“I think everyone has a certain kind of formula in their life. When you deviate from that formula, you’re going to fail big or you’re gonna win big”. And that is what Sylvester Stallone did: he won big. He is now just the third person in Hollywood history to receive two Academy Awards for one film, and the only person ever to have a number one box office hit in five consecutive decades.
So what was Stallone’s formula? To be a fighter with relentless endurance, which he made clear for one night only at the London Palladium. I went to the Palladium with a minimal view of Stallone, knowing him as the man who made all those Rocky films and that one about the troubled ex-soldier, Rambo. I also saw him as the man who is currently trying to hold onto his acting career by the skin of his teeth, along with those other ‘I-think-it’s-probably-time-to-retire-now’ actors in the film series The Expendables. But, of course, he is much more than that and I was introduced properly to an actor, writer, director and producer who tenaciously fought through ups and downs to be where he is today.
Stallone started off, like many actors and writers, completely penniless, in a small apartment with papers and books piling up around him. At the London Palladium, sitting in a sharp suit on a huge sofa, he told us – and the witty host Jonathan Ross – that when you’re talking to a writer whilst they are taking on a project, they are not really there: they are continually in the story, thinking about how they can make it work. This is what Stallone explained that he was like when he had nothing much to live for other than his screenplay of Rocky. He went through countless drafts to make the character come to life, until one day he turned up to an audition, didn’t impress them with his acting, but offered his script. They told him to go home and bring back the script –he excitedly told us that he was back within 15 minutes, banging on their door. “We love it, but we don’t want you” they said, but Stallone had built the character of Rocky with only his own face in mind, and he would not let go of his script until he was allowed the main role. The production company offered him thousands of dollars, constantly raising the offer for the script while he kept on rejecting every one, until they finally gave in: Sylvester Stallone would be Rocky, and that was when the legend was born.
Stallone is sincerely loved by his fans; nearly every two minutes the crowd would applaud him with an amazing roar whilst Ross, sitting with him on stage, was in undeniable awe and constant childish glee. He has every reason to be loved, with his words that are set to inspire and a full life to show for everything he says. Despite all his success and fame he still manages to possess a genuine modesty, as his face seemed to be unsure of what to make of the continuous applause.
After explaining that he tried to move away from his stereotypical action roles, by writing and directing movies such as Staying Alive, he showed that giving up was never a plausible option for him, even when his career was not on top. Turning up to one of his film premieres with only two people there to watch did not dampen his enthusiasm for his work.
After his interview with Jonathan Ross, the audience members were given a chance to ask Stallone questions, such as who he loves to work with: the answers being Harrison Ford and Antonio Banderas. He walked up and down the stage answering questions with pride, yet giving off no air of arrogance, despite explaining previously that he used to be insufferable and wished he could “go back and punch myself in the mouth”. He answered every question with grace and with as much explanation as he could possibly fit in for his fans, while teaching life lessons to aspiring scriptwriters in the audience.
Stallone has said that “when I was in junior high school, the teachers voted me the student most likely to end up in the electric chair”. Yet from An Evening With Sylvester Stallone I have learnt the same lesson his teachers must have learnt decades ago: that Stallone is the perfect example of why you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. He probably deserves the title of legend – not forgetting that he knows his Shakespeare too, which was proved as he quoted a piece from The Comedy Of Errors!
An Evening With Sylvester Stallone played at the London Palladium.
Photo by Jonathan Brady/PA Wire