An Audience With Sylvester Stallone: The Highlights

Rocky came to London to get us all pumped up – and he didn't disappoint

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The most memorable experience I’ve ever had at the cinema wasn’t down to the film, but the audience.

At a late night showing of Rocky Balboa – Sylvester Stallone’s 2006 revival of his most famous character  – Rocky’s every move was met with whoops and hollers, the final fight scene cheered on like a live boxing match.

The atmosphere at the London Palladium – where the 67-year-old actor appeared over the weekend to discuss his life and career – was a similarly raucous blur of fiction and reality, with chants of ‘Rocky! Rocky!’ filling the auditorium long before Sly came on stage.

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For devoted fans of the cheesy but charming franchise, Rocky isn’t just a cult character but a motivational figure. Whether it’s secretly running to the power chords of Eye Of The Tiger or brushing yourself off after a set back and getting ‘back in the ring’ (boxing, as Stallone realised long ago, is overflowing with handy metaphors for life), the films are life-affirming entertainment at its best. Well, except maybe Rocky V. The less said about Rocky V the better.

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After an hour or so of questions from Jonathan Ross, Sly took questions from the audience. All swagger, sharp angles and deep Californian tan, he pounded the stage with the energy of a prize fighter, at one point bursting into song, at another, a line of Shakespeare.

There was also plenty of inspirational advice as Sly warmed to the role of hero and life coach instantly. Here are our favourite quotes from the night.

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On why he insisted on playing Rocky himself, despite being offered a fortune to just hand over the script…
"In everyone's life there's going to be about 3 or 4 crossroads and that's going to determine your course. I knew if we took the money I could have been very happy, no question. But I would've hated myself. They said we don't want you but we'll take you. They had about five clauses in there so they could fire me in the first week."

On his early education in an American school in Switzerland...
“The Dean had absconded with the tutorial money and joined the Communist party, so if you had a fingerprint and a pulse, you were in.”

On the original idea for Rocky...
"I was watching Mean Streets and Marty and all these different characters that I knew I could play. Then one night I saw a fight on TV with this guy Chuck Wepner against Muhammad Ali. He was being depicted as a bum. He knocked Ali down in the 14th, 15th round. I saw that and went, there's my story...


PHOTO: Jonathan Brady/PA

On how he reacted to his early success...
"I abused power. I was an authority on everything. If you had a disease to cure I'd tell you. If you wanted the history of movies I'd tell you. I became insufferable, I look at some of my interviews now and I wish I could go back and punch myself in the face.

"I kind of made Rocky III autobiographical. I had become really egotistical, much more vain than I had been. That's what happened to Rocky. That's why you go down in flames, you're protected by agents and no one tells you the truth. It costs Rocky everything and he had to rebuild the eye of the tiger."

On his rivalry with Arnold Schwarzenegger...
"We just basically hated each other, but in a good way. You want to look for an adversary that makes you get up in the morning and give it all and leave nothing on the table. If the director says be there for 3 hours and it's a 15 hour day you go, 'Okay, if it's going to turn out better than [Arnold's movie]' We both agree... otherwise you don't push too hard. It's like two soccer rivals."

On the script he has written about Edgar Allen Poe...
"I know that it's not going to work unless it's a different thing, unless there's a hook to it. Like what they do with Sherlock Holmes, for example. I can't do that, there are too many Poe scholars that would go berserk if you tamper with it. Actors, artists, they have two faces - the public face and the private face... He's a young goofy artist so I tried to write him as one of us, who happened to have this amazing ability. I'm still debating whether I should do it but I know in my heart of hearts that ship has sailed."

On reviving the Rocky character to play aging trainer in Creed (the story of Apollo Creed’s grandson)...
"It's very interesting because people think it's Rocky VII, it's not, I have a supporting role. It's great to be able to take that character, who's not well, and he's trying to pass on all his love and knowledge while he still has time. I think it can be a very interesting challenge."

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