Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Michael B. Jordan, Graham McTavish, Tessa Thompson
Director: Ryan Coogler
Genre: Drama, Sci-Fi
Running Time: 133 minutes
Synopsis: Rocky Balboa is acting as a trainer and mentor to the grandson of his fellow boxing alumni, Apollo Creed.
Release Date: November 26th, 2015
A great fighter once said, 'It's not about how hard you can hit.
It's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward."
It takes strength and determination to be a world-class fighter. But for Adonis Johnson, even with boxing in his blood, it will take something more: Rocky Balboa. To step out from the shadow of Apollo Creed, the father he never knew, Adonis must get Rocky back in the ring. Although the former champ has been out of the fight game for some time, Adonis reminds him of the tough, young upstart he himself once was. After some prodding, Rocky agrees to train him, his way.
The challenge of re-envisioning the ultimate underdog story that began with 'Rocky" was one that writer/director Ryan Coogler considered even before he was out of film school. 'I grew up watching -Rocky' movies with my dad; it was our thing," he states. 'Rocky is a character that people just connect with"action fans, drama fans, hopeless romantics, even just movie fans"everyone likes -Rocky' movies because they have something for everyone."
Before Adonis could coax Rocky into coming back, Coogler had to receive Sylvester Stallone's blessing to work with the character, and the actor's commitment to put the gloves back on.
Stallone, also a producer on the film, has played one of the most legendary and beloved characters in film history in six 'Rocky" films over nearly four decades. He says, 'The impression Rocky has left on people is both confounding and extraordinary to me. I've always felt a relentless responsibility to keep the character intact because of that. So when Ryan came to me with the idea of Adonis Creed coming into the picture, I thought it was incredible, this filmmaker who is so young and yet so captivated by what we'd begun all those years ago. I admit, I was intrigued."
Coogler smiles when recalling his first meeting with the icon. 'I could tell he was a little apprehensive. I hadn't even made a feature film yet, so he was probably thinking, -Who is this kid coming in talking about making a 'Rocky" movie?' But I could tell he was also thinking about every different way it could work."
The filmmaker also mentioned the idea to his 'Fruitvale Station" star, Michael B. Jordan, during production on that film. Jordan recalls, 'Ryan is so talented, such a smart guy and so great to work with, so when he first mentioned the project to me I thought it sounded great, and that if it ever happened I'd definitely want to do it. Then over time, as it started to get real and I became more invested, I began looking at the situation like, -Wow, that's a lot of responsibility; this is the 40-year legacy of Rocky.'"
Leaning into its legacy, Coogler wanted 'Creed" to evoke the gritty, old-school style of the earliest 'Rocky" films while also forging its own modern-day identity. It was important to him to do justice to the characters, to create a film that could cross the divide between Baby Boomers and Millennials, knowing the property could appeal to an equal number of fans in both generations and everyone in between.
Coogler had come up with the story, and partnered with fellow writer Aaron Covington on the screenplay. 'Ryan and I met the first day of film school at USC," Covington relates. 'We have similar backgrounds, similar interests, and we started collaborating almost from day one, helping each other on set, tossing ideas back and forth. One day he asked me if I watched the -Rocky' movies growing up; of course I'd seen them a dozen times. Then he said, -What if we continued that story with Apollo Creed's son?' I could see that Ryan had an honest vision for the story so I was instantly on board."
For Coogler, that real place began with the 'Rocky" ritual he and his father shared. 'I was an athlete, and he would take me out for football, martial arts and basketball. And before I'd have a big game, he'd sit me down and we'd watch -Rocky II.' That was my introduction to the character and the story. We eventually watched them all, and I fell in love with it through him." The fact that, for the first time, a story about Rocky Balboa was not penned by Stallone could have been cause for concern among the two production entities who compose the banner Chartoff Winkler, the principals being Robert Chartoff and Irwin Winkler. The pair produced the original 'Rocky," which was nominated for ten Oscars and won three, including Best Picture. Chartoff passed away earlier this year, and 'Creed" is dedicated to his memory.
'We all felt like we were going out in style with -Rocky Balboa,' which was very well received," says producer Irwin Winkler. 'Little did I know there was a young man with an idea for a whole new way to tell this story."
Producer Charles Winkler grew up with the 'Rocky" franchise in the family and served as executive producer and second unit director on the sixth film, 'Rocky Balboa." He offers, 'I think Ryan's idea was so solid that we all acknowledged this was the way to take it in a new direction and present it to a new generation. It's been fascinating to watch the torch being passed."
William Chartoff was also raised on 'Rocky"; his father, the late Robert Chartoff, produced the series and the younger worked on the fourth and sixth films, producing the latter. He and his father both served as producers on 'Creed" as well. 'Knowing how much Rocky has meant to me and my dad, and learning how significant the films had been to Ryan and his father's relationship, well, that really resonated with us," he states. 'Then he wrote this character who is a young man trying to follow in the footsteps of his father, to live up to a standard"a legacy"which is an incredible burden for anybody, but with the added layer of never having known him. It's a rich story with a compelling personal journey to follow."
'Ryan's idea was surprising to us," says producer David Winkler. 'There was never any conversation in any of the -Rocky' movies about Apollo having an illegitimate son out there somewhere, so he wasn't spinning off a character we had already known, he was inventing an entirely new one."
