BLOOD,SWEAT,DUST : In Israel for 'Rambo III,' Stallone Takes on the Russians and the Perils of Film Making in 120 Heat

Sylvester Stallone was in his Rambo get-up, seated on the steps of his trailer in afternoon heat of 120-plus. It was a curious image: Instead of brandishing his glistening "survival" knife, Stallone was wielding a fly swatter.

Never missing a beat during an interview, he idly swatted at flies that landed on his pants and bare chest. And he whapped at flies that settled on the khaki-clad legs of the interviewer alongside him. "Did you meet this one?," Stallone said. "I'm gonna keep him as a pet and name him 'Killer.' "

As tenacious as these hordes of flies might be, fly swatting belied the mood of this particular mission. As Stallone noted, with a nod to a bodyguard who lounged against a nearby trailer, "This is a pretty serious place to be. There's a sense of danger here. . . ."

In war-weary Israel, where military checkpoints dot the country, gun-toting soldiers are everywhere. Visitors can't help but be apprehensive.

The sense of tension is one reason that Stallone chose Israel to make "Rambo: First Blood Part III."

But there's another reason. The isolation of the country's rugged landscape fits the mood of lonely, dispirited Vietnam vet John Rambo.

Not coincidentally, it also fits the current mood of Stallone, whose personal life is in the midst of upheaval.

Budgeted at $31 million, "Rambo III" will shoot through November at locations including Eilat and caves near Jerusalem. Filming, which will wrap in December in Thailand, is currently under way in Jaffa (near Tel Aviv), following three weeks in the hills above the Dead Sea.

In this sequel to the monster hit "Rambo II," which grossed about $375 million worldwide, Israel's breathtaking vistas are doubling for Russkie-infested Afghanistan.

That's where Vietnam vet Rambo reluctantly journeys when his mentor, and only true friend, Col. Sam Trautman (again played by Richard Crenna), is kidnaped and held prisoner.

The storyline, co-scripted by Stallone, finds Rambo befriending a young Afghani boy and teaming with moujahedeen tribesmen (Afghani freedom fighters) to fight the Soviets.

Said Stallone: "For a while, we talked about doing this movie in Arizona or Nevada. But then I thought, hey, what's everyone going to do--hit the crap tables every night after filming?

"That's not quite the state-of-mind I thought we should have for a movie like this."

Morocco, Australia, Italy and Utah were also considered. In Mexico, some $5 million worth of sets were built, and later dismantled.

Then came a location visit to Israel: "I got off the plane and said, 'Yeah, this is it,' " said Stallone. "It feels like the kind of place where you should make 'Rambo'--you know?"

As Crenna noted: "We drive through a military checkpoint each day to get to the set, then get into our soldier costumes and 'go to war.' Then, when the jets fly overhead, we look up and wonder where they're going--or where they've been."

He is a character who touched a nerve that was felt the world over.

John Rambo, the former "special operations" GI, has played to record-breaking audiences in countries ranging from Japan to Australia to France to the Philippines. And too many others to list.

Relating to John Rambo doesn't require that audiences relate to the Vietnam War. Or to American patriotism. At least that's what cheering audiences in places such as Israel, South Africa and the Arab world would seem to indicate. (Wire reports from Lebanon told of gun-toting moviegoers who jumped up and down in their seats, applauding Rambo's gung-ho actions.)

First introduced to audiences in the realistic and downbeat "First Blood"--in which he was forced to fight his own countrymen (who tried to run the long-haired drifter out of their sleepy community)--Rambo became a screen legend with "Rambo: First Blood Part II."

Stallone attributes that to "the great pipe dream that was 'Rambo II' "--a reference to the storyline that found Rambo returning to Vietnam and rescuing MIAs.

In that film, Rambo became a larger-than-life screen character rooted in lore.

Explained Stallone: "He doesn't take on challenges for money--or for glory. What he's doing is grabbing at a second chance, trying to eradicate mistakes, trying to exorcise his demons.

"He has one foot in the dark, one in the light. And so he vacillates, he's uncertain which way to go.

