How has Rocky evolved since Creed?
Things are looking up for Rocky. You’ll remember that at the end of Creed, he was very optimistic. Rocky’s cancer, which he struggled with in Creed, has gone into remission. He feels better than he has in the past few years, and he’s been buoyed by Adonis’ ascending boxing career, which Rocky is living through, vicariously. Through this young man, Rocky is having a revival, a renaissance.
Have Rocky and Adonis drawn closer in that time?
They’re basically inseparable. But there is the issue that life moves on. Adonis is getting to the point where he’s thinking seriously about a family and his own identity. And then, as life would have it, something happens along the way that begins to derail everything.
Did the idea for this film quickly fall into place?
It did, because I thought it would be interesting to explore how the younger generation inherits the legacy of the previous generation, and how the sins of the fathers are passed on to the sons. Both fathers – Ivan Drago and Apollo Creed – had committed sins, which eventually catches up to their sons; the sins don’t just go away. It was very Shakespearean, very vendetta-like. Adonis thinks of this battle with Ivan Drago’s son, Viktor, as his moment to define himself, to basically wreak havoc on the memory of his father being beaten to death in the boxing ring by Ivan. This is his moment to do something his father couldn’t do: defeat a ferocious and bigger-than-life opponent.
Your decision to revisit Ivan Drago, Rocky’s nemesis in Rocky IV, is unexpected. Drago was a character very much of a specific era, the Soviet Union in the 1980s.
Which has now come around again, which is ironic. At first, there was some concern about including the character of Ivan in this story – that it could look like a hook or a gimmick. But it’s not a gimmick. I think that history is a cycle; it always comes around. When you think you’re over it and think the past is going to be left in the past, it comes back to haunt you. I think that’s something that audiences will have a visceral response to. It’s like, “Oh, how is this going to play out (laughs)? How will the next generation respond when it’s confronted with the same situation?”
Let’s talk about Michael B. Jordan. What does he bring to Adonis this time that wasn’t required of him in the first film?
In addition to being physically bigger and stronger than he was in the first film, Michael is three years wiser after jumping onto the fast track after Creed. His confidence and pride were even more evident on this film. Michael is also an executive producer on Creed II and he approached the film with a real sense of ownership and wanting to make this relevant for his generation. He felt great responsibility. This time it’s his show.
You played an important role in Michael’s physical training for Creed. What was different this time around?
Well, this time Mike had a trainer, Corey Calliet, who he works very diligently with. Mike also had an incredibly strict diet, and at the same time he had to get much bigger to approach Florian’s size. So, Mike went full bore on this one. I was quite taken aback when I saw him, how big and defined he had gotten. It was pretty remarkable.
That’s high praise, considering you seemed to live in the gym when you were training for the Rocky films.
Michael really put in the time. It was a very, very, very grueling schedule. He had to remain in the ring much, much longer to accomplish the kind of cinematic techniques that were being used.
What do you hope audiences experience in Creed II?
The first film was all about Adonis being accepted, after feeling like an outcast. He was a burden, a footnote. He wanted his father, who he’ll never be able to meet, to be proud of him. It was about a young man’s rite of passage. This film is all about Adonis dealing with and overcoming his feelings of inadequacy. He does so by dealing with a force – Viktor Drago – that is incredibly strong and fast and volatile. Viktor has more anger than you’ve ever seen with a character in these films. And it all builds to a titanic and volcanic showdown. The character of Bianca is much more of a presence than she was in the first film. That’s a major story shift, and Tessa Thompson is terrific. Also, Adonis is no longer dealing with Rocky’s possible death, which is a big removal. That was a big subject to deal with in Creed. In that respect it’s a brighter day for Rocky and Adonis.
Creed II is out in cinemas across the UAE from Thursday November 29.