“The Expendables 3″: How Sylvester Stallone Gets His Men (and Woman)

Joal Ryan
Movie Talk
'Expendables 3,' 'Escape Plan' Release Dates Announced

A media-branded pariah. An ex-con. A battered Indiana Jones. From Mel Gibson to Wesley Snipes to Harrison Ford, the just-announced cast for Sylvester Stallone's "The Expendables 3" is bold-faced enough, notorious enough and eclectic enough to make you ask:  Just how does he do it anyway?

How does Stallone, "Expendables" movie after "Expendables" movie, assemble lineups that "Dancing With the Stars: The Action-Star Season" would trade its mirror-ball trophy for?

Simple. He sticks to a plan:

1. He looks for down-on-their luck stars. "I like using people that had a moment and then maybe have fallen on some hard times and give them another shot," Stallone told Entertainment Weekly in 2011. That criteria could be met by any number of "Expendables" players, including Gibson, who ranted himself off the A-list, Ford, who just detonated his biggest-ever bomb, and Stallone himself, who once denounced an entire decade of his career.

2. He looks for up-and-comers: The first "Expendables" go-round, Stallone cast a pre-"Hunger Games" Liam Hemsworth. And while Hemsworth's character got nixed in rewrites, the twentysomething got enlisted for "The Expendables 2." In "The Expendables 3," due out in 2014, "Twilight" alum Kellan Lutz will join MMA fighter Ronda Rousey (the lone woman in the announced cast) and boxer Victor Ortiz in bringing down the, um, seasoned cast's average age.

3. He doesn't forget a former foe. Dolph Lundgren, who appeared in the 2010 franchise-starter, 2012's "The Expendables 2" and who is set for the third installment, fought Stallone in "Rocky 4." Snipes, on his way back from a prison stint for tax evasion (now would be a good time to revisit the first item on this list), battled the man in "Demolition Man." Arnold Schwarzenegger, who, like Lundgren, is an "Expendables" regular, went muscle to muscle with Stallone in the 1980s for action-star supremacy.

4. He doesn't forget--period. Gibson has burned a bridge or three in Hollywood, but he apparently made a good impression on Stallone, with whom he has not shared a screen (yet). "Every time I met Mel he's been a great guy," Stallone told "Entertainment Tonight" in 2010 at the height of the then-latest Gibson meltdown. "He's done me a few favors and I just like the fella."

5. He works the phones. Lest you assume Stallone reaches out via the ol' Alexander Graham Bell because the AARP-eligible actors on his wish list, from Snipes to Steven Seagal, who hasn't panned out, and who won't be in the upcoming movie, aren't wired the same as Millennials, let it be known that Stallone also dials up younger folks, like Hemsworth, who recalled after being cut from the early film,  ”He called a few days later and it was weird speaking to him on the phone in my house, while I am looking at his DVDs of Rocky and Rambo on the shelf.”  Makes an impression!

6. He sets a price. Just as Bruce Willis sets his. It's just that on "The Expendables 3," the two prices--what Stallone's side was willing to pay, and what Willis' was willing to take--didn't meet. "WILLIS OUT... HARRISON FORD IN !!!! GREAT NEWS !!!!! Been waiting years for this!!!!," Stallone famously tweeted this month, shortly before getting in one more dig at the expense of his former "Expendables," "Expendables 2" and Planet Hollywood cohort, "GREEDY AND LAZY ...... A SURE FORMULA FOR CAREER FAILURE."

7. He doesn't give up. "I reach out and try, I try," Stallone said on a 2010 San Diego Comic-Con panel of his then-unsuccessful efforts to land Jean Claude Van Damme, Chuck Norris and Steven Seagal. True to dogged form, he eventually did land Van Damme and Norris (for "Expendables 2") and, as noted, he keeps shooting for Seagal. (Van Damme, by the by, was a one-shot villain; Norris was, by his own account, a one-shot good guy.) Remember: Stallone didn't have much of a career until he wrote himself one with "Rocky." As Stallone told the U.K.'s Telegraph in 2010: "You have to be irrationally passionate."