"But, in the end, he usually makes the right decisions.

"Audiences know that his methods are extremely simplified--he's a man who believes that actions speak louder than words. And he has little faith in negotiation.

"Still, he can be counted on."

The "Rambo III" cast and crew of more than 250 was put through rigorous paces during the first weeks of shooting in the Dead Sea region.

Foremost among the challenges: the heat.

Temperatures in Sodom, the seaside resort area where cast and crew were ensconced, run about 120. But in the craggy hills above--where a Russian-occupied fort had been constructed in "Afghanistan"--they run about 10 higher. And then some.

As a result, sun block, wide-brimmed hats and real sunglasses--not fancy fashion versions--are absolute necessities. And deodorants and antiperspirants are essentially useless.

So intense is the sun that water "girls" and "boys" are almost never out of view, circulating among cast and crew with bottles of Israel's own Eden Springs mineral water.

Memos posted around the set by the crew's two doctors urge everyone to drink "at least" 20 to 30 cups of water during daytime filming (about 1,500 1.2-liter bottles of mineral water, daily).

And there were logistical challenges. Not only the transport of tanks and helicopters, but also the building of sets, like the freedom fighters' village (now being erected in Eilat) and the housing of the crew.

The lowest point on Earth, the Dead Sea area is visited mostly by those who believe in the medicinal properties of the sea, which has a 30% salt content, no waves and no marine life. The salt content also keeps bathers from sinking. It can also be temporarily blinding, which is why bathers must protect their faces from the water.

There are only a handful of hotels in Sodom, which is located at the southern tip of the sea. They range from the utilitarian--catering to visitors who're there for health purposes--to the posh. (The hotel where Stallone stayed, for instance, has its own spa and gym and indoor swimming pool.)

This is the Sodom, the accursed city of the Bible. As testament of its woolly past, there's a nearby rock formation known as "Lot's Wife."

But that was the old days. . . .

There's not an awful lot of action in modern Sodom, aside from lolling in lounges (where a shot of Jack Daniels runs about $10) or playing bingo in Hebrew or watching one of a handful of TV stations beamed in by satellite. Look for "Nightline" at 7 in the morning.

Hotel conveniences are limited and are definitely not in keeping with what Hollywood film makers are accustomed to. To escape from hotel food, the more adventurous crew members drove to nearby kibbutzim to try out the local eateries.

As Stallone put it: "Babe, this is Restaurant of the Dead time."

Then there was the daily drive to the set, about 45 minutes away.

Past the resort hotels, in the opposite direction of Masada, the nearby historic Jewish stronghold, past an Israeli military checkpoint, the drive continues into the hills on the country's main road leading toward Tel Aviv, which is 3 hours away.

Shortly after the Dead Sea disappears from sight is a small side road, marked by an innocuous wooden stake and a small sign reading "Carolco Pictures." From here to the production encampment, it's a rough-and-tumble seven miles--about 30 minutes' worth--on a mostly single-lane "road."

It was Andrew Vajna and partner Mario Kassar who put together, as executive producers, the first rampage of John Rambo.

Based on a critically admired 1972 novel by David Morrell, "First Blood" traversed three movie studios and 18 screenplays before going on to become one of the sleeper hits of 1982. It launched Vajna and Kassar's Carolco. And the "property" of John Rambo continues to be the company's main asset.

The Rambo films have had a history of logistical hurdles. With "First Blood" in 1982, filming stopped for a month when Vancouver had its worst snow in more than 150 years. Later, in order to properly match shots, the producers had to pay to have snow melted.

Two hurricanes, with winds of 120 m.p.h., took their toll on "Rambo II" in 1984, destroying sets and forcing production to begin in the basement of an Acapulco hotel.

Little wonder that "Rambo III" line producer Buzz Feitshans, who also served as producer on "First Blood" and "Rambo II," motioned to the desert landscape around him and quipped, "I fully expected to find a snowstorm waiting for us here at the Dead Sea."

There are the other kinds of storms, emotional ones. The first 2 1/2 weeks of filming here were volatile. The headlines involved a spate of comings and goings. Mostly goings.

