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LAFF 2010: Sylvester Stallone on 'The Expendables,' flirting with fans and his worst role ever

June 24, 2010 |  4:29 pm

Few film festivals do a better job than LAFF in offering up more populist fare to its patrons, and Wednesday night's event with Sylvester Stallone again proved the broad appeal of their programming philosophy.

Stallone In conversation lasting a little over an hour that was engaging, freewheeling and candid, Stallone charmed the sold-out crowd on such topics as his writing habits, working with John Huston, directing Mickey Rourke in the upcoming "The Expendables," how to flirt with a lady, and the making of "Rhinestone," which he declared his worst movie.

A brief career highlight reel for the writer/director/actor opened with the theme song from "Rocky" and the audience went wild with cheers. When moderator Elvis Mitchell entered the theater from a side door, he waved the audience up out of their seats and they duly obliged as Stallone entered to the first of three standing ovations he would receive through the night.

Mitchell began with two slightly oddball questions, perhaps throwing Stallone a bit off-balance and setting the surprisingly off-the-cuff tone for their interview. The first was about the time a pre-"Rocky" Stallone was chastised for improvising on the set of a Neil Simon-scripted film. (He had added a slang-y "man" at the end of a line.) The other was regarding his failed audition for a part in "The Godfather."

"I couldn't even be an extra at the wedding, that's how far down the food chain I was," Stallone said.

Two short clips were shown from the mercenaries action-adventure "The Expendables," which opens in August, but the focus of the night was squarely on the bigger arc of Stallone's stardom, moving from the dual-edge of optimism and pessimism represented by Rocky and Rambo to other characters of his career. While discussing how the first "Rocky" film came to be made, Stallone referenced "The Studio," John Gregory Dunne's seminal book on Hollywood -- "You didn't think I was that smart, did you?" he joked. 

A brief question-and-answer period with the audience simply underscored how meaningful a figure like Stallone -- so easy for some cinephiles to ridicule or dismiss -- is to his faithful fans. That this was not a typical festival crowd of industry tastemakers, intelligentsia and aspiring filmmakers became apparent from the first question: "In your personal life, how do you overcome adversity?" (Short answer: "You've got to stay in the game.") Two separate questions concerned the heartfelt speech from a father to a son in the recent "Rocky Balboa." In one of his responses, Stallone, who turns 64 next month, acknowledged, "I now, at my age, approach every film like this could be the last one."

At the end of the evening, LAFF Director Rebecca Yeldham presented Stallone with a small statuette honoring him as a special guest of the festival. "I don't do this very often," Stallone said, accepting the award. He then addressed the audience directly: "No man is an island. I've realized as long as I'm in touch with people like you then I can always be able to write stories about people like you. So I want to thank you very much, because as much as you got from me, I got from you."

-- Mark Olsen

Photo of Sylvester Stallone by Carlos Alvarez / Getty Images.

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Comments () | Archives (6)

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Awwww......Sly sounds like he had a good time & was in a good mood with the audience. I love the last line of this article - He then addressed the audience directly: "No man is an island. I've realized as long as I'm in touch with people like you then I can always be able to write stories about people like you. So I want to thank you very much, because as much as you got from me, I got from you."

'Norman Mailer's worst book ever'...'not unless they take away his typewriter'. Stallone, much the same.

Film is a populist medium. Always has been. Stallone has delivered a body of work that has tapped into the human condition - sometimes more successfully than others.
Rocky is indeed an iconic cinema character who we've had the pleasure of seeing grow and develop in a fantastic character arc. It's also been a great metaphor for Stallone's own life.
He deserves respect (he definitely earned it recently - with the honesty of 'Rocky Balboa' and the visceral juggernaut of 'Rambo' and I hope his remaining years continue to deliver on the promise of his early work... that showed an actor, writer and director who was able to connect.

Say what you will about Stallone, his body of work is impressive -- the "Rocky" and "Rambo" series, although overdone, rock hard. "Rocky" is one of the best transformational plots ever written. "Rambo" is one of the best action films every made. Many of the sequels were poorly done which say only one thing about Stallone -- he's human.

Despite a very long wait to get in, and then finding a room full of studio and media types already occupying half the room, this was a great evening. While Stallone has become an unwitting punchline for Hollywood excess, he proved his enduring relevance and the scale of his accomplishments in a very candid discussion. It's hard to remember a world before Rocky, which I re-watched recently. I was surprised by how good it still is and how gritty. In more than one way, it's Stallone's story too. He was surprisingly open and vulnerable at the Film Festival, acknowledging his mistakes and being remarkably candid for such an icon. He was a very good sport and at times you couldn't help but feel for him. It's always difficult to disassociate an icon from his humanity, but Stallone manages to be both a star and just a man. It's obvious that he is still very much loved by the general public. I was very impressed with his warmth and humility, and I hope we see more great things from him in the future. His performance in Copland (which Elvis Mitchell sadly never brought up) was one of his best despite being a commercial failure for him, but I hope he can expand his roles in a more dramatic direction. We tend to forget that he is a good actor, not just an "action star." People tend to confuse him with his characters, but I guess this is testament to his acting abilities. I wish Tarantino would give him a call. That would be a match made in film heaven...

Oh how I yearn for the near gone days of Altman! Hollywood and Disney have won the battle for now with the genius of the likes of Sly. Time has come for people to take a look back in the film vaults and create their own summer smash re-hash.


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