My father was a hairdresser and wanted me to follow in his footsteps. “People will always need a haircut,” he used to say. “You’ll never be out of work.” But it wasn’t my thing. The problem being, where else was I going to find a job? I was pretty unruly as a kid and had been kicked out of high school more than once. Nobody wanted anything to do with me. Until, that is, my old man found a place in Switzerland that wasn’t too fussy about who they took. They would have accepted Son of Frankenstein, so long as he paid! So, my dad packed me off to Switzerland to learn hairdressing. He thought it was the right job for me. I was pretty much the only guy among all these pretty Swiss girls. We used to make out behind the basins! In our free time, we’d hang out in the fancy parts of Geneva. I remember one day walking past a store window full of these amazing watches. I couldn’t take my eyes off them, and I really hoped that one day I’d be able to buy one for myself.
It’s true. They wanted to pay me $100,000 for my script. Back then, I only had $106 in the bank. I was so broke I even thought about selling my dog! Fortunately I didn’t have to when the studio finally agreed to buy the script for $360,000. And I got to play the title role, even though the producers had been dead set against it. In the entertainment business, you have to fight your corner! And what do you know, in 1976, Rocky won the Oscar for Best Picture.
First I paid off all the debts I’d accumulated. Then I bought gifts for my mom. Then I bought myself a Rolex. Deep down, I needed to have something to show for my success. It was my revenge on the people who thought I’d never achieve anything. I was born in Hell’s Kitchen, one of New York’s grittiest neighbourhoods. Where I come from, a Rolex was a lot more than a watch or an accessory. It was proof that you’d made it!
I see a good watch as being the equivalent of an artwork. In fact a watch is art in miniature. Our ability to create beautiful, technical objects is what sets us apart from animals. As far as I know, no-one has ever seen an animal with a watch strapped to its leg! [laughs].
I own several, from an Everose gold Yacht-Master to a yellow gold Day-Date and the Submariner I bought for myself when I was starting out as an actor. I also have a gold Day-Date President and several GMT-Master. I really like the Deepsea Sea-Dweller. It’s a watch that can take a few knocks. Like me, I guess! [laughs].
I like watches to be functional, hard-wearing and reliable. I also like a watch that shows your personality and says who you are inside. I choose my watch according to what I’ll be doing that day, but it also has to match my mood. You buy a watch in much the same way you pick a car, a suit, a sculpture or a painting. You fall for it there and then, at that precise moment. When I look at my watches, they take me back to a particular period in my life. A watch doesn’t just tell you the time; it helps bring back certain memories.
They’ve followed me everywhere. Well, everywhere except into the ring. Try fastening a watch with boxing gloves on. It’s not easy! [laughs].
Maybe we should order dinner, because this could take some time! [laughs]. We aren’t born wise. You learn through your mistakes and then you say, “OK, that’s enough, I’ve had my fill.” When I look back over my career, I’ve had my share of failure but like any self-respecting athlete, I’ve never thrown in the towel. If I had to change one thing, it would probably be the inability to take on different characters. In a way, I’ve locked myself in a gilded cage. I’d try to be more versatile and take more risks with roles people wouldn’t normally expect to see me play. Sure, there was Cop Land, but that wasn’t enough. Cop Land was one of the happiest times in my life. For the first time in my career, all I had to focus on was my acting. On the first day of shooting, people couldn’t believe I’d put on so much weight. They thought I must have had some kind of nervous breakdown. I can still hear bystanders saying, “That’s Stallone? That big, shuffling whale of a guy? My god, he’s awful. When I think I used to have a poster of him on my bedroom wall!”