Wednesday April 25 11:52 AM ET
FEATURE-Stallone takes backseat to young actors in ``Driven''
By Bob Tourtellotte
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - It's not like Sylvester
Stallone is over the hill, but for an action movie star,
age 54 is -- to put it nicely -- getting up there. Even Sly
knows it. Heck, even Rocky and Rambo know it.
So, after a quarter century in the movies, Stallone
has taken a backseat to young actors like Kip Pardue,
Til Schweiger and Christian de la Fuente in his
film about championship auto racing, ``Driven,'' debuting
around the United States April 27.
As he did for his 1976 breakthrough ``Rocky,''
the ``Rambo'' movies and ``Cliffhanger,'' Stallone
wrote ``Driven'' with himself playing lead character Joe
Tanto, an older race car driver riding the comeback trail.
But after 20 early drafts that sounded too much like
another generation's ``Rocky,'' Stallone said he
knew it was time for Tanto to get out of the race. From there,
``Driven'' developed into a story about rookie driver
Jimmy Bly (Pardue), whom Tanto mentors as Bly tries to
become the winner of the Championship Auto Racing Team (CART)
Sound autobiographical? Replace ``driver'' with ``actor''
and ''CART'' with ``movie career,'' and ``Driven'' is
very close to the way Stallone feels about acting, he
said in recent interviews.
``You realize you can't always be number one, you
just can't be in front all the time. But what you can do is lend
support, help, nourish and encourage,'' Stallone said.
``If I can talk to a young actor and say, 'don't do
this, don't do that' ... my experiences will help him. If he
does succeed, you say 'you know, what I kind of contributed to
that,''' Stallone added.
The veteran action star became a sensation with ``Rocky.''
His face was instantly recognized by millions of fans around
the world, and he had every whim catered to by assistants, agents,
managers, lawyers, publicists and groupies.
Then, came forgettable movies such as ``F.I.S.T''
and ''Nighthawks,'' negative publicity that followed,
a popular rebound with the ``Rambo'' flicks and, well,
a relatively rocky career after that marked by as many hits as
flops, such as this past fall's ``Get Carter.''
A Rocky Road
For the uninitiated, CART racing is sort of a cross
between the Indianapolis 500 racing that is familiar to fans
in the United States and Formula One racing that is popular around
CART drivers compete over a variety of courses that
include both oval-shaped and street-like tracks. The season begins
in the spring and covers over 20 locations in four continents
before reaching its end in the fall.
Drivers can hit up to 240 miles-per-hour on the faster
oval tracks and nearly 200 miles-per-hour on street course straight
aways. Each year, they compete for individual race purses, and
a $1 million bonus as the top racer over CART's entire season.
For racing, CART is at the top of the sport, and being
crowned the champ is sort of like winning an Oscar for best director
of the year's best film.
In ``Driven,'' Bly wins a string of early races
in the CART season and is fast becoming a media darling with
his face plastered on magazine covers and across television airwaves.
GOT IT ALL?
His new success brings everything he and brother/manager
Demille (Robert Sean Leonard) dreamed about as kids --
fame, fortune, fast cars, a fast lifestyle and an even faster
love affair between Bly and the beautiful Sofia (Estella Warren).
But Bly's fame soon spawns a jealous rivalry between
him and defending CART champion, Beau Brandenberg (Til Schweiger).
The fact that Sofia is Brandenberg's girlfriend adds fuel to
the fire between the two.
As Stallone explains it, the racing serves
as a backdrop to the real themes in ``Driven,'' which
are about handling success, determining real friends and filtering
outside opinions from friends and advisors to make your own decisions.
``Unfortunately, success can distort your values.
You don't think it does, but it does,'' said Stallone.
``Jimmy is starting to go the way many people do, and his life
is starting to get distorted.''
Car owner Carl Henry (Burt Reynolds) -- a toughened
old driver whose career ended when a crash put him in a wheel
chair -- hires Tanto to drive car number 2, behind Bly. It's
Tanto's job to teach the kid how to stay focused and win races
while pressure heats up on and off the track.
Of course, taking a backseat to Bly is difficult for
Tanto because he, too, had once been a champion racer. But his
reflexes have grown slow with age, and knows he is no longer
at the top of the racing game.
His only way back, he deems, is to share life's lessons
with Bly, hope Bly learns, then re-experience the thrill of victory
through the eyes and experiences of the younger man.
Stallone can only laugh when asked if ``Driven''
parallels his own career, and whether he had to learn the lessons
about Hollywood-sized fame the hard way, on his own.
``Unfortunately, yeah, I did,'' he said. ``It's like
being in the eye of a hurricane and you lose that touch with
your common sense. And only age and experience bring it back.''
The hardest part of success, said Stallone,
is the freedom of choice that comes with being at the top of
the game. That type of freedom means people must be responsible
for their own decisions, and ``that is a lot of pressure for
To cope, Tanto tells Bly in ``Driven,'' you
must do what your instincts tell you. Race your own race; fight
your own fight. It's solid advice, and sounds much like something
a good corner man would tell his boxer in the heat of battle.
Or, in the case of Stallone, what a veteran
Hollywood celebrity might say to a new headliner on movie marquees.
- Craig Zablo (April 26, 2001)