“[Samaritan] is kind of a cautionary tale, that when you get rid of your hero, maybe you need the hero back sometimes because you’re just not ready to take on the responsibility…”
That hero in question is the Samaritan, a superhero who reportedly dies after an epic battle with his twin/supervillain Nemesis. Now, his city is in trouble again, will the Samaritan resurface to save it?
Speaking of heroes, the above sentence is from none other than Mr Sylvester Stallone, who stars in Samaritan as ‘Joe’ a seemingly regular garbage man who just happens to have superhuman strength. When a young boy from his neighbourhood gets into trouble with local gang lord Cyrus (Pilou Asbæk), Joe steps into help and starts a whole chain reaction that could cause a superhero to come out of retirement…
Played by Javon ‘Wanna’ Walton, Sam has had his fair share of troubles and lectures Joe on his responsibilities when he finds out about his superpowers. It can’t be easy to go toe-to-toe with Rocky, so Sly took the time to try and relax Javon on set when the two had intense scenes together: “I tried to intimidate him to scare him and make him forget his lines, so he doesn’t upstage me haha!” Stallone laughs. “But truthfully, you try to relax as I understand I am a lot older, a lot larger. I remember the first time I walked on a set and there’s Robert Mitchum or John Wayne and it throws you off your game. You think you’re ready, but you’re not!
“So I put myself in their position and I kept it light, like a child. I would joke, so he was completely relaxed and actually he started being a bit of a wise guy. In a good way. His father was there, so we had this very comedic, light, one-upmanship. We did some trash-talking kind of things so when the camera rolls he’s right there. He’s not like ‘oh, here’s Mr. Stallone. I must not speak too loudly.’”
When Joe meets Sam, the former forces him to remember a past he’d rather forget: “I hate the fact that he’s making me face reality,” Stallone nods of his character. “I think one of the main assets people have is a fading memory. This kid is dragging me back into my memories. He’s making me face who I was and I don’t want to go there. I left that behind. [But] nothing ever goes away, pal. Come back to who you really were!”
But facing his past is going to be no easy task for Joe, especially with gang lord Cyrus on the scene and hellbent on causing anarchy in the city. Played by Game Of Thrones’ Pilou Asbæk, Cyrus is determined to bring back Nemises’ lawless, rebellious ideals. “The key to the good guy is the bad guy,” Stallone says. “Good is pretty simple to play, bad is complex, because you either do it badly, twirling the moustache, or, for example, with Mr. T or Drago they just radiate ‘oh shit, I don’t want to be around this’. It’s the same thing with [Pilou]. When I saw him in Game of Thrones… There’s something in the eyes, you go ‘he’s special. There’s something going on there that is truly frightening but intelligent.’ That’s really scary. It’s one thing to be chased by a dumb, bad guy. To be chased by a smart bad guy, you got an issue!
“[Pilou is] a great actor, but he also has a dark side, obviously because you can’t fake it. Let’s face it you’re a Twisted Sister! You gotta admit it man, you’re a little weird [haha]. Which is good.”
For Stallone, playing an aging superhero meant more action scenes. Though perhaps not quite the action scenes he’s done in the past… “There’s a point where you can’t do a 29-year-old Rambo kind of thing because you have to honour who you are, your age. That’s the point of it, that you’re not who you were but you’re still there. So I thought that this guy, his strength, would be in his resolve. He still has great physical power as opposed to speed. He’s not jumping through the air. He’s not that kind of guy. He’s a very powerful individual that is still sort of in the world of reality. He can’t fly. He can’t see through walls or whatever. Fire doesn’t come out of his mouth. He’s just a unique sort of superhero. He’s almost like a modern-day Hercules, that kind of a mythic hero. And I think those are the ones that you can identify with.”
Speaking of identifying with Joe, there’s no denying you could put the word ‘average’ in front of his name (ah we see what they did there). He’s taken to working as a garbage man (“no one pays any attention to [garbage men]. Yet without them, we’re in big trouble. So there are all these metaphors in there…”) and wandering the streets picking up old things and fixing them. He’s living an unassuming life, which, for Stallone, makes him completely empathetic and actually, reminds him of a character he once played… “He’s like if Rocky was a superhero. It’s something that is identifiable and street-like. You could be riding next to him on a bus and not even know you’re sitting next to some fella who can literally lift the bus up! So you can expect a hero that is very regular and does irregular things.
“It’s not set in some super fantastic universe. It’s set among brick and concrete in identifiable situations from the neighbourhoods we live in. That’s what I liked about it.”
Indeed, Joe does have elements of Stallone’s past characters and he’s absolutely fine with playing a role like this again: “In all reality, the characters that I have been fortunate enough to be very successful at, just don’t fit into normality. He’s not the cab driver. He’s not the school teacher. There’s an expectancy. I hate to say it, but in a way, we become a brand and the audience wants to see [that].
“I thought ‘okay, people see you as Rambo. They see you as Rocky. They’ll see you as Demolition Man’. So why not take that baggage? Good baggage! And then add it into something with a new equation [with Samaritan]. You’re bringing in this young child, you’re bringing the fact that you’re dealing with all this regret and remorse. You want to remain anonymous. But this kid is going to bring you out and show you who you are again. I love it. It’s kind of like he’s resuscitating who I was born to be!”
It’s clear Stallone is really invested in this project. He’s been a part of it from its early days and is a producer on the movie, though he never intended to direct Samaritan himself. Instead, he recruited Overlord’s Julius Avery to take on the role. “I’ve directed a few things myself, and it felt like having your spleen pulled out through your nose with a tractor! It’s not fun. It’s hard work,” he laughs. “It’s brutal. It takes a toll on your private life. Forget about sleeping, you answer 8000 questions a day. It’s tough. And then you have post-production, so you have no life. There’s a certain point [in life] where you lose a little speed and young guys, they’re hungry. They’re drooling. They live for this stuff. This is their moment. Their testosterone is pouring out of their ears and they’re gonna stay up late at night and deliver. So that’s why I think if you’re going to do this kind of film, you need that kind of energy!”
In a world populated with superhero movies from big players like Marvel and DC, for Stallone, Samaritan is a superhero movie that feels more realistic. “There has been a tremendous accomplishment by certain directors and certain companies in Marvel and DC, that have really pushed the universe to the max. Everything that you could possibly imagine, has been created. [For Samaritan] we are trying to make the events and the danger plausible. It’s something that’s very tangible. It’s not from another universe. It’s right here in the streets. So keep your guard up!”
We certainly will Mr Stallone!
Samaritan is out on Prime Video now.