of the equation?
Robert De Niro: And it started. And then Billy and them- and then we started talking.
For Mr. Stallone and Mr. De Niro. There’s so many poignant things to say about aging. Can you tell me about what that had meant for you and also about your amazing trainings for this film?
Sylvester Stallone: Well, I’ll start off and you just jump in whenever you want alright Bob? No, well we always enjoy working out but this thing was pretty extraordinary because I thought, ‘Alright, here we get to prove that you don’t have to be crawling around at a certain age, that you’re obliged to start winding down. Plus, if you still have something to prove, and I think that a lot of people as they reach 60 and above, they think, ‘Well I have some unfinished business.’ But unfortunately life does not afford you the opportunity to go back and right the wrong. This is the beauty of fantasy and imagination- to be able to have these guys go correct a moment in their life that will make their life feel somewhat fulfilled. So that’s the fantasy and that’s where I think the empathy comes in with the audience and if you could follow that, good luck.
Haha he just turned his mic off! (Speaking of Robert De Niro who looked Sylvester Stallone in amazement and adjusts his mic).
How hard was it?
Sylvester Stallone: Oh he trained a lot and hard. Why don’t you tell them about it?
Robert De Niro: Well we had a trainer named Bob Sale who has worked with Sylvester for about ten years I think and he’s great. So he was a big big help and I’m so glad that I met him. In fact we used him in the movie Hands of Stone where he’s not just a trainer, he’s a guy who’s an authority in boxing; he reads up on it and is very smart. He was a big help to me.
Kim Basinger: Kevin and I had our own trainer.
Kevin Hart: Oh he’s a guy up in North Dakota.
Kevin, you’ve become this big star now and you’ve got this movie Ride Along opening up in January, but you’ve got a supporting role here, so can you talk about the appeal and about your new celebrity basis?
Kevin Hart: This regarding the big star thing, I think I’m up here as a student of the game with a bunch of stars right now- from Sly to Bobby to Alan and Kim you know? I was in great company so I was a kid in a candy store. I got to work with people who’ve been doing this for a long time and all have successful careers and for me, it was just sitting back and watching how they work and appreciating how they approach their crafts. Having so much time with these guys was a dream come true. It makes you feel good when you’ve in good company and that’s what Grudge Match was for me. . . . . Well spoken, Kevin Hart. Pretty amazing, this guy.
Grudge Match is one of many boxing films over the years and Mr. Stallone and Mr. De Niro have both done boxing movies in the past. What is it about boxing as a sport that cinematically is such a fertile ground work to tell stories of regular human beings?
Sylvester Stallone: Well first of all, you ask the director why you choose boxing as the format.
Peter Segel: Well I heard you say the same thing- it’s a metaphor for life. Life knocks you down and what makes you a person is what gets you back up again. And what attracted me to this story was second chances. As a matter of fact, only about nine minutes of the movie is really boxing. The rest is about relationships and people, like father, son and girls and boys and coming to terms with your age and I think setting up against the backdrop of boxing, it seemed very appropriate.
Sylvester Stallone: I agree. You know it’s funny. Rocky. What was the name of yours again?
Robert De Niro: Raging Bull.
Sylvester Stallone: Raging Bull. I’m sorry (he chuckles). They’re not boxing movies or documentaries, they are biographies and these guys happen to be fighters. But boxing is just- everyone knows what’s it like to be frustrated and want to fight back on any emotional level. And that’s where we pulled from. I just have an affinity for it and so do a lot of people. That’s why there have probably been more boxing films done more than any other films possible; except to probably get past the haze code where you can basically be in your underwear and sweaty for two hours and get through the code of that time. But I’d like to say it to because I’ve never got to say it- what really made this thing fly is the fire casting of Kevin Hart that brought in a whole new demographic that I thought was inspiring. It’s one thing to see grumpy old men fighting, but then you bring in Kevin Hart and you think, ‘Wow.’ And of course Kim Basinger brings in sensuality to it. I thought it was very very clever. And Al.
Alan Arkin: A little sensual.
Sylvester Stallone: You know what I hate about Al? He can just yawn and it’s funny.
Kim I want to ask you; you were in this movie with all these buff bods and yet we can’t take our eyes off of you and you just light up the screen as always. How was that working with these kinds of legends and a bunch of old guys?