The roll-call: Director of photography Ric Waite ("Cobra") exited; David Gurfinkel ("Over the Top") entered. The assistant director and the camera crew were replaced. And Stallone decided to forgo his $16-million salary, opting instead for a share of the box-office take. Quizzed about his percentage, he said it was "hefty." Asked if it was 50%, he smiled and said: "I wish."

Most startling was the news that director Russell Mulcahy ("Razorback," "Highlander"), who'd been hand-picked for the job by Stallone, was replaced by veteran camera operator Peter MacDonald, 48, who directed second-unit helicopter sequences on "Rambo II." "Rambo III" is his directorial debut.

MacDonald was frank when asked about his tenure: "This could be a short-and-sweet debut. Better give me a couple more days, and then check back."

Several days later, MacDonald admitted that he'd been so exhausted after filming, scouting locations and looking over the script, that he'd fallen asleep the night before with his clothes on. He was awakened by his wife, calling from their London home.

"She said, 'You promised you'd call.' " Joked MacDonald, "We're talking divorce."

The slightly built, soft-spoken MacDonald has British manners that amused Stallone. After one rigorous scene in which Stallone jumped through a steaming sewage tunnel, MacDonald told him, "That was a tidy job, Sly."

But Stallone also called MacDonald "a stroke of luck" for the production. Moreover, said Stallone, "Inside, he's gutsy."

Of the crew changes, Stallone said with understated diplomacy, "Things weren't jelling. There were creative differences. Personality differences.

"The key to Rambo is emotion--if you don't find yourself wedded to the crusade, the film won't work.

"Well, we had people who weren't in sync with the crusade."

As the star and co-screenwriter of "Rambo III," Stallone is very much the architect of Rambo's odyssey.

It's a status that MacDonald doesn't question. "Oh, there's no doubt about it. If I want something one way, and Sly wants it another, it'll go his way."

With a smile, MacDonald added, "I can't arm-wrestle him, you know."

"OK, Babe, you're on my turf now. This is Afghanistan."

Stallone motioned to the Soviet-occupied fort and its grounds that encircled him.

Production designer Bill Kenney ("Rambo II," "Rocky IV") created the stronghold to look like a "period" Afghani fort (more than 200 years old) that has been "modernized" by its Soviet occupants.

A crew of up to 80 worked day and night for 5 1/2 weeks erecting the seven-acre set.

Located a bumpy drive (some of it in first gear) from the production encampment, one side of the fort is nestled just feet away from a 2,000-foot drop-off. The script, after all, calls for Rambo to scale the canyon walls to get into the fort to rescue Trautman.

To another side, a watchtower looms ominously. It will be blown up during the final days of filming in the area.

There are also metal catwalks from which Soviet soldiers patrol. And tents. And burnt-out rubble, including blackened vehicles of war. There are also smoldering fires, rolled barbed-wire, sandbags and tanks and jeeps.

Like much of the film's weaponry, the tanks and jeeps are authentic. "There's no Hollywood cheating going on," said Kenney, who explained that the vehicles are being used through arrangements with the Israeli military, which acquired the equipment in battles with its Soviet-armed neighbors.

The same holds true for the film's cache of more than 500 guns.

When property master Sam Moore ("The Untouchables") first arrived in Israel, he had a back-up plan: "Just in case I couldn't find what I needed here, I planned to go to Rome."

A trip to a Tel Aviv weapons dealer the first morning he arrived in the country put any uncertainties to rest.

Deadpanned Moore: "No problem getting guns around here." In fact, much of the film's weaponry--according to the dealer through whom it's being rented--was captured from a ship bound for Lebanon. (For use in the film, they've been converted to shoot only blanks.)

Equally authentic are the costumes, especially of the "Afghans" (many of them bearing wounds of war) who wandered the set. The reason: Afghan consultant Sadiq Tawfiq suggested that clothes be purchased from real-life Afghans. So he went with costume designer Richard La Motte to Peshawar, the Pakistani border town where the moujahedeen come to replenish their supplies and where displaced Afghans have gathered. Old clothing, some of it bloodied, was purchased, as were Afghan items from local shops. "So you see, not only will the movie look very real," enthused Tawfiq, a Laguna Beach shop owner, "but we have also helped the people there."

