Sunday 12 January 2014

An Evening With Sylvester Stallone

The Palladium, London


Everyone knows that Sylvester (Sly) Stallone created the Hollywood’s boxing legend boxer Rocky Balboa. Less widely known is that in his early days, Stallone (who scripted the movies’ series) was offered a fortune for the rights to Rocky that would have cut him out of the starring role. A poor writer at the time and in a show of steely character that echoed the eponymous boxer, Stallone resisted the siren-like temptation of the million-dollar deal, ultimately accepting a far smaller sum in the belief that no-one else could create the Philadelphian hero. The rest, as they say, is history.

Thus it was that Stallone held a packed Palladium rapt, as for 90 minutes Jonathan Ross (who else?) quizzed him on his career. Sometimes the slip of an actor’s mask can disappoint and it was Paul Newman who famously advised that one should “never to meet your heroes”. Sly is the exception that proves the rule. Under Ross’ well researched probing, Stallone proved himself so much more than just the all round action-hero. He writes with perception, knowing what makes for a well-structured movie and what an audience will want. But above all at the Palladium, he spoke with wit and insight and the resonant confidence of a man who is a giant in his craft.

Sly spoke of a humble upbringing and of being a truanting schoolboy with a passion for film. Kirk Douglas was his hero and later as an usher on $38 a week, he would see movies like Easy Rider sixty times, absorbing style and genre whilst back at home churning out countless screenplays for studios to summarily reject. (Apparently there’s a Hasidic Western buried somewhere in his pile of scripts!). He spoke of the writer’s loneliness as he worked towards the precise honing of ideas and in a candid revelation, he hinted that writers simply steal other folk’s ideas crushing ‘em “like grapes” in pursuit of their own vision.

Opening with a montage of his work, screened to Bill Conti’s legendary Rocky trumpet theme, the selection of classic Stallone moments was eclipsed only by a trailer of his new movie with De Niro, Grudge Match. It was remarkably cool to watch a big film’s trailer on the big screen, with its star sat on stage watching too, modestly and (charmingly self-deprecatingly) chuckling as it plays out.

Stallone’s presence and charisma is exceeded only by his many talents. With a revealed desire to still play Iago, he could have talked all night. As he left to return to LA, Ross and the audience rose as one to applaud the man, a true Hollywood Great.

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