One who has boxing in his DNA, a gift from a fighting god. Who better to help Adonis take that gift and hone it into a talent worthy of the title than another former champion who was also his father's best friend? Who else would Adonis turn to but the one person who not only could help him with his career, but also provide insight into the father who was absent but yet an almost oppressive presence in his life?
Coogler says, 'Adonis has never had a father or father figure; I wanted to explore what it would be like to reach out for that as a grown man. Rocky had Mickey, so it's something he would've been familiar with, the way a coach or trainer can be something like a parent to a young athlete."
If Rocky wasn't planning to ever get back in the fight game, he was certainly not expecting another Creed to show up at his door, even one reluctant to use the name. But that's not the only surprise in store for him once he lets Adonis"Donnie, as he calls him"into his life. 'If I fight, you fight," Donnie says to his newfound mentor, 'uncle" and friend. But it's up to Rocky to decide how much fight he has left in him.
Shot entirely in and around Philadelphia, 'Creed" at once takes audiences back to the city where it all began, while ushering in a new era for 'Rocky" fans the world over.
Every move that I make, every punch that I throw,
everybody's gonna compare me to him.
You are Apollo Creed's son, so use the name.
Rocky Balboa tells Adonis Johnson that his toughest opponent isn't the other guy in the match, but the guy looking back at him in the mirror"something Rocky knows from his own experience in boxing, and in life. He also knows that because the younger man is fighting to get out from under the long shadow of his famous father, one of the greatest boxers to have ever graced the ring, he will have to teach him that boxing is as much a mental game as a physical one. Adonis may feel ready to make a name for himself, but is he ready to live up to his father's name?
Coogler states, 'I knew I wanted to follow Apollo Creed's family, because he was my favorite character from the -Rocky' franchise, and Carl Weathers' performance was so incredible; he played him with the same confidence that Ali had. I liked how intellectual, how in control of his own destiny that character was always shown to be."
Taking on the mantle of the up-and-comer with a lot to live up to, Jordan says that Adonis 'has always struggled with his sense of identity, not knowing his dad growing up, losing his mom. He was small for his age, talked a big game, and was always getting into fights. He bounced around from foster home to foster home in L.A., and wound up in some not-so-good places before he was adopted by Mary Anne Creed.
'Suddenly, he was living in a really nice place," the actor continues. 'But inside, he didn't really fit in there either. He still had that urge to lash out, not really understanding who he was."
Mary Anne appeared alongside her husband in the 'Rocky" films, and is played in 'Creed" by the venerable Phylicia Rashad, who says, 'The moment Mary Anne looks at Adonis she knows it is her husband's son. He's a feisty little bundle of anger, cute as can be but just mad at the world. And she understands him. So she takes him home and rears him as her own. He's a part of Apollo so to her mind that makes him a part of her, too"the part that she's been missing."
'Mary Anne gave him stability, pushed him toward a better life, a greater understanding of the world," Jordan adds. 'But he still has a hole he's trying to fill inside, and he's trying to figure it out. When he's boxing, things make sense. He feels alive. It feels right."
One of Adonis's struggles, Jordan allows, stems from him being an illegitimate son. 'There's a weight that comes along with that. He wants to hide that part of himself. He hasn't learned that until you embrace all the parts of yourself, you can't grow and discover who you are. Part of his journey is to accept what he's thought of as an embarrassment for a really long time."
'Mike and I talked about the anger inside of Adonis that he can't really verbalize but that he gets out when he pushes himself to the brink physically," Coogler adds. 'And people are inclined to do things they have success at, and he's incredibly gifted at boxing. Whether he knows it or not, he's trying to connect with his father, and that's when he feels the closest to him."
The director had no doubt Jordan would explore the subtleties of Adonis's inner turmoil while also taking on the physical rigors required of the part. 'I always knew that if I ever made this film, I'd want Mike in the role. He's so talented, he's got a crazy work ethic, he's committed and dedicated, and takes a lot of pride in his work. He's one of those guys that, if he's interested in doing something, you do it with him."
'Ryan is very humble and doesn't like the spotlight at all, and hates it when anybody says anything nice about him or gives him compliments," Jordan reveals, smiling. 'But he's an amazing talent, and so on top of everything. He's so honest, and he's always helping you find the real moments that people can relate to in a scene and bring them to life. We really clicked on our first project together and working with him again has helped me realize the importance of the actor-director relationship, that communication. Once you have it, the shooting process is that much easier."
If Adonis wants to quit fighting across the border in Mexico, and if, out of respect for Mary Anne, no one in Los Angeles will train him, he figures he can do the next best thing. He leaves the comfort of the Creed mansion in Baldwin Hills for Philadelphia…and Rocky Balboa. 'He thinks that because Rocky was close to Apollo, he might be the only other person who could understand what he's going through, and that because of his history with the father, he'll be willing to train the son," Jordan offers. 'But that's not the case."
Rocky makes it clear he's not interested in going back to that world, and, Jordan says, 'that just because his father's Apollo Creed doesn't mean he'll become a world champion. It takes a lot of hard work."