Israelis have been largely cast in the roles of Afghans, while the Soviets are being played mostly by Americans, English and French. To insure that the film doesn't come off sounding like a Tower of Babel, Tel Aviv dialect coach Yonny Lucas is on hand to oversee the Pashtu and Russian dialogue.

As befits a war zone, the "Rambo III" set even has tough-on-the-nostril smells from all those fires and the special effects.

Plus the incessant sounds of rat-tat-tat-ing guns and helicopter take-offs and landings. And, as befits a Rambo romp, explosions. And more explosions. (Earplugs were readily available to cast and crew and reporters.)

And lots of loudly-issued orders/warnings, from crew members, like:

"More smoke!"

"OK, everyone, this will be a Big One!"

"Get ready to take cover!"

There was also the command, to one of the Soviet soldiers, prior to a shoot-out with Rambo: "More blood!"

Stallone was speaking from the shade of a large umbrella, awaiting his call for a scene in which he and Trautman attempt to commandeer a helicopter--a dismantled American-made Gazelle was transported to this country in the belly of a 747, then put back together--"made up" to look like a Soviet HIND MI24.

Explained Stallone: "Rambo is geared, built, tooled--whatever term you want to use--for geopolitical situations.

"For him, each challenge is a kind of a quest, a topical quest. You'll notice, too, that he's always running from something. Because he has nothing, really, to run to ."

But what about sending Rambo to Soviet-invaded Afghanistan during glasnost and a promising detente with us?

Said Stallone hotly: "Look at this as a positive attempt to expose what is an open wound--and an unfair, unjust, genocidal situation that has no place on the face of this Earth."

He detailed the history--complete with body-count statistics and modes of warfare ("I mean, the Russians have dropped bombs that look like toys, to murder and maim that country's children")--of the Soviet-Afghan conflict.

Added Stallone: "It's a little tough to get behind the Russians with something like that, wouldn't you say?"

He was deadly serious, so that you almost forget that he's an actor making a movie.

Long impassioned about what he calls "a forgotten war," he added, "This is a war that nobody seems interested in, because it's so far away in a country we don't know much about."

He sighed, adding, "What I'm hoping to do is to bring to light a horrible situation that is taking place in the world.

"But I'm not kidding myself. There'll be some people who'll be waiting--to accuse me of Red-bashing. . . ."

Stallone was wearing his regular Rambo regalia: the black pants and boots and headband. (You'll recognize the headband as the bandage applied to his hand by his ever-so-brief Vietnamese love interest in "Rambo II.") Plus the rippling muscles. They are prominently displayed when the script renders him shirtless.

And a scabbard, inside of which is a foot-long knife created for this scenario.

Made of 440 chromium steel, it's got a fencer handle ("Which allows it to be used in a more graceful manner, if you will," said Stallone), and a double-edged, quarter-inch-thick blade. It's also got eight notches, for the eight men who served in Rambo's unit in Vietnam.

(Rambo's precarious mental state, in "First Blood," is largely due to the fact that his buddies have all died, some as a result of Agent Orange.)

The knife has still more symbolism: "In a way, it's like a code that Rambo lives by."

Seated on a rooftop of the fort, late one afternoon, Stallone held out the knife: "You can shoot a guy from 200 yards. But with a knife, you have to be there.

"And if you're there--if you get that close to an opponent--then death is imminent. Death is inches away."

Stressed Stallone: "And so Rambo responds, not because he wants to but because he has to."

Nor does Rambo come away from every battle unscarred. For this latest installment, he'll acquire some new wounds, the result of an impalement through his lower back and lower chest. Ever-resourceful when it comes to survival tactics, Rambo will cauterize the wound himself with ignited gunpowder.

Rambo also will be ever-heroic, proving adept at scaling sheer mountainsides and piloting MI24s.

