The name Sylvester Stallone has immediate connotations of explosive Hollywood blockbusters, testosterone-fuelled heroism and of course, muscles. Starring in films like Rocky, Rambo and The Expendables means the action star has made a career out of high-intensity cinematic moments.
However, this isn’t the case when Stallone is off-duty. Away from the big screen, the actor’s pursuits are altogether more tranquil. You won’t find the 68-year-old (born 6 July 1946) American in the boxing ring or at the shooting range; instead, polo (and other equestrian endeavours) are how Stallone and his young daughters, Sophia Rose (*1996), Sistine Rose (*1998) und Scarlet Rose (*2002), get their outdoor kicks.
Such a sophisticated pastime is at odds with his self-constructed meathead image, but his interest in polo was in fact inevitable, given the rich equestrian history of his family. Stallone’s father, the late Frank Stallone, was a professional polo player who rode horses in Italy before emigrating to New York in the 1940s, where he served briefly in the U.S. Army Cavalry before relocating to Washington.
‘The name Stallone translates as stallion, or horse’, Stallone says. ‘So my family were horse people to begin with, going right back. But they weren’t rich people, they were peasants. He moved to America to get more money but also to get away from horses, to do something else that the Stallones hadn’t done. But he carried on playing polo. He couldn’t give it up, no matter how hard he tried!’ Stallone admits to a ‘very tough relationship’ with his father; one that he recognises ‘made me very combative and resilient’, with polo often acting as the thread that kept their fraught bond together.
Stallone first picked up a mallet when he was 11 years old, and the pair famously both took part in an exhibition match at Palm Beach Polo and Country Club in Florida in 1990, which Stallone Snr said at the time was ‘the thrill of his life’. ‘I was playing with pros that day’, Stallone said, ‘and they were a hell of a lot better than I was, trust me’.
Stallone once stated that ‘playing polo is like trying to play golf during an earthquake’ and he stands by that description. ‘It’s weird, when you are on the horse you think you look like Rambo and you should charge around, but that’s not what the game is about. It’s about being patient. I have to remember that a lot of the time’, he says with a smile.
Not one to do anything by half-measures, Stallone enjoys buying polo paraphernalia. Recently, he was spotted at the flagship London store of Polistas, the prominent authentic polowear shop, buying quilted leather jackets, gilets and a number of Polistas polo shirts, as well as the trademark Polistas baseball cap. He also remains determined to pass his equestrian love onto his three daughters, Sophia, Sistene, and Scarlet, too: last year, he and other equine-loving celebrities attended William Shatner’s Hollywood Charity Horse Show in Burbank, California. ‘My girls were starting to show an interest in reining, which is great, so I went along’, he says. ‘It was an enjoyable day. I’d go for anything that helps them enjoy horses’. This behaviour might come as surprise to those whose association with Stallone ends with the films he makes. Those people can hardly be blamed: Stallone, along with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jean-Claude Van Damme, was at the forefront of the action hero movie golden age of the 1980s, and few films from that era remain as iconic as Stallone’s Rambo or Rocky.
Furthermore, Stallone has always been adamant about performing his own stunts – the 11 operations he has endured over the years thanks to on-set accidents are testament to that. He still insists on doing them now, even in his late sixties. Stallone’s film The Expendables 3 (which also stars Schwarzenegger) left him with a metal plate in his back after one stunt went slightly wrong. He appears nonplussed about the risks he takes to make films like the $600m Expendables franchise successful.
‘You always try to be as safe as you can because you don’t want to take unnecessary risks’, Stallone explains. ‘But at the same time, the public doesn’t want to see stunt doubles beating each other or diving on the ground with explosions going off all around you. They expect you to deliver and I’m never going to make a film where I don’t give it everything I have. Everyone was game to do the physical work involved and I’m really proud of the work they put it in. You just keep throwing yourself into the fight and getting back in the ring for another round. I’ve stayed in good shape, though – I’ll be doing this as long as my body holds out’.
But what about his own personal health? Time catches up with everyone eventually, even someone in Stallone’s prime physical condition. ‘It gets harder’, he says, ‘you get hurt a lot more, and you have a hard time getting out of bed the next day. I’ve had my share of broken bones and torn tendons and my body has been black and blue and every colour you can imagine’.
‘But you also know that you’re playing characters and telling stories about people who have dealt with much worse in life and you’re not willing to take a little physical pain as part of your job? You tell yourself that this is one of the best jobs anyone could ever ask for. You know you’re going to get your shoulders banged up and take some shots to the face and your ribs. That’s just how it is when you’re doing this kind of a movie’.
Stallone symbolises a dying breed, and he recognises the dearth of contemporary action movie heroes. ‘There are few of us left and there aren’t that many coming up. The problem is that they’re not making a lot of those movies anymore and you can’t develop those kind of stars unless they have those kinds of stories to tell. Jason Statham is about as tough as they come, though’.
Even approaching his 70th birthday, there are still few actors harder than Stallone. It’s guaranteed that when he’s not out on a hack, he’ll be staying to true to the art form that made him a Hollywood legend.
‘I believe in giving audiences what they want. I’ve been in this business a long time and I’ve seen all kinds of genres come and go. But people still want to see men behaving heroically, seeing the good guys defeat the bad guys, and having some fun in the process. If you tell a good story and create interesting characters, the public will respond’.
So could we propose a polo-themed project to truly celebrate one of the pursuits that has existed throughout the actor’s professional career? ‘It’s an interesting idea, but it would have to be one amazing storyline! Polo is such a purist sport – a fantastic sport that is appreciated by a select few. I’m not sure it will ever be box office!