But the wholly self-trained Adonis doesn't shy away from hard work; he's ready to knuckle down. That says a lot to someone like Rocky, who decides to take him on despite his misgivings. 'I was very interested in seeing how time had affected Rocky," Coogler says. 'How somebody known to be this heroic figure, who can withstand all of these physical tests of time…to see what that has done to him in other ways." The filmmaker likens the character's current status to that of another favorite of his, Rocky's first trainer, Mickey. 'I always thought it was interesting that when we meet Mickey in -Rocky,' there's no reference to his family, to a wife, kids. He's just Mickey, he's got this gym and his fighters and that's it. When we meet Rocky now, he's kind of like Mickey was; the only difference is we know his history. We know who isn't around anymore, so it hits us even harder when we see him just biding time, and when we see him let this kid into his life, even though it's hard for him to do."
Having created Rocky Balboa and played him in six prior incarnations, Stallone slipped easily back into the role, eager to explore the character in this phase of his life, when he's presented with this unexpected opportunity. 'Even though the character comes out of me, I wish I was able to be more like him," Stallone laughs. 'He's the epitome of patience, there's not a mean bone in his body and, though he's very competitive, he fights for pride."
'Sly knows Rocky better than anybody, and he knows more about the sport of boxing and how to make a movie about it than I ever could," Coogler says. 'We'd be writing scenes and I'd call and ask him, -What would Rocky do here?' If I had ideas, he'd be the first person I'd call. If he had an idea, he'd call me. He was so generous. It was a great collaboration."
'Boxing, probably like most sports, is about 80 percent in your head," Stallone surmises. 'You can be defeated before you walk out of the dressing room. That's why a good corner man has to be a psychoanalyst, right on the spot. He's got to hold his guy together. It's a pretty extraordinary occupation, and I thought it was a great place for Rocky to go"to take everything he's known from all his years as a fighter and give it to this kid."
Having been in and around the boxing arena"both fictional and real"for so long, Stallone has had ample opportunity to examine what makes a boxer tick. 'Why fight when you don't have to? What drives the fighter? It's a very unique personality who wants to challenge himself in that way. Even Rocky, who is so gentle; when he's in the ring there's a primal thing that kicks in. It's about pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, testing yourself in this ultimate, mano a mano fashion that most people wouldn't do."
Coogler was keen to show not only the mentor-mentee aspects of Rocky and Adonis's relationship, but also the parallel nature of their characters' situations as young hopefuls"one who is and one who once was. 'In -Rocky,' he's a pretty lonely guy when we first meet him," the director observes. 'He's trying to be a fighter, trying to form a relationship with Adrian, he's got Paulie, but he goes home by himself at night. And after all he reached out for"and got"in his life, he's right back there now, all alone. And Adonis shows up, and Rocky sees himself when it all started, when he had nothing, but had everything ahead of him."
Stallone adds that, in addition to the emotions that come with the highs and lows of Rocky's own life story, when confronted with Apollo's son, 'he's suddenly faced with the grief of losing Apollo again, and feeling responsible for that death. He's never really come to terms with it. Now he's not only reminded, but he sees this kid, who looks so much like his friend, looking back at him, wanting to step into this dangerous arena and wanting Rocky to take him there. And Rocky doesn't want to; he doesn't want to feel responsible for Apollo's kid getting hurt, too. But he knows if he doesn't do it, someone else will, and Donnie may really get hurt. If Rocky does his best, maybe he can keep him safe, and make up for what happened all those years ago."
In 'Creed," Rocky's also facing a serious health issue that he's reluctant to deal with, in light of the fact that he has no family left. But Adonis's presence forces him to rethink if that's true, and whether or not he's got any fight left in him.
Off the set, Stallone quickly formed a close relationship with Jordan. 'I love Michael, he's a fantastic actor," the veteran states. 'He's so dedicated. Even after he's finished a scene and he's done well, he may come back 20 minutes later and say, -You know, there's something brewing inside, do you mind if I take one more shot at it?' And sure enough, something even better rises to the top."
'That means a lot coming from the big guy," Jordan acknowledges. 'Honestly, I connected with him on an acting level and a personal level more than I ever thought I would. I mean, he's a legend, which can be intimidating. But he's just so real. Ryan, as a director, he lets the actors go through and find the scene, and Sly and I had some really intense scenes to play. We definitely pushed each other. He got me to a level of emotion that I haven't been to in a really long time with another actor."
Despite taking place in the male-dominated world of boxing, 'Creed" isn't strictly about the guys. Just as Rocky found love with Adrian, Adonis is finding something like it with his neighbor, Bianca. 'We knew we needed a strong female character," screenwriter Covington says, 'because everybody knows Adrian. When you think of Rocky, you can't help but think of her. Like Rocky, Adonis needed a counterbalance for all his aggression, somebody to bring him back to Earth."
The role of the singer/songwriter, which required the actress playing her to also perform, proved a difficult one to cast, but ultimately went to Tessa Thompson. Coogler expounds, 'We needed somebody to hold her own with Sly and Mike, and who was really a musician, who could perform and record the music Bianca makes. And as soon as Tessa was cast, she immediately got to work with our composer, Ludwig Goransson, and started making songs that we needed to use in the movie. And she was just perfect, absolutely incredible."
'When I first heard about this project, all I knew was that it was Ryan Coogler's next movie," Thompson relates. 'I was so enamored with his other work, and by him as a person, that I really wanted to be in the movie before I even knew if there was anything in it for me. Then when I read the script, I discovered this wonderful story of finding family in unexpected places, which is something I think people can relate to. In fact, what I've always thought to be so special about the -Rocky' movies is that they're not really about boxing; they're about love, about self-belief, endurance, perseverance, following your dreams. Those are things I think everybody can get behind, whether you watch boxing or not."