Well, OK, stunt doubles will actually do the climb under the supervision of famed mountaineers Joe Brown and Moe Antoine, whose "credits" include having climbed every major mountain in the world, among them Mount Everest. And the MI24 is really piloted by Roy Matthews, who's flown for 20 years for oil companies, seated across from Stallone and out of camera view.

But if Stallone isn't a real life mountaineer/copter pilot, he is every bit as macho as Rambo is heroic. He doesn't merely rise to the occasion of the role's physical challenges, he relishes them.

He's not fond of heights, but, still, he daringly lowered himself onto a precarious ledge, with a drop-off of more than 1,800 feet, in order to do a scene in which a breathless Rambo pulls himself over the summit. (To even glimpse the ledge requires standing dangerously close to a limestone cliff.)

Then there was his bare-chested crawl, across some 100 yards of rocky terrain, in order to make his way across the fort's grounds.

The result of that, according to a grinning Stallone, was 140 nicks and cuts. Nothing debilitating, though he seemed to look upon them as badges of courage. As he said with a laugh, "I didn't feel them all until I went out into the Dead Sea."

Other assignments: He clung beneath a Soviet tank as it rolled across the fort grounds; he commandeered a spirited black Andalusian stallion for his rides with the moujahedeen tribesmen.

An accomplished horseman, Stallone mounted his massive horse (the breed is used in the bull rings of Spain) in a single, graceful leap.

Making all this physical prowess possible, of course, is a famed physique that is, in turn, the result of a sweating, straining regimen that Stallone seems to relish every bit as much as his feats as Rambo.

It's not that easy, so far from home. He requires 13 pieces of Eagle Sybex workout equipment, which will follow him as the movie goes from location to location. A trainer is on hand for daily hourlong sessions at the hotel, where Stallone does about 60 sets of exercises, 10 repetitions per set, with 90-pound weights. Which means he's starting his day by pumping 54,000 pounds.

The trainer is also on the set to work with Stallone between takes, especially when a shirtless scene is upcoming, the better to "pump up" his already bulging muscles. And he's there if Stallone opts for a no-frills lunch-break workout. Like the one that the reporter witnessed, which found Stallone doing a series of groaning exercises atop a towel (with a J.C. Penney label) that he laid on the ground in front of his trailer.

Stallone also brought his own chef--"imported" from L.A.--to see to his special meals.

The result of all this bodily care? Stallone, who stands 5-foot-10 in his Rambo boots, weighs 178 to 180 pounds, up 15 from "Rambo II."

Now 41, Stallone said he doesn't see himself allowing those muscles to mellow for future "Rambo" sequels.

"I have to think that Rambo would want to continue to be the fighting machine that he once was. That's something that he doesn't want to lose. That's something man doesn't want to lose. To play this character, I draw upon the animal that is Man."

He was making these pronouncements during a grueling morning workout at his hotel that sometimes found him yelling out at "the burn."

At a picnic table during a lunch break on the set, Richard Crenna, in camouflage greens, had a carefully applied gash over one eye and his wrists were "bloodied" because of torture by the Soviets.

But he was happy: "For a change, I'm getting into the action."

He recalled, "Sly called me about three months ago and said, 'You'd better get into shape. . . .' "

Explained Crenna: "He said he was tired of me standing around in my uniform, delivering all the good lines."

With that, Crenna intoned, "What you choose to call hell, he calls home," one of the quotable quotes about Rambo from "Rambo II." And, from "First Blood"--upon hearing that 200 men are out tracking Rambo--"Don't forget one thing--a good supply of body bags."

Known for his critically acclaimed supporting roles in such films as "The Flamingo Kid" and "Body Heat," as well as for his thoughtful starring roles in TV movies and series and miniseries (including "The Rape of Richard Beck," for which he won an Emmy), Crenna doesn't seem like the sort of actor who'd be off playing soldier in the Middle East.

"Are you kidding? This is a great hoot for me. I'm having the time of my life.

"This film series has given me the kind of recognition I've never before had as an actor.

"I feel like I'm part of a cult happening, it's like being a part of the Woodstock of the '80s on the big screen."

