A report from An Evening With Sylvester Stallone

Action star, writer and director Sylvester Stallone gave an evening of anecdotes at the London Palladium on Saturday. Here's what went on...

Sylvester Stallone was on fine form as he entertained a near capacity crowd at London’s famous Palladium theatre last Saturday night. The evening was compèred by an excellent Jonathan Ross (here far removed from his usual television interview persona), who talked with Mr Stallone over the remarkable highs and lows of his film career to date.

Stallone spoke about his way into the acting world, performing in Death Of A Salesman while teaching physical education at a boarding school in Switzerland. Sly even sang a short duet with Jonathon Ross from the main theme of Paradise Alley, written by brother Frank Stallone, and impressed the audience with a quotation from Shakespeare’s Comedy Of Errors.

Discussing one of his most famous characters portrayed on the screen, Vietnam veteran John Rambo, Sly revealed that Kirk Douglas was originally set to play Colonel Trautman in 1982’s First Blood, but when arriving on set, Mr Douglas had re-written the part where he would kill Rambo at the end of the film. Stallone informed Douglas that they had to stick to the script as written, and Douglas departed the movie to be replaced by Richard Crenna, who would play Trautman in the next two Rambo pictures.

Discussing Rambo: First Blood Part II, Stallone felt the character became more of a superhero and admitted that he became very vain around this time too. Rambo III, Stallone said, was the biggest production he has ever been involved in. Rambo (2008) was Stallone’s attempt to show war at its most brutal, and the picture remains a personal favourite.

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Speaking of 2008’s Rambo, Jonathan Ross informed Stallone that the first time he watched the film was in the presence of directors Guillermo del Toro and Alfonso Cuaron. He said that del Toro was into the film from the start, while at the end Cuaron became vocally keen that Rambo reap revenge on the film’s evil colonel.

Discussing his most celebrated character, the Italian stallion Rocky Balboa, Sly talked of failing an audition for a different part offered by producers Robert Chartoff and Irwin Winkler. Stallone mentioned on his way out that he had written a script. Sly returned later to the audition with the script in hand, and both producers were interested enough in making the picture, but not in having Stallone in the part of Rocky.

Stallone discussed how he was offered $300,000 to sell the script, but despite living in poverty with his first wife Sasha Czack (Sly even had to sell his dog, Butkus) he refused, holding out to play the part himself – much to the chagrin of the producers, who stipulated that Stallone could be fired for any number of reasons during the opening weeks of production. But Stallone impressed in the role and the rest, as they say, is movie history.

Rocky II was first proposed as a much darker story than the resulting film – the producers were keen for Rocky Balboa to fall into drug addiction – but Stallone fought for his version of the story where a nobody becomes a somebody and is then quickly forgotten.

Rocky III was an exercise in showing how successful people surround themselves with agents and hangers on. Sly was keen to emphasise that Clubber Lang had to be a brutal opponent for Rocky to face so that at the end of the film. When he triumphs, we saw Rocky reach new heights.

Naturally, the opponent in Rocky IV had to be even stronger. Rocky V wasn’t mentioned, which meant that we were spared any mention of Sage Stallone or Tommy Morrison’s tragic, recent deaths. But Rocky Balboa (2006) remains one of Sly’s favourite films, and he believes it works as a direct sequel to the original Rocky picture.

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When asked whether he was returning to the role in the proposed Creed, Stallone confirmed this would be the case, and revealed that Rocky Balboa will be suffering from some form of advanced illness and would be evolving into the Mickey Goldmill character (immortalised by the late, great Burgess Meredith in Rocky, Rocky II, III and V), and thus able to pass on his fighting wisdom to the grandson of Apollo Creed.

In other anecdotes, Sly revealed his dream of making a biopic of macabre writer Edgar Allan Poe. Sadly, Sly doesn’t see the project ever coming to the screen, as he believes that the most he could raise is £9m. Sly said he would love to guest star in a television series, but was not interested in becoming a permanent member of a show due to the industry standard 15-hour days. He revealed he would like to work again with Kelsey Grammer, who recently filmed a part in The Expendables 3.

Sly then engaged in a half hour Q&A with the audience. Many, it appeared, wanted the key to success in either acting or writing. Sly was keen to emphasise that he only began writing as he kept failing auditions and felt he needed to write a part for himself. Sly was also keen to highlight that the success of a great story is for the hero to face a villain who is twice as powerful and twice as intelligent, so the protagonist has hurdles to climb and the audience can share in their success.

Just before leaving the stage, Mr Stallone was inducted into the London Palladium Hall of Fame, while members of the audience, especially those who’ve been fans of Stallone from the beginning, were surely satisfied by the evening’s entertainment.

Gone is the ego that grew in the wake of success after success. It’s replaced by a man who is learned, humble and full of fascinating stories.

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