Like Adonis, Bianca is also following her dreams. 'In both Adonis and Bianca, you see two people who really like each other, but who are trying to figure out their own paths, and the dedication that takes," Thompson says. 'Bianca is a Philly-based singer in a town with a great musical history, so I worked with Ryan to find Bianca's artistic influences and to get an idea of what her sound would be. I spent some time in the city with local musicians. There's a great camaraderie there and it was a lot of fun. And getting to play opposite Mike wasn't too shabby, either."
Jordan grins. 'Tessa's awesome. A joy to work with"honestly, it didn't feel like work, which is always a good sign you're doing something real. Bianca is a very strong, independent woman with her own goals, her own morals. She's a North Philly girl who's used to being very up-front, very blunt. Adonis is caught off guard by her and he likes that."
'In the film, even though she's young, Bianca represents a self-assuredness and honesty and acceptance that Adonis gravitates to," Coogler explains. 'She knows who she is, what she wants and where she's going. All things he's trying to achieve for himself."
If Adonis struggles with his identity, it isn't for a lack of love at home, at least not in the last several years. Pulled from juvenile detention as a boy, he spent his teen years, into adulthood, with Mary Anne, whom he looks on as a mother.
'When I get a chance to work with brilliant young people, I take it, and I was interested in working with Ryan and Michael," Rashad asserts. 'I also loved playing this smart, sophisticated, grounded, forgiving woman. Mary Anne loved her husband very much, enough to not only overlook his indiscretion, but to take in his son."
'Phylicia was so graceful and elegant and has such a presence in a scene," Jordan says. 'She reminded me of my mom, actually, which just brought out those emotions and helped our relationship on camera."
Though Mary Anne recognizes Adonis's passion for boxing and comprehends the reasons behind it, she nevertheless wishes he would take another road. But she knows her hopes are futile when he tells her he's leaving. 'Every human being is born to walk a path, to choose their way," Rashad says. 'So the question for Mary Anne is not, -Does he love me enough not to do this thing he chooses to do?' The question becomes, -Do I love him enough to allow him to make this choice, and support him in it because of what it means to him?'"
'This is something that happens in relationships, in communities, it's a very real thing," Coogler notes. 'And Phylicia did a really amazing job of capturing how complex that is to deal with in a family."
You're gonna take a beating. You're gonna get knocked down,
you're gonna get up, and you're gonna see if you got the right thing.
In 'Creed," Adonis takes on three fighters, though he's clearly out of their league. To play them in the film, Coogler cast three real-world professional boxers: Anthony Bellew, Andre Ward and Gabriel Rosado.
'Every time Michael steps into the ring as Adonis, he's fighting real guys," Coogler says. 'They're phenomenal athletes, but there's a difference between boxing in life and boxing for the camera. How they punch is very economical; they don't punch in a showy way that sells it on film. A lot of times, these guys move so fast and so efficiently, the camera won't even pick it up. They had to be taught how to sell it, to open up. That was the learning curve for them"and it was very dangerous for Mike because if these dudes catch you for real, they can really hurt you."
The filmmakers ensured things were as safe as possible for the actors as well as the boxers, who all have active professional careers and would return to fighting professionally right after the movie was finished.
The UK's Anthony Bellew stars as 'Pretty" Ricky Conlan, Lineal Light Heavyweight title holder and undefeated best pound-for-pound boxer in the world, with a record of 36-0-0 and 28 wins by knockout. Bellew observes that he and his character have a lot in common. 'Ricky is a guy from Liverpool, like me. He's a big Everton fan, always has been, like me. He's a guy who's had success but has never forgotten where he's from."
Where they differ vastly, of course, is where Conlan's story begins in the film. 'He's a single father, just trying to make things work, but he's got a gun charge pending over his head," Bellew explains. 'So there's a lot going on in the background for him while he's trying to stay focused on a fight. Ryan helped me get into the frame of mind that I'm going to jail, which is a scary thing -cause the last thing I want to do is leave my kids. The thought of it is heartbreaking, and he got that emotion out of me."
Bellew, who has been boxing since he was a teenager, was taken by surprise when he received a call from 'Creed" producer Kevin King-Templeton about acting in the film. 'I thought it was a friend playing a joke, you know? Someone pretending to be Kevin King calling me up as a prank. I asked my missus to look him up online and she said it was the same guy, the same voice. I still wasn't sure, but then I finally met Kevin and Charles Winkler and some other people. It wasn't until I met Ryan that I really believed I could do this, portray what they wanted Ricky to be."
'Tony is incredibly charismatic," Coogler says. 'I had never been to the UK; I found him on the internet. I wanted Ricky Conlan to be a good foil for Adonis, the opposite of him in every way: very brash, very experienced, comes from a very proud place. He's a homegrown boy from Liverpool, entrenched in where he's from, while Adonis is a bit nomadic, still finding out where he's going to land. Tony was definitely the right guy for the part."
Stallone was already well versed in Bellew's work. 'Tony's got it in his blood. When he gets hit or he's fired up, you look in his eyes and you see aggression, you see threat. It's not anger like a normal man, it's feral and it's savage. That's what you need to win, that feral side very few people really understand that beats in the heart of a boxer."