Of the "Rambo" backlash, fueled largely by what some perceive as violence and jingoism, Crenna said, "These movies have become controversial for all the wrong reasons. More often than not, what's branded as being 'Ramboism' is directly opposed to what he, as a character, stands for.

"As for those arguments about violence, why isn't there any controversy over movies like 'The Untouchables' and 'Lethal Weapon'?"

Crenna said he'd have never guessed, back in the days of "First Blood," that the saga of John Rambo would be going on and on. "We'll eventually be attacking Sun City," laughed Crenna.

So what's Stallone really like?

According to Crenna, that's always the first question he's asked by Rambo fans.

He offered clues: "I've worked with so many people through the years who've had a tendency to forget their pasts, forget their beginnings. I find that most unattractive because, as actors we're the sum total of all our experiences. And where we began is as important as where we are now.

"Well, Sly has never forgotten where he came from. And what he went through to get where he is. He's always talking about the little bit he did in this film or that film.

"I find it so healthy that he manages to keep all that in focus."

So what else is Stallone like?

Well, he's the first to poke fun at his screen image. It's he who wonders if a reporter's seen the book "Yo, Poe!"--which mentions his longtime infatuation with Edgar Allan Poe.

He was asked if he's got a specially designed necklace to commemorate every screen credit. For "Rocky," he's got a gold necklace with a little boxing glove; for "Rambo," he's sporting a necklace with a Special Forces-like design with little arrows and sword.

"Yeah," he laughed, "the one for 'Rhinestone' has this little pile of manure. . . ."

Then there's his an ingratiating way with words. How else to describe his admission that his tendency to sometimes say things he shouldn't is "because I removed my brain filter."

He can also surprise with his candor.

He readily acknowledges, for instance, that audiences don't want to see him dressed to the nines, as if he'd just stepped out of GQ. His hand pressed against his bare chest, he said, "This is what they want."

And, though he himself is a talker (and, between takes, a jokester), he keeps his dialogue to a minimum. "Anyway," he smiled, "when I say too much, audiences can't always understand me."

For a superstar, he can be very down-to-earth. As he was being readied for scenes in the helicopter, he discussed the ravages of the desert sun on his hair, and then offered tips on hair conditioning ("What you should do is put the conditioner on at night, then wrap it in a towel and sleep with it").

Almost everyone has seen the screaming supermarket tabloids about Stallone's divorce from Brigitte Nielsen.

Those headlines even made their way to the set, in a gossipy Arabic women's magazine that was passed around on the set. Arab extras translated to crew members.

Even Stallone was glimpsed leaning against a truck, listening as part of the article was read. It was scintillating stuff about their sex lives, before and after divorce proceedings. He seemed unruffled.

Later, when asked about the status of his personal life, he declared: "I've got nothing malicious to say. I've been through some pretty traumatic experiences in my time. And this is another one. I wouldn't exactly call it a learning experience. It's one of those experiences you don't need to learn, you know what I mean? It's, like, 'Thank you very much, but I don't need this course.' "

He offered another analogy with: "It was kind of like a glacier. You know, they move toward you and, it's inevitable, that if you stand in the way you'll become part of the scenery.

"Well, I became part of the scenery. Now, I've moved out of the way, and I'm letting that part of my life move on."

In some ways, said Stallone, what is happening in his personal life is a kind of "purging" that helps him to portray John Rambo: "I think I function best with this character when I'm not at peace with myself. Something about filming in this country helps in that respect, too.

"It's the isolation, the sense of being alone."

Playing Rocky Balboa doesn't require such "method" acting.

"That's because I've known Rockys. I've been around a lot of fighters. But," Stallone added thoughtfully, "I've never really known anyone like Rambo.

"So to play him, what do you draw from? You've got to make it all up.

'When I'm playing Rambo, I look in the mirror, and I see that my eyes have lost a certain zest for life. . . . Because Rambo doesn't revel in his adventures. And, even when he wins, he doesn't win. You know?"

This reminded Stallone of the feelings he encountered after he first played John Rambo in "First Blood." He also felt that a sense of isolation was necessary, so he lived away from the rest of the cast and crew, "and everybody probably thought I was pretty standoffish."

He didn't know just how much the character meant to him--and how deeply he'd been affected by him--until the night he returned home from the Vancouver shoot.

"I remember I was sitting at the dinner table, in that big house in Pacific Palisades. I think Sasha (his then-wife) was out for the night. Anyway--and you've got to picture this--I'm sitting at this big dining room table for 12 with just me at the end, alone. And I looked around at the serenity and the opulence and then, I flashed back to some of that stuff in the film, like that big scene at the end, where John Rambo suffers a breakdown, and, well, I lost it.

"It was the last time I truly remember crying--I mean fluid pouring from my eyes. When it happened, I thought I was having a breakdown or something.

"Then, I realized it was cathartic."

Stallone was seated on the steps of the fort, cradling a grenade-launcher that a weapons dealer from Tel Aviv had brought to the set.

The enthusiastic dealer had a militia of guns from which Stallone could choose.

Did he want a scope? Did he prefer to have a short, thick barrel? Would he like a rocket launcher?

Stallone was having a good time playing with the weaponry when he suddenly turned to Peter MacDonald and asked, "Hey, Peter, did we ever get that nighttime shot of me, the one where I'm shown entering the fort from up above?"

And, he wondered, what about the shot that showed how Rambo had made his way into a room at the fort? "Otherwise, I just, like, appear there. So we gotta cover that, and show how I get in," declared Stallone.

He referred to pick-up shots for scenes that had been filmed several weeks ago.

Then there was the night that Stallone, who was on his way to film a scene in the sewage tunnel, stopped to tell associate producer (and longtime bodyguard and friend) Tony Munafo, "We need a blind man for the village." He explained, intently, "I saw that in a documentary. It was very touching."

Asked about his penchant for details, Stallone said, "There are so many variables involved in making a movie. The challenge, with this kind of movie, is to maximize the visual impact."

By the same token, said Stallone, "The challenge with a sequel is to go further than you did the last time."

As for replaying a character: "Rarely are you afforded the chance to take a character and keep expanding him. I consider it a blessing that I've been able to do Rambo and Rocky sequels."

In fact, revealed Stallone, he's searching for a concept for "Rocky V." Though, first, he'll likely do a prison drama. And he also has plans to portray a soldier of the future (on a quest in a post-apocalyptic society) and a modern-day gangster. (Though he can't be too bad a bad guy: "With my image, that's a tough act to sell," said Stallone.)

And of course, he'd like to do Rambo again.

"I love the character! He's a mystery to me, which is one reason I like playing him.

"I also like the way the role takes me back-to-basics, if you will," said Stallone, who often precedes his scenes as Rambo by letting loose a wild cry.

Meanwhile, in the midst of filming, Stallone continues to grapple with the "Rambo III" script, especially the dilemma over the plight of the young Afghan boy (played by Doudi Shoua) who becomes a kind of occasional sidekick to Rambo.

Stallone thinks if would be effective to have the child die, "because that would pretty much say it all, about the horrors of war."

At the same time, he admitted, "I don't want to upset or distract people at the moment when I want their attention.

"Some people get really rattled when a character they've grown to like dies. Well, I don't want to rattle the audience, I just want a little grief.

"When the girl dies in 'Rambo II,' it's very smooth. It's not a jar. You don't miss her--do you know what I mean? No one gets up and says, 'Aw, I'm leaving!' It wasn't one of those."

Making matters trickier, said Stallone, is the fact that the film's executive producers, Andy Vanja and Mario Kassar, want the child to live, "for one of those heartwarming kind of endings."

There are still other script differences to sort out, including Rambo's status when the film opens.

As presently scripted, he's in Bangkok working on boats when he's first asked by Trautman to go into Afghanistan. It's Trautman who gifts him with his new knife. But now, Stallone confessed, he's thinking of returning to an earlier version in which Rambo is first seen living near Buddhist monks and working in a foundry, where he ultimately forges his new knife.

All script differences aside, audiences can count on the fact that the knife will somehow get to Rambo. And the rest, as they say, will be history.

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