Michael B. Jordan has done sports on screen before. He spent two seasons on “Friday Night Lights,” where he had a double though still did some of his own stunts and took some real hits. But that’s nothing compared to “Creed,” a spin-off and continuation of the “Rocky” saga, focused on Jordan’s Adonis, the illegitimate secret son of deceased fighter Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers).
Adonis may team up with Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky for a big fight, but Jordan — reuniting with his “Fruitvale Station” director Ryan Coogler — didn't want to just do another "Rocky." They wanted to make their own distinctive movie, that built off the legacy of a beloved franchise while building a future for its own, new hero. Not only that, they wanted a studio film that feels as raw and interested in people as the movie that broke them through into the mainstream.
Rocky is a little popular in Philadelphia.
He’s huge. When you’re doing exterior scenes with [Stallone], there are hundreds of fans lined up on the side. After you yell cut they’re like, “Rocky! Sly!” It’s like, “Damn, the whole city is out here. It’s consistent. They followed us around.
Like the first two Rockys, “Creed” shows parts of the city that tend to be ignored, and not only in movies shot here.
Ryan really explored different parts of Philly. It’s similar to “Friday Night Lights.” When you go from Dillon to East Dillon, you went five minutes across railroad tracks, but you got a completely different perspective and different stories.
Despite continuing an iconic film series, this still looks and feels a lot like “Fruitvale Station.” Ryan doesn’t completely overhaul his style.
Ryan has a unique take on people. He likes to see what they do when they’re alone, when they’re by themselves, when they’re thinking. He lets scenes breathe. That’s not seen too often in cinema, that directors let characters have little moments. It doesn’t have to be dialogue-filled all the time. Something doesn’t always have to be happening. Sometimes two people sitting there in their own space is more interesting than watching people talking the entire time.
Then there’s the boxing. You did that yourself, and there’s even one fight done in a single take. A lot of times long takes are about admiring the technique, but here it’s about admiring the actors.
That one could have failed in a heartbeat. There were a few times when we thought, “Are we going to have to cut this up?” But I love one takes. It’s a connection you make with the audience. When you cut it’s a blink. They stop. They say, “I’m out of it.” Sometimes you can keep people locked in on a situation. You get so much more emotion out of people.
How many takes did that take to get it right?
We got it on the fourth or fifth. They only gave us eight takes, timing-wise. In your head you think, “That’s one, I f—ed up. Godd—, that’s two. Then three. Almost got it. Fourth, kind of got it.” We’d look at playbacks and see which punches were hits and misses. It was a process.
You’ve done physical performances before. I imagine this was the hardest.
It was just the body exhaustion over a period of time. My body got run down more than it ever has.
Was it your decision to not have a double?
It was something I knew was a non-starter. Same thing with Ryan. If I had told him I wanted a double he would have looked at me like [shoots weird look].
Are you still boxing?
I’m still boxing. Got the knuckles to prove it. [Shows a bruise on his knuckles] That one’s kind of infected, actually. Got to do something about that. [Laughs] It’s like picking up a new craft, a new toy. You want to keep playing with it, keep experimenting with it. It’s cool to get back on the heavy bag, the speed bag, jump rope, go through some rounds on the pad. Just to stay sharp. It’s good cardio. It gives you discipline and focus. That’s really important when you’re doing press tours and films. You want to stay focused. Exercise is a great release.
I am probably the hundredth person you’ve talked to today. That requires stamina.
Actors get paid to promote, not to act. That’s what it is. Acting is what I love to do. This is great too. [Laughs] I wake up every day [on set], like, “Let’s do this.” This is more of a task.
Let’s talk about Adonis, who is not someone who’s easily pegged. He has rage issues, he has trauma. But he’s very personable and can even be funny and lighthearted.
He’s a real person. He’s come from some real situations. He’s got a lot of issues. He has abandonment issues, family issues. He doesn’t really know who he is, where he comes from. He has a bit of a temper. He’s been fighting since he was a kid. He was always fighting something. He has to learn to pick and choose his battles. At the same time he’s falling in love. How do you balance being ambitious and wanting your own career with falling in love with someone who also has her own career? We wanted to show what it’s like dating in 2015, young love. What’s that like today?
He keeps showing different sides of himself depending on the scene.
You want to play someone with layers and twists and turns. That’s what real people have. Real people, you don’t know them until you talk to them. That’s what cool about these characters: They’re multilayered. No one’s one-dimensional.
Bianca, his love interest, played by Tessa Thompson, is the same way. She’s not a traditional token girlfriend. She’s not a one-note support system.
She’s got her own thing going on. She’s cool with not being with me too. [Laughs] For a guy, a girl that’s nonchalant, who says, “I don’t need you,” that’s very endearing. It’s an ego check, of course, but I’m also intrigued. It’s like, “Why not? I’ve been used to getting my way a lot, but why don’t you want me?” Bianca calls bulls— when she sees it. She’s no-nonsense. She challenges him to be himself. That’s an obstacle he got over because of her.
Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge