With the release of Creed, which is both a sequel and spin-off of the Rocky series in which he plays the son of Apollo Creed, Michael B. Jordan’s star is on the rise. The movie marks the second collaboration between Jordan and director Ryan Coogler after 2013’s Fruitvale Station and is yet another testament to Jordan’s great talent, leaving critics gushing while grossing over $100 million dollars at the domestic box office. As with Fruitvale, Creed is a project that hinges on Jordan’s performance—although the presence of legendary actor Sylvester Stallone certainly doesn’t hurt. Here, Jordan shares his reaction to being suddenly placed at the forefront of a decades-long franchise, as well as his experiences working with Stallone and training for the boxing film to end all boxing films.
What does it feel like to now have your own Rocky training montage?
Man, it was pretty cool, honestly, not knowing how it was going to be put together. You’re shooting training, jump roping, hitting on a speed bag—the heavy bag. There’s a whole bunch of moments that were shot throughout the entire film, so to see it all crammed together and put to a score, that really makes you feel something. It was pretty cool to watch and to see on screen—it gives me goose bumps when I watch it.
You were recently in the new Fantastic Four film so you’re very familiar with the idea of the “origin story.” Do you consider Creed to be an origin story in that sense?
As far as an origin story is concerned, yeah, as far as a character that’s living in a world that we’re all familiar with. But it’s a story told through a different set of eyes, so definitely with Adonis this is kind of his own origin story. It’d be fun to see him grow and see where his character goes.
Did you feel pressured carrying the weight of a historic franchise? How do you feel now that the film has been not only critically lauded, but also a major commercial success?
No pressure, as far as carrying the franchise was concerned, honestly because of getting to know Sly and working with him and working on all the character stuff, the process, the time spent on it before we actually started filming. To hear Sly himself say, “Mike, don’t try to copy what I did. This isn’t Rocky; this is Creed. This is your own thing, so don’t worry about having to live up to any expectations. Just put the hard work in, and let’s go out there and have some fun”—that took all the pressure off of me, so I’m not thinking about that legacy or anything like that. But having seen this movie do what it did in the box office, over $100 million domestic, I mean, it’s incredible. It’s more than I ever thought it was going to be. I’m just riding the wave and enjoying it every day, every moment, every accolade that is given to Sly, or to Ryan, Tessa (Thompson), and this incredible cast. It makes me feel like we did something special.
Is it ever intimidating to work with an actor of Stallone’s stature?
Sly’s an incredible actor and man. He really transforms himself into the character of Rocky, so to be able to work with him is fun. It’s not really an intimidation thing or a nervous thing anymore. I mean, you are a little nervous at first before you do anything—it’s that excitement—but you’re looking at him as a partner to go do something collectively together, especially with Sly. He did whatever he could to make me feel as comfortable as possible.
You have another major partner on this in director Ryan Coogler, who you’ve worked with before. What is it that makes him such an ideal collaborator for you?
Ryan is an extremely smart guy. We talked about shooting Creed before we even shot Fruitvale Station, so that was something where, frankly, he asked me, “Hey man, do you want to do this project where you’re playing a boxer, the son of Apollo Creed?” And I was like, “Yeah, for sure let’s do it.” And then we went on and shot Fruitvale. It was that quick of a decision for me to make—it’s something about him. You just have a good feeling about Ryan. He’s extremely knowledgeable, we come from similar places, we care about a lot of the same things, and we have similar taste. And our shorthand is there, especially on set—when we’re communicating, it’s like a lot of things don’t even have to be said. With a look and a nod, we know what we’re thinking and it just makes working on set and getting things done that much easier.
Some would say Coogler handed you a starmaking role with Fruitvale Station that paved the way for big career moves shortly after, on your part. Would you agree with that?
That’s more of a statement that you made than a question, but yeah, man. Fruitvale Station was the first real opportunity that I had, as far as the meat on the bones, the material, the character. It’s a real-life person that I’m portraying, but to be able to carry a film on my own, that definitely took my career to the next level, and again with Creed, in a very similar way. We want to continue to work together and continue to push the bar for each other, helping each other grow in front of the camera and behind the camera, moving forward with the projects that we choose to do together.
What was your relationship to boxing before working on the film?
I think before, I was always a fan of boxing. I used to watch boxing matches with my dad all the time. I never boxed formally or anything like that, so going through the process of living like a fighter and being as Method as possible—working out with trainers, working out two to three times a day, training for an entire year, almost a year and a half—I definitely have a new respect for it, the fighters, the families, the wives and girlfriends and fiancés and daughters and sons and uncles, and all that goes into it, the time and the dedication and the sacrifice that they put into it. I definitely have a new appreciation for fighters and a newfound respect for the sport.
What was the process like when training for the role? There are long, extended takes of fighting in the film where there’s very little to hide behind…
Yeah, man. I like being able to do all of my own stunts. I appreciate stunt guys and what they do and, of course, the time and the effort that they put in, but for me, I’m young. You only live once, so to be able to do all your own stunts, train, become a real fighter… I feel like I can hold my own. I’ve been learning and training with these real fighters and going over the choreography for months, to a tee, to a punch, to a slip, to a boxing move, to everything, and learning everything in and out. I think it’s the competitiveness in me that wants to try to do this in one take—“Let’s see if we can do it in one take with no mistakes,” and we did. It was a huge accomplishment for us and it was something we set out to do before we started filming and we actually achieved it, so it feels really good. For me, I didn’t want to hide. I wanted to do everything.
You mention training with real fighters like Tony Bellew, who plays your main competitor in the film, and a vicious one at that. Was he encouraging throughout the process as you were learning that physicality?
Ah yeah, man. We were all pushing each other. If he needed any help with lines or character stuff, you know he could call me up and I’d work out some stuff with him. If I needed help with a combination, I could call him at any time of the night and we’d hop out and go to the gym and go work out. Everyone involved in this project put everything they had into it to make sure it was as authentic and non-cheesy as possible. (Laughs.). We just wanted to make it the realest movie we could make.
A big part of the movie is your character’s love and reverence for Rocky Balboa, who he considers his uncle. Who would you say are your idols in this business and in life?
I think my dad is definitely my biggest role model, personally, just in my day-to-day life. Professionally, I look at people like Denzel (Washington) that obviously have the format down, as far as picking great projects and really doing films that everyone wants to go out to see and support. They’ve done an incredible job and have really paved the way for me, but I also look up to Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon—some of my favorite actors who have made great choices and have wonderful careers. That’s definitely a career I want to strive to have, or something close to. I look up to all these actors who’ve been doing it for such a really long time. I watch films that inspire me and make me want to go to work the next morning, that really push you and motivate you. So in that aspect I look up to a lot of people. But I really just want to be the best version of myself—whatever that may be, because I’m still figuring it out.
One of your career goals was to play a romantic lead and have a strong love interest. How was it working with Tessa Thompson, who plays your singer girlfriend in the film?
Tessa’s amazing. Oh man, she’s such a great actress. She’d bring so much to the character. She really spent the time and became Bianca, this musician. She did the work—she created this music, she wrote these songs. I think tremendous accolades should go her way. Also working with her in the scenes, she really challenged me as an actor, and as my character. We found those moments of young love, which I think is so unique nowadays—dating in 2016 is a different type of thing. I think for us to kind of hone in and get that right and really work together and build that chemistry up was awesome.
Were there moments of improvisation in the film—for example, there’s a scene when you’re freestyle rapping—that feel very organic?
Yeah that made its way into the movie, trust me. (Laughs.) That’s definitely the direction of Ryan being shouted out from the other room. “Hey, Mike, freestyle!” “What?!” “Freestyle!” “I can’t!” “Freestyle! Freestyle!” “All right, all right!” That’s one of the fun parts of working with Ryan is that we’re able to find those magic moments.
Which projects can you talk about going forward? Apparently you’re attached to Pretenders, a Josh Boone project that has been making circles for some time now.
I haven’t heard anything about that in a while. I’ve been writing a few different things. It’s a script that I really love—hopefully at one point, when the timing’s right, we can go out and do that. I don’t know, acting-wise, what I’m doing next. I know I’m working on directing my first short, writing and going through that with my writing partner, Eric Amadio, who has a show on FX called Snowfall that John Singleton created. I’m just getting that short together, man. It’s my first time really, truly stepping behind the camera and directing. I have Ryan to thank for that because he kind of told me, “There is no right time to do it. Just do it.” It’s a perfect time to start directing. So that’s something I’m extremely excited about that I plan on doing in the next couple months or so.
To see a featurette about the genesis of Creed, click play below: