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In ‘Tulsa King,’ Sylvester Stallone Tries Something New: Being Himself

His best-known characters often speak in grunts. But in a new series from Taylor Sheridan, he plays a smooth talker written with his real personality in mind.

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Sylvester Stallone as photographed through a glass lamp, which refracts his image.

Sylvester Stallone Needs An Introduction About As Much As Rambo Needs A Bigger Knife, Or Rocky Another Punch To The Head.

But he did want to clarify one thing about himself over tea at the St. Regis hotel in Manhattan last month, ahead of the debut of his new Paramount+ series “Tulsa King.”

Those roles that had made him famous? Those guys weren’t really him. Sure they were tough, and he is tough — at 76, he is still jacked, still doing many of his own stunts, and still Sly. But the physical demands notwithstanding, the acting part was kind of easy, he admitted, particularly after so many rounds, so many sorties: eight Rocky movies, five for Rambo.

“It’s really kind of simple to hide behind Rambo or Rocky,” he said — and here he offered a quick and uncanny “How you doin’?,” something like an impression of his own actions.

“With this fellow here,” he said of his “Tulsa King” character, a silver-tongued gangster named Dwight Manfredi, “you have to be clever.” He also had to be something else he wasn’t used to being on camera.

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“The hardest thing in acting is to be yourself,” he said, adding: “And I would say at my age, right now, I’m probably doing my best work because I’m actually playing me.”

That is, of course, the kind of thing actors say. But it’s hard to imagine a better vehicle for Stallone to be himself. As the faded but still formidable Manfredi, he gets to play tough while embracing his own intelligence and idiosyncrasies, and “Tulsa King” caters to many of the same people who grew up watching him brawl and slay his way through the ’80s.

Taylor Sheridan created the series, which premieres on Sunday. Like Sheridan’s hit cowboy drama “Yellowstone” (created with John Linson), “Tulsa King” promises to be an EZ-chair favorite, blending time-honored, dad-approved elements like the western, the gangster flick, a little nonthreatening soapiness, a little mild political incorrectness and a lot of Stalloneness.

Stallone, wearing a black long-sleeved shirt and bluejeans, in a room at the St. Regis hotel, sitting on a tan couch and throwing a red pillow toward the camera.

For Stallone, “Tulsa King” offers a chance to try some new things: It is his first major role on TV and his first serious role as a mobster — in this case, a crime family capo who has just finished serving 25 years in prison and must relocate to expand operations in Tulsa, Okla.

But it is also in line with a gradual change evident in his recent work, notably the “Creed” films. Stallone is older now, his catalog of injuries is legendary, and his roles have been evolving. The world has evolved, too, including the audience for his particular breed of postwar American he-man — he of the star-spangled boxing trunks and Sammy Hagar soundtrack. The younger film heroes in his wake — they of the spandex suits and green screens — make different movies now, tailored carefully by global conglomerates to avoid injuring their stars or offending Chinese censors.

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Andrea Savage and Stallone in a bar in a scene from “Tulsa King.”

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How Is Stallone In Person

Stallone is a raconteur, a warm guy who sweetens his conversations with references to classical mythology and f-bombs. When he talks, he clasps your shoulder and looks you in the eye. He’ll show you his tattoos and pictures of his dog. We spent time scrolling through photos of his injuries: a few spinal fusions here, a few screws in his back there. He once fell off a horse and “broke” his spleen.

It was charming, even the photo of the gaping hole in his forearm — “just a wound,” he said — from a piece of shrapnel.