Stallone, Schwarzenegger Take Cannes Back to Action Hero Glory Days

Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger
Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger
 AP

The Expendables 3 press conference in Cannes on Sunday almost certainly set a festival record for the highest-grossing collection of stars ever to be assembled on a single stage.  

Arriving via armored tank, franchise creator Sylvester Stallone and his aging but still mostly muscle-bound Expendables 3 cast -- including Arnold Schwarzenegger, Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson, Jason Statham, Antonio Banderas, Wesley SnipesDolph Lundgren and Kelsey Grammer, among others -- stormed the Carlton hotel for an hour-long Q&A session peppered with wisecracks, competitive banter and fond reminiscences of the glory days of 1980s action-hero cinema.

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When a journalist inevitably shined a spotlight on the elephant in the room, asking the cast when they'll know it's finally time to call it quits, Stallone quipped, "I think when you wake up in the morning and your ass falls off, it’s time to retire,” adding: “We are children with arthritis; we are young forever!” The crowd erupted with hoots and applause. 

In a more serious vein, he explained his thoughts on the ongoing evolution of the franchise: “With the first one, I didn’t know which direction to go. It was experimental, more dramatic and heavier. In the second one, I think we went too far in the comedy and one-liners. … I believe we finally got it right on the third one."

"It’s kind of like marriage,” he joked, drawing big smiles from his fellow multiply divorced and remarried castmembers. 

Stallone also revealed that Expendables 3 will be PG-13, unlike the R-rated earlier films. "We want to reach as many people as possible," he said. "it's very close to an R -- it's right there, believe me." 

When asked what it was like to work with so much veteran talent, director Patrick Hughes, whose feature credits include only the Aussie action film Red Hill (2010), recalled that he bought his first movie camera as a kid after saving up money from a paper route job. The "film" was 23 seconds long and featured “my Rambo action figure setting fire to my Han Solo figurine" with flammable bug spray. He said it was "pretty surreal" working with the actual actors behind those iconic characters, later adding that the biggest challenge of making the film was simple scheduling, given the large cast's many commitments. 

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Ford, a new addition to the franchise, said he had great fun working on the film, while Stallone explained how they added pilot scenes for Ford to show off his real-life helicopter flying skills. 

As they did in the golden age of action cinema, Stallone and Schwarzenegger stole most of the spotlight. Discussing their rivalry in the '80s and early '90s, the stars alternated between good-natured barbs and expressions of mutual respect.

Stallone kicked it off saying, “Even though he has big arms, he has a bigger brain. We are very similar in many ways. We are almost like Ali and Frazier. Thank God for Arnold because he made me work harder."

Schwarzenegger replied by saying that Stallone was “a great inspiration to me even though we were competitors.” He said he had deep respect for Stallone's talent as a writer, director, musician and even painter, noting that he owns several of Stallone's paintings. 

But when a journalist asked which of one another's roles they wish they could have performed, Schwarzenegger reverted to his more familiar mode of sarcastic big man bonhomie, "I remember Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot (1992, a commercial and critical flop). I think Sly was wearing diapers and that looked pretty fun."

Stallone shot back, "Didn't you have a baby in a movie?," a reference to Schwarzenegger's turn in Junior (1994) as a male scientist who carries a child to term.

Gibson, impressively bearded and a more laconic presence throughout, then jumped in, saying the competition between musclemen was indeed "stiff" back in the day. He then drew groans from the stage and laughter from the crowd, adding: “Competition was stiff in the '80s. I think we can all agree in 2014, it’s not so stiff now.”

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