Brian Dennehy is still around, and in the spirit of a new Rambo filming right now and all, it’s interesting to see him give a new and rare interview about shooting the original First Blood decades ago. With AVClub, Dennehy reflects and gives the following;
BD: The funny thing about First Blood is—people forget this now—but Stallone, who had been a sensation of course in Rocky, his career had begun to dim a little bit when we did First Blood. Rocky was so huge, and I don’t know whether he had done the second one by that time. I think he had done it, but it hadn’t come out, and so he was looking for something else. He had done some other pictures, but his career had faded a little bit.
We went up in the winter time to frickin’ British Columbia and shot an exterior picture in the woods freezing our asses off in this beautiful little town up there. Nobody really knew what the hell we had. [Stallone] did it for short money for him, and the guys who made the picture were Canadian. The money guys were from Canada, and an old friend of mine, Ted Kotcheff, directed.
I should have known, because Ted is one of those guys who is a real, old pro. He knew exactly what he was doing. He knew exactly what could happen with that project, and he got it, and we shot it. It took a long time to shoot because of the weather, but when it came out, it exploded. Blew up. It was huge. It was a huge success for Stallone and it was a big success for Ted, because it was obviously a difficult picture to make. People wanted to see the d**n movie.
I’ll tell you a funny anecdote about that. The original script, which I read and was working on, had Stallone getting killed at the end of the picture. His character, Rambo—I can’t even remember how he died in it. He did not want to be captured. He did not want to have to go back to whatever his post-war life had been, and he was killed. About three weeks into the shoot, they had one of these film markets in L.A. The producers and the director and everybody flew down to L.A. for the weekend and showed a piece of the film. The response, of course, was sensational, both to what Ted directed and what Stallone had done with the character. They came back and said, “By the way, you’re not dying. We’re going to keep you alive,” because they were already thinking in terms of the sequel, which turned into, what? Five sequels?
All of the sudden, they realized what Stallone was. He was so loved by the audience that you can put him in the same parts a little bit later. Those two characters, Rambo and the boxer, he’s done 10? Twelve pictures? Thirteen pictures? Something like that. The point is, they discovered that while they were making that movie, that Stallone was uniquely Stallone. What the audience wanted to see with him was what they had seen before, except somewhat different. They wanted him as Rambo with the problems of getting older, for example. It’s the same thing with Rocky, the boxer. With Rambo, of course, you’ve got him going off to fight wars all over the world, right?
That discovery was made while we were making that picture. The audience’s reaction was so sensational to essentially this short that had been made to show them at this market where people come in from all over the world to buy the picture for future release wherever they lived. The reaction was so extraordinary that it led to not only more successful pictures like that, but then 10 or 15 years of his career, which of course has been extraordinary.
Funnily enough, Burt Reynolds once invited Stallone over to his house to advise him to turn down this horrible movie, just like he did. As Stallone said once to Total Film:
“I was at Burt Reynolds’ house having dinner and he said to me ‘… even if the movie dies and you’re good in it, it doesn’t matter’. I said to him, ‘Burt, that’s about the worst piece of advice anyone has ever given me, but thanks anyway’”.