Michael B Jordan gets second chance at title shot with Creed
Playing a boxer in the seventh film in the Rocky series means rigorous training and able to take hits. But having Slyvester Stallone in your corner makes it all good, says Jordan
Michael B Jordan is going for gold in Creed, the seventh film in the Rocky series.
But can the 28-year-old US actor get his title shot following the dismal performance of his last blockbuster Fantastic Four, which not only was critically panned but also tanked at the box office?
Opening here Nov 26, Creed sees Jordan playing Adonis, the illegitimate son of former boxing champ Apollo Creed.
Adonis, who has been fighting under his mother's name, Johnson, hopes to make his own name in the ring without the burden of his dad’s.
In order to be the best, he seeks out Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), his dad's former rival-turned-best friend, and takes up training under Rocky's tutelage.
Directed by Fruitvale Station's (2013) award-winning Ryan Coogler, Creed harks back to the original 1976 Best Picture winner Rocky in terms of its underdog story and mood.
Here, Jordan talks about having Stallone at his corner, his rigorous training and sparring with real boxers.
What was your reaction when writer/director Ryan Coogler first approached you about playing Adonis Johnson in Creed?
He first talked to me about it when we were getting ready to make Fruitvale Station. But you never know what’s going to pan out, so in my mind I was thinking, ‘It sounds great. If it ever happens, I’ll definitely do it.’
And over the next few weeks and months, as it started to get more real and I became more invested, I started looking at the situation like, ‘Wow, this is a lot of responsibility; this is the 40-year legacy of Rocky.’
Did that make you nervous at all?
Yeah, I got a little nervous (laughs). I didn’t even know how Fruitvale was going to turn out at that point.
I was thinking, ‘Can I really do this? Am I a leading man?’ I’d done TV shows and a couple of ensemble films, but I’d never done anything where I was the guy.
Were you a Rocky fan before this project started coming together?
I didn’t have a strong connection to those movies growing up but I’m definitely a fan.
Rocky II and IV are the ones that always stood out for me; they’re my favourites of the films because they were the first ones I ever watched. But the first Rocky is right up there. As I got more invested in Creed, I went back and watched all of them.
Which of the movies do you think is closest to Creed in terms of story and tone?
I’d say Rocky and Rocky II. Our film is an underdog story; it’s about a guy who doesn’t really know who he is. He has a lot of identity issues, so he’s really just trying to figure out who he is.
Obviously, you couldn’t have done the movie without Sylvester Stallone’s involvement. What was it like meeting him for the first time?
First time I met him was at his office. He started teaching me to shadow box right there! He punched me in the chest. I was thinking, ‘Hey, Rocky’s still got a little bite to him.' (laughs)
He was really open and collaborative from the start. I didn’t think he was going to be that enthusiastic, but he was down – especially when it came to the fighting.
He’s a boxing historian: he can name fights, he can name individual rounds going back years. He used to manage fighters.
Did you get to spar with him?
No, I didn’t get a chance to spar with him. But he was there at my training sessions putting in his two cents … and his advice, his tips, man – there’s a big difference between actual boxing and movie fighting.
What are the differences between real boxing and movie boxing?
Real boxing is not always visually exciting. In movie boxing, everything has to be big for the cameras. It’s a balance.
In certain situations, you’ve got to go with real boxing. But in others, you’ve got to do things that a real boxer would never do, like throw a punch super wide. And that was hard for me because I’d trained for almost a year as a real fighter. I’d do something and Sly would say, ‘No, you can’t do that. You’ve got to really open up, really telegraph the punch.’
One of your on-screen adversaries, "Pretty" Ricky Conlan, is played by British fighter Anthony Bellew (above), a three-time ABA Heavyweight champion. What was it like doing fight scenes with him?
It’s a weird thing because real boxers do not want to hurt you. They’re not naturally aggressive. Tony and I are like brothers now, and in the ring we never wanted to hurt each other. Sometimes it comes off, but sometimes you can tell when someone’s holding back, so we’d psych each other up. I’d say to him, ‘Hey, come on. We’re doing this! Let’s do this!’
Was learning to movie box even harder for the pros?
Yeah, because they’re going on instinct. They’re really nice guys, but in the ring they turn that switch. And because they’re used to going in for the kill, it can be hard for them to hold back.
What’s it like going toe-to-toe with a professional?
It’s a humbling thing getting in the ring with a professional fighter. As a man you like to think you can handle yourself in a certain situation. I thought that. (laughs)
You get in the ring and you’re trying your hardest to hit this guy and you can’t get near him. (laughs)
But I like being method. If I’m playing a fighter, don’t treat me like an actor, treat me like a fighter. As much as Ryan would let me safely do, I did it. I wanted full contact. When you’re dealing with a Rocky movie, you can’t phone it in, you know what I mean?
What was your training regimen like? Was your initial training as a real boxer?
Yes, I was trained as a fighter. I’d get up four, five o’clock in the morning, eat, go back to sleep, get up, run three or four miles, go to sleep, get up, weight train, go to sleep, then box. That was my training. I’d go to real gyms and I’d train with real fighters. I demanded that.
I trained with [Creed boxing consultant] Rob Sale, who worked with Sly on Grudge Match (2013) and Rocky Balboa (2006). He really laid down the fundamentals for me: speed bag, heavy bag, sparring. Ryan is friends with Andre Ward [WBA super-middleweight champion who plays rival boxer Danny “Stuntman” Wheeler in Creed]; they both come from the Bay Area in California.
I got a chance to go up there and work out with Andre and his trainers. He’s one of the best fighters in the world [ESPN’s # 2 best pound-for-pound boxer globally] so I got to learn from the best. And I got beat up by the best. (laughs)
So what’s it like having Rocky Balboa in your corner?
We actually shot a lot of the fight scenes first, so the physical stuff gave us a chance to sort of bond before we did the intimate one-on-one scenes.
It was surprising because you have a perception of who someone is from the characters they play. I’d always heard positive things about the guy, but with actors you never know what you’re going to get until you’re on set in front of the cameras.
With Sly, it was almost overwhelming sometimes – how great an actor he is, how much depth he brings to the character, and how giving he is all the time. He’s a great collaborator and someone I now consider a close friend, and that’s the best you can get from an acting partner.