Brian Bosworth is Not Stone-Hearted

The Boz on football, drama and "Stone Cold"

"If the movie had been done the way it was intended to be, I would be much more proud than I would have been, but that saying in Hollywood about what can go wrong could go wrong." Brian Bosworth on how inter-generational revenge drama Heart of Stone became muscle-headed beat 'em up Stone Cold

In 1991 Brian Bosworth wasn't looking to become a movie star, and he's still not too fond of how it happened.

The former Seattle Seahawk burst onto the action flick scene in 1991 with Stone Cold, a no-brain, all-muscle and guns cops-and-bikers flick, whose cult status earns it a special screening at the Alamo Ritz tonight, May 4. But that's not the movie he signed up for.

After his final injury-laden season in 1989, he was nursing his physical and psychological wound in Hawaii, mulling his options. "Most athletes, they have to put the blinkers on," he said. "Seriously, I had no idea. I was one of those athletes that had such passion and that I believed I would have a long and successful career, and I would organically transition later." Acting, he said, "was probably one one of the last things on the list. I had to be drug in kicking and screaming. At the time, it was already set up for my via my agent. It was more his dream to create an athlete who could transition into movies."

After much cajoling, he read the script, and was intrigued by the depth. Originally called Heart of Stone, it featured Bosworth as a cop with a family and kids who is effectively blackmailed into going undercover to bust the biker gang that had killed his father, years before. "You felt for the character," said Bosworth.

He'd had a little acting experience, with a few TV roles as "a good looking white guy that can play the bad guy." That had included a brief part as himself in OJ Simpson's 1st and Ten. Bosworth said, "I was playing a football player and I was thinking, 'well, this is as easy as it can be' and then I remember getting on set and it's the surreal atmosphere and everything is fake." He quickly realized that acting was a lot harder than it looked, and if he was going to hold down a full film role, especially as a leading man, then he needed to put in a lot of practice, just like in his football days. "I don't really really like to go into ventures unless I'm mentally and psychologically prepared for them," he said. "I agreed to come back and engage in the film, but I had to take a crash course with an acting coach."

It may surprise some people, but Bosworth talks with real seriousness about his craft, and how his coach taught him to really empathize with his part. "He referred to it as a place where you have a suspended belief in you character … You have to have a place that you draw your emotions from, you have to have a back story."

And this was an emotional part, and a movie with real narrative drive. Under director Bruce Malmuth, Bosworth spent four weeks in Mobile, Alabama, shooting all the sequences with his character's family. Malmuth had helped Sylvester Stallone prove his acting chops on the criminally underrated Nighthawks, and the hope was that he could do the same for Bosworth. The actor, in turn, channeled his acting coach's advice on bringing his personal experiences to his performances. The pair knew to approach the part as an athlete would his training, or when he was studying a playbook. Bosworth said, "I would break it down so I could assimilate what our objective was for the day, and with my acting coach I would break down what I was supposed to contribute."

As far he was concerned, it was a good movie, an action movie that went above the generic smash-bash-crash of the era. Bosworth said, "If the movie had been done the way it was intended to be, I would be much more proud than I would have been, but that saying in Hollywood about what can go wrong, will go wrong …"

So what happened? Or rather, what didn't happen? "Long story sort, they shot all that footage, they sent it to LA, we get a phone call back. 'What was the director doing? What was the DP doing?' and it came down to the footage couldn't be cut into scenes. The lighting didn't match, the footage was out of focus. I'm on a movie set for three weeks and all of a sudden I'm getting a call from LA saying we're going to shut the shoot down."

The newcomer Bosworth was now the leading man on a train wreck. He said, "I felt like I was carrying the whole weight of the film on my shoulders, and I had broken shoulders anyway." In some small consolation, that call from producer Michael Douglas, and he had the support of his costar, Lance Henriksen. "I'm thinking, well, could this get any worse? I remember Lance coming over and saying, 'stuff like this happens, not often, but don't let it stress you out."

Somehow, things got worse. Malmuth was replaced with Craig R. Baxley, a seasoned stunt guy that had directed several episodes of The A-Team, plus Dolph Lundgren's Dark Angel. Bosworth was told Baxley was there to work on the stunts and explosions, then they'd go back and re-do the narrative stuff. But after the action shoots in Biloxi and Arkansas, they just ran out of cash. "They had $8 million, and we'd spent $8 million, and $4 million went on those first four weeks,"

Then the word came down: There was a cheap fix. No more family. No more inner struggle. Bosworth said, "I got to LA and the producers told me he was no longer married, he was dating a Playboy bunny and had a pet lizard." Suddenly Heart of Stone became Stone Cold. Bosworth said, "To me, it diluted the character. To me, it was just another 80s action flick. It paled beside what it could have been."

Then the studio decided, rather than releasing it as a Spring break action flick, to put it up against Summer blockbusters like City Slickers and What About Bob?. "We went, 'oh man, we're going to get crushed' and we were in theaters for 10 days." However, it ended up as the number two best selling release of the year on VHS "which I thought was quite funny."

To this day, the movie follows him, and he's still got a rye, dry sense of humor about it. He said, "People come up to me and say, Oh, man, Stone Cold is one of my favorite movies. I go, OK, you may want to check you list." Ultimately, he said, "It's an enigma to me why the film has such long legs and and sharp teeth. I had a tremendous amount of fanship that wanted more of The Boz" but, he said with humility, "I had an equal amount of anti-Fans."

Bangarang! presents Stone Cold with a live appearance by Brian Bosworth, May 4, Alamo Ritz, 320 E. Sixth. For more information, visit our Film Listings.

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Alamo Ritz, Bangarang!, Brian Bosworth, Stone Cold, Heart of Stone, Bruce Malmuth, Craig R. Baxley

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