FOR SAGE STALLONE, FINDING THE right emotional pitch for his first movie role—as the embattled teenage son of the Italian Stallion in 1990’s Rocky V—came all too easily. “When I was screaming, ‘You never spent time with me! You never spent time with my mother!’—that was true,” says Sage, who was raised by Sylvester Stallone’s first wife, Sasha, after his parents divorced in 1985. “I was looking into my father’s face and really saying that.”
It was cathartic. After a few tears and a lot of straight talk, he recalls, “everything changed.” Sage, 20, and Sly, 50, are close friends offscreen—and together again on it in Daylight, the new Die Hard-m-a-tunnel thriller. Sage was on his own for his audition, but after that, Dad was in his corner. Says Sly: “I didn’t realize how much of a stage mother I had become.”
The pair’s reward? Five months in a replica of New York City’s Holland Tunnel, neck-deep in water with thousands of pounds of boiled spinach (faux Hudson River muck) and, at one point, 2,000 live rats. “It was dark, hot and musty,” gripes Sage. “There were a lot of guys with B.O. in there.” But the Stallones, being Stallones, could take it. “Between takes, Sly and Sage would roll around in the dirt like two puppies,” says Daylight director Rob Cohen.
Born in 1976, at the start of his father’s stardom, Stallone’s firstborn (younger brother Seargeoh, later diagnosed with autism, came along three years later) inherited Sly’s deep-set brown eyes, but otherwise he has little in common with his athletic parent. “He has said, ‘I’m not sure if I’m ever going to be as famous as my dad. Is that all right?’ ” says his mother. “I tell him, ‘As long as you give it your best, that’s all that matters.’ ” Says Sly: “Sage has chosen an entirely different route. He’s interested in a different type of filmmaking. And he avoids the gym like the plague.”
Sage did malinger his way out of gym class at a series of schools—like his father, he was a less-than-dedicated student—before graduating from Montclair Preparatory School in Van Nuys, Calif., in 1993. He studied filmmaking for a year at the North Carolina School of the Arts, but craved hands-on experience and returned to L.A. Despite roles in Rocky V and an unreleased thriller, he thought he’d end up behind the camera and was assisting director Richard Donner on 1995’s Assassins when he became intrigued by the Daylight script.
The Hollywood high life, though, interests him not. Rather than party, Sage prefers to screen Z-grade horror flicks (Zombie Chicks, Hell Hole) in the bachelor bedroom—complete with black leather bedspread—he occupies in Sasha’s Beverly Hills home. “People call me a hermit,” he says. “But I’m happy.” The only thing missing is someone to share it with. But Sage’s grandmother, astrologer Jacqueline Stallone, isn’t worried about his prospects: “He’s got all the compassion in the world. He says, ‘Grandma, I don’t want the kind of girls my father likes. I just want a girl who will sit and watch movies with me.’ He’ll find her.”
ELIZABETH LEONARD in Los Angeles