Stallone starts a stampede in Cannes

Rambo and Rocky star on stories, politics, physique and optimism

by Richard Mowe

In conversation in Cannes Sylvester Stallone [with journalist Didier Allouch]  - “In the beginning, I didn’t think I’d succeed. I was a nobody.”
In conversation in Cannes Sylvester Stallone [with journalist Didier Allouch] - “In the beginning, I didn’t think I’d succeed. I was a nobody.” Photo: Festival de Cannes

Clearly Sylvester Stallone, iconic star of Rambo and Rocky, was knocked for six by the reception he received yesterday (24 May) as the last major guest of this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

The encounter with fans and the media had to be moved from the smaller Bunuel Theatre to the Debussy which seats around 2000. The French love star credentials - especially if they are American - and the audience swooned and whooped on cue while their hero seemed bemused.

Sylvester Stallone: "I know I made some bad choices but we all make those kinds of errors in life.”
Sylvester Stallone: "I know I made some bad choices but we all make those kinds of errors in life.” Photo: Festival de Cannes

Stallone, 72, whose career spans more than four decades, was here to present preview footage from Rambo V: Last Blood, the latest in the sago and due for an Autumn release, and a remastered copy of the original Rambo.

His homespun philosophy hit the mark. “In the beginning, I didn’t think I’d succeed. I was a nobody. I was just a simple parking valet. Our lives can change in an instant: all it takes is just one good idea,” he beamed.

He added: “My physique wasn’t perfect, and my face is partially paralysed [due to an accident]. When I tried to get jobs, nobody could understand what I was saying. I’ve always remained an optimist. If I was able to do it, anyone can.”

Similarly he turned things around on screen. “On paper, Rocky was a big failure. We shot the film in 25 days on a small budget. What it owes its success to is this story of a man who fought to get to the top. He fails once, perseveres, and succeeds the second time. Rocky is an optimistic film. It’s symbolic. A lot of people can identify with this character. That’s the power of cinema!”

Sylvester Stallone on the Cannes red carpet: "I love the way the public has kind of stayed with me all these years.”
Sylvester Stallone on the Cannes red carpet: "I love the way the public has kind of stayed with me all these years.” Photo: Festival de Cannes

For Rambo he researched suicides by veterans who had been destroyed by the Vietnam conflict. “The story was interesting. The film wasn’t supposed to send a political message, but it did. [President] Ronald Reagan even said, ‘I saw Rambo, and he’s a Republican!’ I was really surprised. A lot of people can identify with this character.”

Stallone, casually attired in jeans, checked shirt and cowboy boots before changing to dinner jacket for his evening outing, claimed that he is almost “a political atheist.” He added: “Rambo was never supposed to be, by any means, a political statement. It became one. ... I don't think I'm smart enough. That's not my strength. I'm not a political animal. I never have been. I don't want to be. I'm just a storyteller.”

This living legend finds inspiration everywhere. “There are so many stories and people around us that you can never lack inspiration,” he said.

Stallone, who lives in Florida with his wife Jennifer Flavin, 45, and has three daughters, Sophia, 23, Sistine, 21, and Scarlet, 17, now has a Cobra TV series is in the works. He also has an idea for a new Rocky. It would be about a boxer who has entered the country illegally and is dumped back in his home country and has to fight his way back.

Sylvester Stallone: “Failure makes us smarter.”
Sylvester Stallone: “Failure makes us smarter.” Photo: Festival de Cannes

As for his rough-hewn exterior and ability to keep going Stallone believes that “failure makes us smarter. We’re able to accept our weaknesses and transform them into strengths. There’s something in human nature that makes tough. We have to fight, and we don’t accept defeat easily.”

Stallone’s experience of life and particularly Hollywood has taught him never to give up. “Everyone knows the story where I was dead broke and I held out to star in Rocky even when they were ready to pay me $300,000 for the script and then walk away. But I wasn't going to do that. I never even saw it as a gamble. Almost every big name director ran away from the project when they saw I was attached to it. But there wasn't even a choice for me. I knew I had to play Rocky. And I love the way the public has kind of stayed with me all these years.”

He claims it was never his intention to become an action star. “I tried to be the kind of actor who was part of ensemble kind of films. It was never my goal to become an action star. That probably surprises a lot of people but if you look at a lot of the films I was making you can see that I tried to do different things like Paradise Alley. By the time I worked on 48 Hours I'd made so many mistakes that it was hard for me to recover from that. I know I made some bad choices but we all make those kinds of errors in life. I'm no exception. I've learnt from my mistakes, though.”

And with that he was ready for his enthusiastic ovation.

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