Sylvester Stallone on 'Tulsa King': TV Is 'Harder, Faster and Longer' Than Making Movies

Sylvester Stallone in Tulsa King on Paramount Plus
(From l.): Jay Will as Tyson, Sylvester Stallone as Dwight Manfredi, and Martin Starr as Bodhi in ‘Tulsa King.’ (Image credit: Brian Douglas/Paramount Plus)

Tulsa King, with Sylvester Stallone playing a mafia boss who gets out of prison and ends up in Oklahoma, debuted on Paramount Plus November 13. The show comes from Taylor Sheridan, the brains behind Yellowstone

Stallone plays Dwight “The General” Manfredi, who spends 25 years in prison and is exiled by his boss to Tulsa. “Realizing that his mob family may not have his best interests in mind, Dwight slowly builds a crew from a group of unlikely characters, to help him establish a new criminal empire in a place that to him might as well be another planet,” according to Paramount Plus. 

Andrea Savage, Max Casella, Martin Starr and Domenick Lombardozzi are also in the cast. 

At a TCA event in September, Stallone said he got to know Sheridan through their love of horses many, many years ago, when Stallone was working on a Rambo script. 

More recently, Sheridan reached out about Tulsa King. “And one day, he just had this idea, called me up, pitched it to me in like three seconds,” said Stallone. “I went, ‘I'm in.’ It was very fast.”

Sheridan’s work also includes Mayor of Kingstown, 1993 and 1923

Winter’s 'Tulsa King' Tale

Terence Winter is the showrunner.  His credits include The Sopranos and Boardwalk Empire

Winter described Stallone’s General thusly at a TCA session in September: “Dwight was an incredibly loyal soldier, kept his mouth shut the whole time, sacrificed everything he had, including his relationship with his young daughter from whom he's been estranged for 18 years. So, accordingly, when he gets out, he is really expecting some adequate form of compensation. Instead, he’s informed by his boss’s son, who is now in charge, that he’s being sent to Tulsa, which for him might as well be another planet.”

Stallone of course made his name in movies, from Rocky to Rambo and countless other pictures, typically showcasing him beating down a lesser foe. He learned some lessons working in television for Tulsa King. “It's harder, faster, and longer. That's what it is,” he said. “You really have to be quick. You have to be mercurial. You have to work out of sync a lot of times with sequences that don't follow the natural order of things. But most importantly, you have to keep your energy up, and it's extremely quick. Put it this way. In the amount of time that we did 10 episodes is the equivalent of doing five Rockys in a row, five two-hour films in a row with no break in between. So I had great respect for the crew in their diligence and endurance.”

Stallone, 76, said he’s been trying to work in gangster projects for most of his life, dating back to not making the cut as an extra in The Godfather. “I’d been trying to get in gangster films, and it just never happened,” he said. “So finally, everything comes to those who wait.”

'Tulsa King''s Gangster with Nuance 

Stallone liked that the Tulsa King character is a gangster with some nuance. “I wanted to play a different interpretation of a gangster, because most of the times, gangsters are ‘thems’ and ‘those,’ ” he said. “This is a fella who’s very educated, reads Marcus Aurelius, reads Plato. He’s into Machiavelli. He's also into the classics. He's a different animal than you would normally see in a, quote, ‘gangster’ film.” 

Paramount Network will air the first two episodes Sunday, November 20, leading out of Yellowstone

Tulsa King is executive produced by Sheridan, Winter, Stallone, David C. Glasser, Ron Burkle, Bob Yari, David Hutkin, Allen Coulter and Braden Aftergood.

Stallone said growing up in Philadelphia meant being around gangsters now and then. “I grew up around a lot of these mugs, and they're very interesting,” he said. “In Philadelphia, you're always bumping shoulders with them, whether you want to or not, especially in South Philly. So I've got the tempo, I've got the idea, I've got the attitude, so I understand the street life very, very well.”

Tulsa King reviews have been mixed. USA Today said (opens in new tab): “The crime drama, about an old gangster forced to move from New York to Oklahoma by his bosses, is a mess, with moments so poorly written they’re cringeworthy. It's part half-hearted Western, part fish-out-of-water comedy and part mob-movie knockoff, with bad wigs and worse accents. It's all a bit embarrassing, to be honest.”

RogerEbert.com liked it more (opens in new tab). “There’s a lot to like about Taylor Sheridan’s Tulsa King — clearly his next step in his plot to dominate the easy-chair demographic after his smash-hit Western drama Yellowstone. Most of it lies in its light, effervescent tone, with the wiseguy-in-a-strange-land appeal of something like Get Shorty (book, film and TV show).”

Winter concluded about Stallone’s character, “While he’s in Tulsa, not only is he trying to rectify his past mistakes, he’s also trying to rebuild his life, his relationship with his daughter and a new crew from a very diverse and unlikely set of candidates.” ■

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.