Kim Basinger: It was really alright. Yeah it was quite a ride because they work very differently and they’re both hilarious so I had a really great experience with them.
How were they?
Kim Basinger: Well we all hated each other in the beginning so it was sort of fun to work out not hating each other by the end of the movie. Stallone’s a jokester, De Niro’s quiet and sneaky, so it’s just different layers. And I’m the only girl in here so it was a great ride for me.
Question for Robert De Niro and Sylvester Stallone, if you could trade your Academy Awards for a legitimate world championship in boxing, would you do it?
(Sylvester Stallone motions for Robert De Niro to go first).
Robert De Niro: It’s a tough sport, tough profession.
Sylvester Stallone: I think, actually having been in the ring with a couple of professionals, I made the right choice.
Sylvester Stallone: No, no. Because it’s great to interpret it and try to get the feelings of it. For example, you don’t want to be in there with Mike Tyson or any of these fellows. There’s so much drama going on and to be able to play that but then get rid of it and not live with it the whole time because it’s a very very dramatic fight these guys have, so yeah. Even though I did say to Bob, ‘Once you’re in the ring, those Oscars aren’t going to help you.” But no, I know I made the right decision. Bobby, did you want to be heavy weight champ?
Robert De Niro: No, no. I mean you get banged around a bit I have great respect for fighters because it is what it is- it’s a tough sport and you do have to pay a price. And if you really want to do it, you do it. I’m an actor, not a fighter.
Sylvester Stallone: And it’s so short lived.
One thing I liked about the film was watching all these edgy characters interact with one another, so I was wondering what you enjoyed about your roles? Let’s start with Mr. Arkin.
Alan Arkin: Me? Oh.. What I enjoyed most about my role. I enjoy the fact that I play for the past five years I play guys very much like this. I look at the script and the first thing I say is, ‘What page do I go into the old folks’ home? What page do I die? I made it to page 84, ok.’ But this guy has a sense of humor which I really liked about him so it took him a little bit away from the other characters I play who are like him but don’t have a sense of humor so I enjoyed that. And I got to listen to him (he motions to Sylvester Stallone) every morning in the makeup trailer. But it was fun. He pretends to complain.
Sylvester Stallone: Well you take long. I was trying to imitate you. When you say edgy, you got to get a contrast. I guess the somewhat edgier character is Robert, I’m kind of like the more for longed character. I worked in a steel mill and sort of gave up and I just sort of brought it all down.
Alan Arkin: People don’t like to go to the movies and see happy people anyway. They want to see people with issues.
Kim Basinger: Well it’s a comedy for me, and I heard these two guys were in it, Alan and Kevin. I’m the only girl, it’s easy. Warner Brothers, Bill Gerber, I worked with him.
Kevin Hart: I got the chance to play a jackass, so I was happy. Fast talking con artist, slickster, almost myself. Very close to who I am in real life. So it was a no brainer for me, and I got to cuss at Sly a couple times, I felt good. One take I said shit to his face and he doesn’t know it. In my mind I felt like I won a fight. Called my dad afterwards, and I said, ‘I just said shit to Sylvester Stallone.’ It was good though. My character basically is what every promoter is in boxing to some degree. You know you’re all about the business and yourself, at the same time you’re presenting opportunities for others. That’s who I was. Bobby, you want to talk about your character?
Robert De Niro: But well. . I think everyone explained it. Yeah, yeah. But, well. I’m like the bad guy in the beginning. I don’t know.
Paul you were amazing, I loved the film. I wanted to know in casting, at the end you brought in Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield, I thought that was great. I wanted to know the vision behind that and also LL Cool J, which was a great sight to see.
Paul: Well, when we finished the movie, we felt like there was perhaps a little more that could be said, and one of the things the audience responded to was Alan’s character wanting a tv, so we had an idea for that and you saw what it is, I won’t give it away. Then we thought there was one more possibility- what happens in Dante’s world and did he become a legitimate promoter? And so the tough call was to both Evander and Mike to see if they would possibly get into the same room with each other. Now since then they’ve done a Footlocker commercial and a whole bunch of other stuff. They’ve kissed and made up. But ours was the first day to see if sparks were going to fly or what. And to get it done, Kevin, as usual, has an incredibly impossible schedule and we had to shoot a whole bunch of pages by 10 o clock. These guys came in at 5 in the morning, on time, and could not be sweeter, and we had no idea how they were going to react to these words. There were no rehearsals; we had to just do it.