'The -Rocky' films capture a lot of what fighters go through, and not just physically," Bellew says. 'Sylvester Stallone has helped show boxers as what we are: noble, honorable, honest, and gentlemen. Okay, there are some vicious guys in boxing, like in the films, but a lot of us are really well-spoken, clever, witty. Boxing is full of different characters, like every other walk of life, and Stallone really put us on the map."
Adonis's match with 'Pretty" Ricky Conlan comes about when Conlan's manager, in search of an opponent for his fighter, gives Rocky a call. Scottish-born actor Graham McTavish plays the role of the aggressive and experienced Tommy Holiday.
'Ricky is like a son to Tommy, he's been with him the whole way and wants to look after him," McTavish says. 'He knows Ricky has a bad situation coming up soon, and needs a big fight to go out on, not only for his name but for the sake of his kids' futures. So he has a ruthlessness about him, but he's not somebody I would describe as a bad guy."
McTavish spent time with Bellew's own manager, Gary Disley, who the actor says 'tried to impress upon me that before a fight, your job is to prepare your guy for this terrible ordeal he's about to go through. During a fight, after each round, your guy's just gone through three minutes that, for some boxers, go by in the blink of an eye, it's so intense. You have to refocus him, because he'll have an instinct that kicks in and questions what he's doing in there, getting hit in the face. And at the end of it, your job is to refocus him again, to bring him back out of that intense place, win or lose, and make sure he's okay. So it's easy to feel protective outside the match, too."
Before Adonis steps in the ring with Conlan, he must first, for very different reasons, face two completely different opponents. Prior to leaving Los Angeles, he comes up against Danny 'Stuntman" Wheeler at the Delphi Boxing Academy"home of Apollo Creed. With a record of 31-0-0 and 18 wins by knockout, Wheeler, the #2 pound-for-pound boxer in the world, trains at Delphi with Tony 'Little Duke" Burton, whose father trained Apollo Creed, and later Rocky Balboa, too. Wood Harris plays Burton, and real-life boxer Andre Ward stars as Wheeler. 'I literally grew up watching the -Rocky' movies and listening to the soundtracks," Ward says. 'I love the fight scenes, but I also really love the preparation, the things he went through to get into the ring. As a fighter, I can relate, because I've done those things most of my life. One big reason why I wanted to be a part of this movie is because fight fans don't get a chance to see what we go through, the ups and downs, the struggles, life behind the scenes. This film really gives a clear depiction of that, the good, the bad and the ugly. And because Ryan brought in so many real fighters to be a part of it, it also adds a lot of authenticity."
Shortly after he lands in Philly, Adonis is introduced to Leo 'The Lion" Sporino, the best prospect in Philadelphia, who trains at Mighty Mick's, former home of the Italian Stallion. His dad, Pete Sporino, runs the place, and gives the newly arrived Adonis the apt, if somewhat derisive, appellation 'Hollywood." Leo has an impressive 17-0-0 record, with 12 wins by knockout. A member of the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team, Sporino is the #4 ranked light heavyweight in the world. Actor Ritchie Coster plays Pete, and real-life boxer and Philly native Gabriel Rosado plays the promising native son.
'Rocky means a lot to Philadelphia," Rosado says. 'As a fighter coming from that background, working the graveyard shift, putting in water mains before I finally got my big break, I know the struggle. I relate to it, and so do a lot of other guys, so it was great to be a part of this. I actually met Stallone at my second pro fight, so it was real exciting to get to come to the gym on set and work with him there, as Rocky."
All three pros have nothing but praise for the work ethic and natural athleticism Jordan brought to set. 'Michael did his homework and spent the time preparing for the role," Ward says. 'He actually caught me with a couple of shots, and I felt them. We had a great time."
Rosado adds, 'Working with Michael was a blessing. We'd be in the gym at eight in the morning, training till twelve, then come back at three for another two, three hours. He put in the time just like we do."
'Mike worked tirelessly," echoes Bellew. 'His physique was unbelievable, he's an amazing athlete. He adapted really well to the sport and rolled with the shots. He should be very proud of himself."
In addition to the boxers, Coogler recruited several real-world behind-the-scenes specialists to play the experts Rocky recruits to help train Adonis in the movie: Ricardo 'Padman" McGill plays Padman, who works with the mitts; real boxer Malik Bazille plays Padman's son and Adonis's sparring partner, Amir; Jacob 'Stitch" Duran, a legendary cut man in the fight world, plays 'Stitch," the best cut man in Philly; and athletic equipment entrepreneur Elvis Grant appears as himself.
In the tradition of the 'Rocky" films, rounding out the cast are several figures from the sports media world, including commentators Max Kellerman, Jim Lampley and Michael Wilbon; journalists Anthony Kornheiser and Hannah Storm; and renowned announcer Michael Buffer, holding the mic at center ring.
You gotta work hard. I swear to God,
if you're not gonna do it, I'm out.
Every punch I've ever thrown has been on my own.
Nobody showed me how to do this. I'm ready.
One step at a time, one punch at a time, one round at a time. In training Adonis, this is Rocky's mantra, which he repeats over and over in order to help the eager young fighter stay focused. Of course, in order for Rocky to put Donnie through his paces, Michael B. Jordan had to be whipped into fighting shape first.
'Getting into shape for this movie was a year-long process for me," Jordan reveals. 'I was slowly training here and there, between projects, until I could go full steam ahead." The actor worked with technical advisor/boxing trainer Robert Sale out of the Powerhouse Gym in Burbank, California, learning the fundamentals much as his character practices them in the film.
