Tulsa King: Why Sylvester Stallone Made the Jump to Television

Sylvester Stallone explains why Tulsa King went through several changes before the show became what it is.

Sylvester Stallone as Dwight "The General" Manfredi of the Paramount+ original series TULSA KING.
Photo: Brian Douglas | Paramount+

When you’ve given your blood, sweat, and tears to the Hollywood system for almost half a century, when you’ve made almost 80 films, when you’ve created icons like Rocky and Rambo, or hell, when you’re simply a septuagenarian in general, it’s safe to say you’ve earned the right to be choosy with what you do with your time. 

Tulsa King, the latest in a long line of Paramount-backed Taylor Sheridan projects recently debuted and stars the legendary Syvlester Stallone as Mafia capo Dwight “Five Star” Manfredi, a fish out of water trying to establish a new kingdom in the sleepy outskirts of Tulsa, Oklahoma. 

When Stallone recently sat with Den of Geek and other outlets at a press roundtable, the one question on everyone’s mind was “why now?” The perennial action star explained in some detail not only why now was the right time, but what needed to change in order for him to feel like this was the project to bring his larger than life presence to the small screen. 

“I met Taylor [Sheridan] a while back actually riding horses in California,” Stallone recalls. “I wanted him to write the screenplay for Rambo because I was getting lazy. We moved on, and nothing happened, and then he became very successful with Yellowstone. Then one day, he apparently had this idea, called me up, and pitched to me in like three seconds.” Stallone’s response to the highly successful TV creator was equally as fast, telling the press he told Sheridan he was in “very quickly.”

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But while the premise worked, Stallone, also being an Academy Award nominated writer, felt the story and the character of Manfredi wasn’t quite there. Stallone, naturally, became an executive producer on the show, and together, he, Sheridan, and showrunner Terence Winter began to mold Manfredi into something new.  

Stallone reveals that in the original iteration, Manfredi was much more of a thug. One of the great surprises within Tulsa King is that it is more lighthearted and comedic at times than originally suspected, but it could have been a much darker path, arguably more akin to other Sheridan created shows, if Stallone hadn’t have influenced the character. Stallone describes the original script, and what the prologue of the show was intended to be. 

“In the opening scene [Manfredi] was angrier,” Stallone says. “He shoots a mirror out by accident, he starts to threaten his neighbors, and then he heads out [to Tulsa] and he starts to take over strip joints by hitting guys in the head. That’s not cool at all. I didn’t like that. So we added the aspect of how he’s been in prison, how he kept his mouth shut and how he was loyal.” 

That loyalty, and the strangely reflective mobster Stallone portrays endears Tulsa King audiences to Manfredi fairly quickly, and that was naturally, by design. 

Stallone has built the “House of Sly” on the backs of some of the toughest characters ever put to film, but as the actor gets older, he not only accepts his age, but has seemingly embraced exactly who he is. Coincidentally, that is arguably the biggest reason why he made the jump to television. Stallone along with Sheridan and Winter have forged an erudite, witty mobster with a contemplative manner and a real sense of humor. If it were to remain an angry or broken down old gangster, Stallone has indicated he wouldn’t be interested. 

“I’ve played the serious role. I can be as dark as you can possibly want, but I want to be other things. This is refreshing in a way that you have a guy who actually doesn’t want to hurt anybody.”

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Stallone continues to explain how comfortable playing Manfredi can be, and how much of himself is in the role: “This is the way I am around my house with my wife and my daughters. I thought this would be a challenge to have a gangster who is like your friendly uncle, you just don’t know what he can be like until you push his gangster button.”

Seemingly, it is that juxtaposition that really drew Stallone to the role. He not only gets to play up the laid-back humorous aspects of his own persona more than he has before, but he relishes the fact that presenting those characteristics is new territory for him. 

“It was a little daring to go out on a limb like that to play yourself” Stallone says. “What you see now is actually the hardest thing to do, which is to be yourself. Trust me. It’s not easy.”

Tulsa King streams a new episode every Sunday on Paramount+.