A steep, rickety wooden staircase awaits journalists at the Front Street Gym in Philadelphia, the site of our press junket for Creed and one of the film’s main locations. I wonder how they managed to get the necessary film equipment up those stairs in order to shoot. The gym has been rearranged to accommodate the forty-plus journalists in attendance, but the boxing ring is still front and center. Demonstration sparring matches entertain us until the cast and crew arrive.
Creed, the seventh entry in the Rocky franchise, follows Apollo Creed’s son, Adonis, as he follows in his father’s footsteps. Naturally, those footsteps take him to Philadelphia so he can seek the training of one Rocky Balboa. Creed marks the first film in the franchise that was not written by Sylvester Stallone – but that doesn’t mean director Ryan Coogler didn’t seek Stallone’s blessing on the project.
“No, no, no,” were Stallone’s first thoughts when brought the treatment of Creed. “It was such a struggle to get the last one done, and I was so happy with Rocky Balboa, the conclusion of Rocky’s story. I thought we didn’t need to go any further with it. I dismissed [Ryan’s] idea. But he was very adamant about it and came back a year later. I thought about it and realized that my story is told, but there is a whole other generation out there – two generations since Rocky started – their story has not been told. I finally agreed to do it once I had been ‘shamed’ for my narrow-mindedness.”
This was only director Ryan Coogler’s second feature film. His father raised him on the Rocky films, so the franchise always had a special significance to him. “Rocky movies are something I watched with my dad,” Coogler says. “It was something I watched with my family. That’s what makes those movies so great. Creed is very much a movie with a father-son theme. The Rocky’s have that in their DNA.” (For more with Coogler, check out our exclusive interview with the director, next week.)
Michael B. Jordan stars as Adonis Creed, joining a franchise with a forty-year history. “It’s an honor,” he says of becoming part of the Rocky family. “To be trusted with these characters that Sly built his career on… it’s an honor.” Jordan says that he never felt more safe and willing to take risks than in this film. “Sly did the biggest thing for me: he took the pressure off of me, told me not to compete or ‘live up to’ what the Rocky’s were. He told me just to be myself and do what we were meant to do.”
“Sly told me I worked too hard!” Jordan says proudly of the workout routine he started for Creed. He is appreciative of his close relationship with Coogler, who all but guaranteed him the role well before production got underway. This allowed Jordan to start training, change his diet dramatically, and be consistent with his workouts. “[Ryan] surrounded me with great boxing minds. I was a sponge and tried to pick up as much as I could from everybody, while we were still trying to define Adonis’ fighting style.”
Like in Rocky, Creed has a love story. But instead of Rocky’s meek Adrian, Adonis has Bianca, a strong, modern woman with a singing career. “We were really interested in telling a love story in the context of now,” says Tessa Thompson, who plays Bianca. She wanted to make sure the love story was something that millennials could relate to. “I feel like our ideas about relationships have shifted so much. In Bianca and Adonis, you get to see two young people who have a great feeling for each other, and they also have a great feeling for the things they are trying to do individually. And sometimes that means they are in conflict.”
Coogler co-wrote the script with his film school roommate, Aaron Covington, who says that one of the biggest challenges of the script was narrowing the story down. “We had a lot we wanted to say,” he says. “I think our first draft was 200-something pages.” Producer Irving Winkler cuts in to tell him it was 204 pages. (The average movie script is 100-120 pages.)
Winkler goes on to say that the ending changed many, many times, but they actually shot two different endings: one where Adonis wins the fight, and one where Adonis loses. The scenes were both tested, but Coogler says the results were “oddly the same.” “We all had gut feelings about which one was best, and the tests didn’t answer the questions. But the true ending of the movie never changed. The last scene of the film was always the last page of the script, regardless of what happened in the fight.”
Stallone loves the fact that the generation that wasn’t even born when he made the original Rocky is now making their own addition to the franchise. “It’s phenomenal that [this generation] would embrace it and take it to a new level.” He hopes people don’t see Creed as Rocky 7. “Rocky’s story is done. This is the beginning of, hopefully, a whole new series.”
Creed hits theaters November 25th.