'You think you're in shape, you're athletic, but you get in that ring and you realize how far you still have to go," Jordan admits.
'One thing that we knew we had to get right was the boxing," says Coogler. 'Because if it wasn't right, we'd be doing the film a disservice, the fans a disservice, and a lot of people for whom this is their livelihood, a disservice."
Once he began working with Sale, Jordan says, 'That slowly evolved into weight training with my physical trainer, Corey Calliet, who I'd been working with on another film." Calliet designed not only Jordan's training regimen, but his nutritional plan as well. 'Apollo Creed was pretty ripped, but I wanted to see if we could do better," Calliet says. 'I look forward to taking a body and turning it into a sculpture."
'The diet was the first thing with Corey," Jordan says. 'A lot of people getting into shape don't realize how much food and what food they put in their body has to do with what you look like. He had me cut down the sugars, bread, pasta, dairy, cheese. Gone. Out the window."
'It got to the point where Mike would call me when it was time to eat and say, -What can I eat?'" Calliet laughs. 'I wouldn't let him eat or drink anything without checking with me first because I didn't want to risk him making any mistakes."
One thing there was no perceptible limit on was water. 'I tried to get through a gallon-and-a-half of water or more a day," Jordan recalls. 'Eventually you start seeing the results, and that motivates you to stick to the crazy workout routine and the strict diet."
One of Coogler's dictates was to focus on the jump rope, as the activity would factor into the storyline on several occasions. 'Ryan wanted Mike to be able to jump rope really well," Calliet says. 'Mike is a natural, so one night I showed him what I wanted him to be able to do the next day, and he did it, which rarely ever happens."
Because Jordan is flatfooted, Calliet says, 'We did a lot of different things to keep him on his feet"move around, jump, hop, burpees and basic plyometric work. I knew he'd need to be quick to perfect the boxing and those exercises took care of that."
Just as Rocky tries to share his years of experience with Adonis, Calliet told Jordan, 'The body won't do what the mind won't let it; if you can think before you speak, you can think before you punch. That's what keeps you safe. If you tell yourself you can do it, you can. There were days when Mike wanted to stop, and I would look at him and remind him, -Your mind is stopping first. Tell your mind to keep going, -cause your body will only do what the mind tells it to."
Calliet himself boxed for more than eight years, working a day job, much like Adonis in the film before he heads to Philly. 'Boxing was my first love. I used to run six miles before work, then go box after. Everybody wanted to be like Rocky. It was the work ethic, the motivational speeches he gave that made me want to keep going. I watched the movies all the time, so to actually be a part of something like this blew my mind."
Once Jordan was in shape and ready to shoot, it was up to Coogler and stunt coordinator Clayton Barber to make everything they would capture on film look real"and right.
'I've been an athlete since I was six years old, sports is something I can relate to, but boxing I was not so familiar with," Coogler says. 'I had to study it. I took classes while we were writing the script. I wanted to learn the basics so I could put myself in Adonis's head. Sly brought the professional element to it, giving us tickets to fights and access to his extensive library on the subject. And Clay and his team made sure everybody felt like they were giving it their all, and at the same time making it look real.
For Barber, it all starts with the story. 'When I first started talking to Ryan, that's all we talked about. Not choreography, just story," Barber says. 'Then we went back to the -Rocky' history to find the characteristics we wanted to put inside the boxing for this universe we were creating. There are four fights in the film, and every one of them tells a different part of the journey Adonis is on, from the first to the last."
Coogler and Barber encouraged Jordan to pick a real boxer whose style he felt he could mimic, and watch all of his available footage. 'He picked a fighter named Timothy Bradley, who fights out of Southern California, and that helped him a lot," Coogler says.
The fact that Jordan, an actor, would be up against real boxers in the film presented a unique challenge for Barber. 'It was interesting to think of how to marry a real boxer who's learning to act with an actor who's learning to box, because they're working in opposite directions when we bring them together," he says. 'During one of the first conversations I had with Ryan, he told me he wanted a -violent ballet.' Right away, it clicked. I understood exactly what he wanted, and that was the inspiration, that's what we strived for inside the ring."
'There was a level of pressure to make it fresh," Coogler admits. 'Creatively, we wanted to capture the essence of -Rocky,' but give people something they haven't seen before, to show this character who is part of American culture in a different light."
Even while seeking a new spin on the fictionalized sport, the advantage of having Stallone"who choreographed nearly all the -Rocky' fights"on set was felt by all. 'To Ryan's credit, I gave him my blueprint, he analyzed it, and took it for what it's worth," Stallone says. 'I also told him that there are really two movies in a film like this: the drama, and the fights. And you have to cram these fights with as much drama as the rest of the movie, in about nine minutes. It's very complicated, very daunting. And he did it, no problem."
With Coogler and Barber working closely with director of photography Maryse Alberti, they determined the choreography and the camera would seek to show different perspectives in the ring from what one usually sees in the movies. They used a steadicam throughout the film, particularly in the fight scenes, and the fight between Adonis and Sporino was shot in a single, two-minute take.
Safety during the fights was always paramount, hand-in-hand with providing a visceral experience for moviegoers. 'We did keep a very safe zone, and we were very selective of how we hit the body, bringing the camera in, never losing a sort of explosive interpretation," Barber details. 'You can be just as impactful if you do it right. Every action has a reaction; the action is strong, the reaction is what sells it to the audience. It's a visual sell, and that's what we worked on."