Kevin Hart: He threw me in the room. He said, ‘Kevin, just go.’ I said, ‘No I don’t know if it’s ok.’ He said, ‘You’ll be fine, just talk to them.’ But they were funny though. Mike was very fun, and they even joked about the incident. They joked about the biting the ear and spitting it out on one take, I don’t know if we used that or not. Mike was like, ‘Yeah, I spit it out it was in the third row, so what? I got it, and wanted to give it back to you.’ They were joking so it was refreshing for us but it came out really good.
Kevin Hart: Thank you.
You’re welcome. I know you take your craft seriously, with your meltdown with the dummy in LA and you were really serious about it, I watched you.
Kevin Hart: Haha yeah I was.
These are heavy hitters. What did you take away from taking your craft to the next level?
Kevin: You watch people’s approach to their job, from many things- from being on time, from the way they know their material, from the breakdown of production. I think that’s one thing I took from Sly, is not just about the script, it’s about the whole production, the camera placement, the conversations with the director, the relationship with producers. Also their rapport with one another. You can’t have a great movie if you don’t get along with the people you’re working with. I think here everybody, there was a cordial nice comfortable environment on set, it wasn’t uptight, you didn’t feel like you couldn’t walk around certain people or say certain things or have conversations. That’s what I enjoyed most, the comfortable environment to work in and I credit Pete on that as well, as a director you want a director that’s loose and allows you to bring what you feel you can to the material. I think with Sly, Bobby, myself, Alan and Kim, I think we did a really good job of that. For me it was just sitting back and learning, and I think I did, especially from Bobby, because he goes down, sits in a corner until they say, ‘Action.’ And then he gets up. He’s the most quiet laid back guy ever. I love him.
Kevin Hart: What the? What kind of question? Make me leave the room.
Michael Ewing: I just want to say one thing. I remember the first day Sly and Bob were in this scene together, they were in this hospital, and Kevin was there too. The point was they did the scene and Kevin was doing some improv stuff that was brilliant and everyone was having a great time. I remember after the first take turning to Pete going, ‘Dude you’re directing De Niro and Stallone in this shot,’ and he’s like, ‘I know!’ And we were like teenagers, we just couldn’t believe it. It was really exciting and then you add in Kim and Alan and Kevin who will be an Academy Award winner someday and you get a lot of magic.
Bill Gerber: When you first realize you’re going be working with these guys, and your whole life on tv you grew up with is suddenly there in flesh and blood in front of you, and you’re going, ‘Holy shit! What have we done here?’ And you look at Sly and Bob and Alan, who joins the group and Kim and Kevin- it turned into a dream come true, and we all worked really hard getting the script ready and that we were able to get this cast was extraordinary, and then to watch them work and the workouts that these guys put in. I mean, Bob lost 35 pounds and Sly was in incredible shape, the amount of belief in the movie was tremendous, and they all had it, and that’s why we were thrilled with how it came out.
Kim, did you have a comment?
Kim Basinger: I was just going to say you’re forever a student in this life, and especially being blessed to be in this profession, because you do learn from your co-stars, you learn from every experience and you take a lot from that. No one knows everything, and it’s always a new camera, a new day, first day of school. First day of shooting is always the first day of school, so you’re a little nervous. If I wasn’t nervous I would quit, that’s the excitement of it. To work with all of these people, from Kevin and Alan and not just them. You always learn from everyone and you take it.
Can you guys talk about the training you did together? It sounds like Stallone, you were in better shape to start and you lost 35 pounds, so how was that? Was there any rivalry in the training sessions?
Sylvester Stallone: I couldn’t wait to fight him. I was dying. Raging Bull? He’s crossed the line. This was extraordinary, and he’ll tell you about his training aspect, in of course, a shorter amount of time. This is like if you were casting the lead in the Nutcracker Suite or Swan Ballet and you don’t get to see your lead dancer until the curtain goes up, he was training in Idaho on our own. So what happened is he had to work on the east coast, and I had to work on the west coast, so we couldn’t get together. By the time we got in the ring together, I going, ‘Oh God I hope he looks good, I hope he can play.’ Because we didn’t know so this was really difficult. Usually with Rocky, it’s 5, 6 months preparation with the guy- everyday you’re working. We didn’t have that opportunity, that’s why this is pretty extraordinary so I have to give him a little credit for his professionalism.
