Image: Jonathan Brady/PA
Featuring: Sylvester Stallone, Jonathan Ross.
Produced by: Rocco Buonvino, Joe Ricotta.
It’s quite a thing sitting in the same room as one of your idols. All sorts of questions go through your mind. What will they be like? Will they live up to your expectation? Will they epitomise the legend you imagined and would like them to be? Will they somehow acknowledge my existence in the world.
After years of seeing them on the screen worshiping the cinematic ground that they walk upon, one worries to think that they may turn out to be the complete opposite; a prize douche, headstrong and egotistic, and nowhere near the god you thought they were. This is dangerous, life-ruining stuff, and not to be taken lightly.
On Saturday evening, I and around 2000 fellow film fans braved the aforementioned trepidations, faced our fear and stepped into one of the West End, and indeed the world’s most famous theatres, the London Palladium, for 90 rare moments with one of, if not the greatest action heroes of modern times, Sylvester Stallone.
Growing up in a relatively small town in Gloucestershire, Hollywood seemed so very far away, but with old VHS tapes knocking around the house and frequent trips to the local Video Nest, I got the bug for film and in particular, the action genre and it’s three godfathers, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sly Stallone. Being a child of the eighties, though actually born in the seventies, and a young teenager in the early nineties, the volume of films on offer from the big three during this time, their absolute prime, catered for a lot of my film diet, and probably ignited my love for the movies that still burns to this day. For me, it wasn’t about Woody Allen or Kubrick, or Gilliam or even Scorsese back then. It was McTiernan, Cameron, Donner and Harlin all the way, and the actors that ran amok in their movies, none more so than the big three that I’ve just mentioned.
Being just a little too young to remember ROCKY upon it’s initial release, it was films like COBRA, OVER THE TOP, CLIFFHANGER, DEMOLITION MAN and THE SPECIALIST that introduced me to Stallone’s body of work. Only later did I back-track and pick up the wonders of the ROCKY and RAMBO franchises and his earlier films like PARADISE ALLEY and ESCAPE TO VICTORY. I am and always have been a fan, and yes, even through the dark years at the start of the millennium with films like D-TOX, DRIVEN and that really bad remake of GET CARTER hitting cinemas.
Having the opportunity to be in the same room as one of your heroes seemed to be too much to pass up this past week, and judging by the hoards of people piling into this relatively small venue for a brief encounter with a movie legend, some wearing ROCKY t-shirts, the younger ones adorning sweaters with the entire cast of THE EXPENDABLES plastered across them, many felt the same.
Following what looked to be a recycled montage clip, master of ceremonies Jonathan Ross kicked things off right away and announcing the arrival of the champ himself, and above him, on a 30ft screen, we got our first live glimpse of our hero, walking to the stage surrounded by security as if he’s approaching the ring for a world title fight, all to Bill Conti’s timeless ROCKY anthem ‘Gotta Fly Now.’
What followed was ninety minutes of pure nostalgic bliss with Stallone talking about his early years growing up in New York’s tough Hell’s Kitchen, to his time schooling in Switzerland where he got the acting bug, all of the way through to writing the classic and indeed Academy Award nominated ROCKY in his twenties, literally out of sheer frustration at not securing the roles he wanted. Even then, Stallone recounted the many times he turned down what in today’s money would have been over a million dollars, just as long as he gave up his dream of playing the title role, with it instead going to someone like Robert Redford or Burt Reynolds.
Other delights of the evening saw Stallone talk about the ‘intense’ competition there was between him and Schwarzenegger during their heyday, and the friendship that has come of it. There was also a great moment with the man reciting Shakespeare when asked almost in jest what his favourite play was. We found out that Stallone’s idol is former Hercules actor Steve Reeves, and that he had to sell his dog to get by before ROCKY became a success. We found out that his other hero Kirk Douglas was cast in the original FIRST BLOOD, but had to leave because of ‘creative differences’ (apparently he wanted to become the hero at the end of the picture). Stallone revealed that he had turned down the award-winning COMING HOME, WITNESS (the role eventually went to his EXPENDABLES 3 co-star Harrison Ford) and the adventure film ROMANCING THE STONE in the late eighties in favour of the far less successful RHINESTONE.
Image: Jonathan Brady/PA
Stallone’s story mirrors that of his on screen character in ROCKY, throughout the series in fact, and just by being in his company for the small amount of time that we were, we got to see just how much of himself went into the role. Stallone is still humble by his celebrity, thankful for what he has been able to achieve, self-deprecating, positive about the future and wanting to pass the mantle on to the next generation, displayed in his encouragement of Jason Statham, an actor and EXPENDABLES co-star who he mentions he holds in very high regard. He is well-spoken, clearly educated and above all, inspiring.
He comes across as a man who still struggles with what he’s achieved, and although what he has accomplished is so great, you can’t help but feel that he’s disappointed at not repeating the great critical acclaim as he did with his triumphant debut, although he did himself proud in James Mangold’s brilliant COPLAND.
He humbly admits himself that the world sometimes perceives him as the thuggish, muscular, dumbed-down brutes he largely appears as on screen, but you have to remember that this man has written nearly 30 produced screenplays, including all of the ROCKY movies, and in his own admission, over 150,000 plus pages of unproduced material, the likes of which will never see the light of day.
He’s nothing like the way the world sees him, and in any case, in response to that and actually in the words of his other iconic character, John Rambo in fact… ‘Fuck the world.’
We love you just the way you are.
(5 / 5) AN EVENING WITH SYLVESTER STALLONE was staged at the London Palladium on Saturday 11th January 2014.