Coogler adds, 'Because we were trying to capture for the audience what it feels like in the moment, in the ring, we got the idea to have a circle shot. So we did a continuous tight shot that spins around while Adonis is pinned with his back to the ropes, with nowhere for him to run."
Using a Movi camera rig, which enabled them to do a 360-degree shot, Coogler relates, 'We went around, over the top of the ropes while the two fighters are just going at each other. It was crazy to pull it off because it was a real complex setup for a shot that's a few seconds of the movie, but I think it was effective; I think audiences will get a sense of what it's like in there." For all the fights, Barber's key note to Jordan was attitude. 'Adonis has an attitude, so I told Mike to make sure every action was an expression of that attitude. Just the way a word has meaning when you speak, the actor translates that for the character. So I'd say to him, -It's not just a punch, that punch has meaning. Give me the attitude behind it.' That's how it translates back to the character and makes the audience feel what he's going through."
I've been fighting my whole life.
I ain't got a choice.
It's always about a choice.
For Coogler, there was no question that 'Creed" would be set in Philadelphia, where it all began. And for the filmmakers, there was no doubt that principal photography would be accomplished there as well. 'Rocky is Adonis's link to his past and his future," Coogler says. 'There was only one place his story would take him, and that's wherever Rocky was. And that's Philly. In fact, we used a lot of the original -Rocky' locations that fans are going to recognize, but we used a lot of new ones, too, to make it our own."
Coogler's creative team on the film consisted of costume designers Emma Potter and Antoinette Messam, as well as several members of his 'Fruitvale" team, including editors Michael P. Shawver and Claudia Castello, and production designer Hannah Beachler.
'Ryan was very clear about what he wanted the themes to be, visually," Beachler says. 'So I went back to the early films and then figured out how to integrate what we needed from them with what we wanted for 2015, bringing everything together. He trusted me with making it authentic, and with defining our three different settings, Philly, Los Angeles and Liverpool."
Two must-haves for the film were the statue of Rocky and the long flight of iconic steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and Coogler incorporated them in a way that he felt would make sense for the city, and the character of Rocky, today. Filming there was another matter entirely. 'Even Sly is kind of in awe of how many people you see there," Coogler says. 'The day we were shooting, he said to me sincerely, -I can't believe people run up these steps, this is crazy.' But it's true, people go nuts for him, the streets fill up, and they talk to him like Rocky's real. He's a character, but he's so much more. It was great being there with Sly and seeing that."
'I tend to get lost in everyday events and I forget," Stallone confesses. 'When I go back to Philadelphia and realize that the city actually embraces this character still, it's really something." Jordan says, 'It's surreal, all the shout-outs and the love from the fans. I mean, there's a statue of this man"this real man as a fictional character"standing out in front of the museum, and people from all over the world come to take pictures by it and walk in his footsteps."
Maintaining the -Rocky' continuity on the sets, Beachler sussed out a number of design elements to incorporate wherever needed. 'I wanted to make sure that all the -Rockys' were represented in the house, so I went back to find certain pieces; for instance, the Marciano poster that's in his basement in -Creed' was in his apartment in -Rocky.' There are touches of Adrian, where you might think, -Okay, she must have done something here,' but he hasn't changed anything in all the years since she's been gone, time has stopped. Little things like that we did to make sure that audiences see the span of Rocky's life in this film."
Shooting at a house in South Philly, Beachler took her cue for Rocky's place from his house in 'Rocky Balboa," and was relieved to have hit the mark. 'Stallone walked in, and I was really nervous about that because it was important to have his blessing. He looked around and said, -Yeah, this place is a piece of crap. It looks great.' That's when I knew we'd done it right."
To evoke the generational and familial themes in the film, Rocky's house is at first, as Beachler describes it, 'Two seconds from being really sad. But at the same time, it needed to be comfortable and warm, like it just needed a little love, so that by the time Adonis comes in, we could open it up. Then it's a bit lighter and a bit brighter, and it starts to lose that cave feeling. And later, the kitchen becomes this place where they convene and become a sort of makeshift family."
If Rocky's been keeping his overhead low, Adonis has been living in the lap of luxury in the Creed mansion in the Baldwin Hills area of L.A. Though they were substituting a Huntingdon Valley area home for the scripted L.A. one, Beachler conducted a lot of research on Baldwin Hills. She notes, 'Ray Charles lived there, a lot of African-American athletes live there. So, this is where Apollo Creed would've lived. Apollo was a larger-than-life character, and we needed to show that.
'We also needed it to feel as though he bought that house in the -80s, and it's very much the same: marble and gold and light, lush and beautiful," she continues. 'We went with a very neutral palette, so the whole place is cream and brown, with leather and expensive furnishings. It was a way to separate L.A. from Philly, and Apollo's lifestyle"which Adonis has experienced now for many years"from Rocky's. Those two men were very close, but in the end, their lives were two completely different things. We dragged it into the 21st century, but the bones say nothin' but 1983."
Adonis and Bianca's apartment building was shot on location in North Philly, and the production found a nearby practical location for Adonis and Bianca's first 'date," filming at the popular Max's Steaks. The music venues where she performs were real as well: Johnny Brenda's in Fishtown, a hipster North Philly spot; and The Electric Factory. Composer Ludwig Goransson and his frequent collaborator Moses Sumney appear in the film as Bianca's back-up performers.