Robert De Niro: We had this trainer, as I said, that Sylvester’s worked with for a long time, Bob Sale and I worked with him, and another fighter John Dunya under Bob but he was great. And I didn’t lose 35 pounds, I lost like 20 or so. And I worked hard as I could to get to the point where we would meet. He choreographed it, we worked and Bob would come and we worked on it. We got together worked for a couple of days, and we worked it out, he’s terrific-he made it all happen, I was just following him.
Kevin Hart: I was actually pissed off because I actually worked out and I never got to take my shirt off
Sylvester Stallone: He did. That’s true. He was working out every day.
Kevin Hart: He promised me a semi nude scene and it didn’t happen, so I basically wasted my time with my trainer in North Dakota.
Paul Segel: Alan said no. The scene was there for you and Alan.
This is for Peter and Sylvester. Peter, were you at all intimidated or grateful having somebody like Sylvester Stallone who knows so much about shooting a film that has boxing in it, and for you Stallone, how does it feel for you to be in a film with boxing, and you’re not directing? I think you choreographed, but were there times where you bit your tongue?
Peter Segel: I was both elated and scared because I had watched John Appleson’s commentary on Rocky 1 and how meticulously Sly had gone through beat by beats, choreographs, right left right left- everything. There is no one person the planet earth who has choreographed more cinematic boxing matches than this guy. But then there was this story that I had laid out and one that I had convinced him would be the right story for this because normally, he plays David to Goliath and this was a little bit different. So we worked together but I didn’t know how that was going to go at first. So we went to this little Jewish community center in Beverly Hills this time last year.
Sylvester Stallone: With a broken leg.
Peter Segel: And he was injured and for some reason they refused to heat the building so it was 50 degrees and we projected the fight script on the wall and day by day, we went through it.
Sylvester Stallone: The budget was a little tight. I remember just as in Rocky 2, they didn’t build gyms for you. And we used a clothesline with four broomsticks on an old carpet, in a freezing building.
Peter Segel: That he and I carried over by the way.
Sylvester Stallone: And at that time I had thrown all my tendons and I’m from the hip down to the boot. It looked like a pirate learning how to fight. I said, ‘Is this ever going to work?’ And he said, ‘Trust me, this is how it begins, you don’t need a big ring, you don’t need anything.’ And I just said, ‘Ok. Bobby’s style and my style. He should be more of his Raging Bull type and I should be more of a boxer,’ because basically in our fight characters, we are both sluggers and that would look too interesting, so I had to be in reverse the whole time, I’m going backwards all the time, he is the aggressor. And eventually, I think you shot some documentary footage on, it is pretty interesting. I tell people, if you have a meager beginning, and it doesn’t look like there is any promise to it, just every day gets a little bit better, and before you know it, you’re ready to go. You don’t have to start out in the penthouse, you an start out in the boiler room and get there, and this was as meager as can be. Also with the fight aspect of it, everyone has strong suits, Bob had a certain way in which he would throw his arms, his combinations, and so you cater to that, back and forth, move left to right, so there is a little bit of thought that goes into it, but the question that’s most important here is, I realize it’s his movie, not my movie, and I had to be very sensitive to that, because it’s not my boxing film-my boxing film is more with nine cameras- he is telling a personal story, within a fight. I completely defer to the dramatic aspect of what he is trying to say rather than us just beating the hell out of each other, it was all story points. So, it’s definitely his vision.
Michael Ewing: So you’re saying it’s my fault? From day one, we leaned on him to lead us through the fight, and he brought Rob Stallion, who everyone has such a great experience with, and it was interesting because Pete have Sally play each of the guys so we began in Beverly Hills with Rob playing De Niro and then we moved to New York for those portions of the training and Rob played Sly. So you can see the little documentary on the fight, the creation of the fight and it’s pretty fascinating stuff, because Pete had to keep it all together, but Sly was the guiding light through the whole fight, no doubt.
Alan Arkin: What?
(Screaming) Any training involved with the motorized chair?
