Rocky returns for another round
Creed reunites award-winning filmmaker Ryan Coogler with his “Fruitvale Station” star Michael B. Jordan as the son of Apollo Creed, and explores a new chapter in the “Rocky” story, starring Academy Award nominee Sylvester Stallone in his iconic role.
Ryan Coogler directed from a screenplay he wrote with Aaron Covington, based on a story by Coogler.
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. It releases on December 4, 2015 in South Africa.