Three different gyms are featured prominently in the film, two of which will be familiar to fans: the Delphi Boxing Academy, home of Apollo Creed, where Creed took Rocky to train him in 'Rocky III" and where Adonis faces Danny 'Stuntman" Wheeler; and Mighty Mick's Boxing, where Rocky trained with Mickey and where Leo 'The Lion" Sporino trains. Interiors at Mick's were shot at the Must Fight Gym in Chester, with the exterior being the same North Front Street location used by the prior films.
The third gym that factors into the movie is the Front Street Gym in the North Philly neighborhood of Kensington, where Rocky trains Adonis, away from distractions and prying eyes.
'As soon as we saw Front Street, Ryan said -This is it, this is where Rocky takes Adonis,'" Beachler relates. 'And thanks to the history of it and the texture of it, we didn't do much there. And another nice thing about it, it had never been shot before, so that was exciting. We created some extra posters to put up, but from the paint buckets hanging from the ceiling to catch water, to the way they had the speed bag tied to the side, and the heavy bags that were hanging from two-by-fours on an old chain… It immediately evoked a different type of workout."
To clearly distinguish one gym from another, Beachler created three distinct color schemes for them. 'Delphi is our red and black gym in L.A.; Mickey's is gold and black; and Front Street is pretty much all red, white and blue," she says. For a fourth gym, the Holiday Gym where 'Pretty" Ricky Conlan trains in Liverpool, Beachler also used red, white and blue, 'but, we have a huge Union Jack hanging in the back," she points out.
Most of the Liverpool scenes were accomplished at locations in Chester, and Conlan's gym, shot at Shuler Gym, was meant to echo the themes at Front Street. 'We wanted to show that Adonis and Ricky were coming from a similar place, essentially, so those two gyms mirror each other in color, but otherwise they're different."
Harking back to the previous films, 'We used Victor's Café in South Philly for Adrian's, which is what they used in -Rocky Balboa,'" she cites. Knowing Rocky himself wouldn't have updated it much, neither did Beachler, apart from a few artistic touches here and there.
Temple University Music Hall was utilized for the Sporino fight, and for the Liverpool match between Adonis and Conlan, shooting took place at Sun Studios, south of Philadelphia, which was dressed as Goodison Park, home of the Everton Football Club. The scenes there incorporated as many as 1,000 extras and a massive green screen; the visual effects team would add the rest of the crowd in post. The pre-fight press conference was shot at the Elkins Estate in Elkins Park, and the locker room scenes that take place prior to the fight were filmed at the Philadelphia Union MLS soccer stadium.
For the film's climactic fight, Conlan dons a pair of kilt-style trunks. While Bellew generally opts for basic boxing shorts, Coogler offers, 'they both wear Tony's favorite soccer team's patch, Everton."
Coogler and his costume designers Potter and Messam chose the kilt for the character because, as the director notes, 'I knew Adonis would be in traditional trunks, so I wanted to make sure that Conlan's were flamboyant in style. We looked at a lot of designs, and were inspired by Ricky Hatton and Adrien Broner, flashier boxers like the ones who will come out in a Spartan skirt look."
While Adonis's shorts were traditional, Jordan's gloves were not quite so. 'We had specially engineered gloves that were the same size as normal fight gloves, but made with a material that would give him a little more cushion," Coogler reveals.
One of the director's favorite aspects of shooting in the City of Brotherly Love was…the brotherly love. 'I liked the vibe out there, it was very similar to Oakland, where people have a lot of pride in their sports teams, pride in where they're from. The music culture out there is also very big, and we were able to bring that to life in the film through the character of Bianca, thanks to Tessa and our composer."
Ludwig Goransson, who also worked with Coogler on his previous film, scored 'Creed" and wrote several tracks for Thompson to perform in character. 'Creating an EP for a fictional buzz-worthy artist is challenging, but knowing what Ryan had in mind for the character, Tessa and I were able to go into the studio as soon as she was cast," he says. 'We wrote and recorded about eight songs and Ryan chose his favorites for the movie. It was a very special experience for both Tessa and me because we could see and hear how Bianca came together through her music."
The composer had a unique approach to build the score, too. 'I always feel encouraged by Ryan to think outside of the box and create something that I really believe in. The first thing I did was record sounds from a boxer during his training routine, with the purpose of turning those sounds into musical elements as the basis for the score," he explains. 'After experimenting with those sounds, I rearranged one of the love themes I'd written and gave it a bigger, more aggressive, orchestral sound with a few modern elements and a strong melodic theme."
Of course, the musical history of the 'Rocky" films had to be addressed. 'I studied Bill Conti's score thoroughly and was inspired by the way he combined jazz and classical harmonies," Goransson continues. 'I didn't intend to use any -Rocky' music beyond just one climactic scene, but Ryan and I discussed how to score an older Rocky, and we came up with using Adrian's love theme."
Having spent so much of his life influenced by the -Rocky' films, and determined to be a part of them, Coogler is thrilled to at long last bring this new chapter in the beloved series to the screen, and hopes that moviegoers will be as eager to see the story as he has been to tell it. 'I've been a Rocky fan since as long as I can remember," he says. 'I know those movies like the back of my hand. I think we captured that spirit and also brought something new for fans to enjoy."
Release Date: November 26th, 2015