Alan Arkin: Did I need any training? Oh God I worked with a trainer for months. No, I got in it and I turned the thing and then went. I think I screwed up the first take and they made me do it again, once. Exciting stuff.
This movie is equal parts, dramatic content and comedy, were you torn in either direction on where to take the story?
Peter Segel: Well what attracted these guys to it was obviously we’re winking at their iconography, and so I am always attracted to stories that straddle the line between comedy and drama. I knew that this was going to be a funny movie, but I also knew that the fight had to be taken really seriously for this thing to work, and there were really only two people that could do that. These two guys. So it was the good and the bad of getting this movie green lit. The good was that we knew who we needed in this movie, the bad was if we didn’t get those guys, there would be no movie. And Bob had a little more experience winking at The Godfather with Analyze This, so I had to convince Sly that this was a way to do a really interesting story, without holding a gun and killing someone.
Bill Gerber: The script I handed Pete originally, that we had developed, had a lot more of those kind of jokes we talked about. To Pete’s credit, he said to me, ‘Look, this could easily be grumpy old boxers, but I wanted to represent something else, something more meaningful, something more Gran Torino esque.’ And we started working with the script and got to that place where it wasn’t just going for the “Viagra joke.”
When you Google old men fighting, you get all kinds of results from football players to a head concussion conference. There’s obviously material for a sequel here, whether it’s boxers or football players. Any chance we might be treated to something like that?
Kevin Hart: Pete, before you answer that, head concussion conference? There’s a conference for head concussions? How do they remember they were there? Nobody- ok, I’m sorry. Go ahead Pete. I just wanted to address that, it confused me.
Peter Segel: I think we thought about that question at the end of the movie. We actually shot three different ending because we didn’t want to give away in front of the 500 extras every day, so we shot one for one character won, one for the other won, and then one as a tie, and then in the tie there was then left the question, ‘Do we have a tie breaker?’ And then we all looked at each other and said, “Hell no, not happening.’ But I think there are always going to be stories about, ‘Do you have any gas left in the tank?’ You know there was that famous Youtube footage of Joe Cap, one of the actors in the original The Longest Yard, he was a pro football player, and they beat each other with their canes on a dais, and it just goes to show you that if you still think you have it, you going to just use it until you don’t have anything left, I think there will always be stories like that.”
For Mr. Stallone and Mr. De Niro, when you made Rocky and when you made the LaMotta film, if someone asked you then what you would be doing at 60-70 yrs old, what would your answer have been?
Sylvester Stallone: I would have punched him. I would have said, ‘Are you crazy?’ Because when we started out, I did Rocky I and thought that was it. I didn’t know there would be a Rocky 90. It was one of those things that just kept going. So no, I did not think I would still be making fight movies at 60, 70 years old.
Robert De Niro: I didn’t know. I didn’t know if I’d even be around.
Mr. Stallone, you were inducted into the boxing hall of fame. What did that mean to you as an actor, as a person?
Sylvester Stallone: Well first off I was embarrassed by it because I wasn’t even a fighter, but they looked at it by someone who helped promote boxing. So there I am with Mike Douglas, one of the toughest men I’ve ever seen, Mike Tyson and Cesar Chavez Jr. so it was just another validation that I was helping promote the sport. But I’ve always loved the sport, there’s just something about it even when I was like seven or eight years old, I was fascinated with this idea of the two men showing their hearts and going for it.
Did you do any amateur boxing?
Sylvester Stallone: Yeah a little bit, and not well.
I’d like for you two to put on your critics’ hats and Mr. Stallone, what did you think of Raging Bull, and Mr. De Niro, what did you think of Rocky?
Sylvester Stallone: I never saw his movie.
Robert De Niro: It’s alright, I’ve never saw his either.
Sylvester Stallone: Was it any good? At first, I thought Raging Bull was about home staying. No, no. It’s one of the most brilliant biographies of all times, just incredible. And it’s timeless, just a perfect, perfect performance. Now I know he’s not going to say that about me so just move on.
Robert De Niro: They’re two different styles of film. They were very well done and I was impressed with the ones that I saw with what Sylvester had done with them as a craftsman in all seriousness. And I thought that scene, and it was one of the Rocky’s with James Brown, that was great.
Sylvester Stallone: Oh yeah.
Robert De Niro: Yeah, I told you about that scene.
Here is the trailer for the film: