‘Rocky’, the story of a small-time boxer beat the odds to beat a world heavyweight boxing champion, is perhaps the ultimate story of the underdog.
The movie also made a small-time actor, Sylvester Stallone, into a household name and a star. So how apt is it that a relative newcomer (some could say underdog) managed to pull off the win of a lifetime with his latest movie ‘Creed’?
A long-gestating idea of ‘Fruitvale Station’ director Ryan Coogler, the idea for ‘Creed’ was birthed back in film school, in part as a way to connect with his father.
A VERY PERSONAL FILM
Sylvester Stallone and director Ryan Coogler on the set of 'Creed' | Photo: Warner Bros
“I’m very close with my dad, who is a big Rocky fan. His favourite was ‘Rocky II’. He was a big, strong guy, but he’d get really emotional whenever he’d watch that one,” Coogler said
“He got sick as he got older and as I was going through that experience, I came up with this idea of a similar situation with his hero, Rocky. It was kind of an artistic way of venting my feelings.”
But of course, the one person he needed to convince to revive the franchise is Sylvester Stallone himself.
Stallone was done with Rocky after the iconic boxer hung up his gloves at the end of 2006’s ‘Rocky Balboa’. But the fresh-out-of-school filmmaker who still hasn’t shot a frame of his critically acclaimed 2012 feature somehow managed to persuade 69-year-old Hollywood icon otherwise.
“I hadn’t made a feature film yet, so he was probably thinking: who is this kid coming in talking about making a ‘Rocky’ movie – something that’s so precious to him? I told him, honestly, I wouldn’t blame him if he thought I was crazy,” Coogler recalled.
“What appealed to him was that it wasn’t a ‘Rocky’ movie, in that Rocky isn’t the main focus of the film. Obviously the character was going to be heavily involved, but the focus is very much on Adonis Creed,” added 29-year-old filmmaker, who co-wrote the movie with a screenwriting friend, Aaron Covington.
Sylvester Stallone, lead actress Tessa Thompson and Micheal B Jordan | Photo: Warner Bros
Stepping into the ring as Adonis Creed (Michael B Jordan) who worked with Coogler in ‘Fruitvale’. Adonis is the son of his long-time rival-turned-friend, Apollo Creed (played by Carl Weathers in the first four instalments of the franchise), who heads to Philadelphia and starts a mentorship under Rocky (Stallone).
“Mike and I already had a rapport and developed a kind of a shorthand together on ‘Fruitvale’. Even when we were getting ready to shoot that movie, I knew if I was going to make another one, I was going to make it with him,” Coogler said.
TREADING HALLOWED MATERIAL
When the original ‘Rocky’ was released in 1976, critics and audiences alike embraced Stallone's inspirational story, giving it US$225 (S$319) million in worldwide box office receipts and three Oscars including Best Picture; cementing the character from movie character to pop culture icon. So the burden of treading on hallowed ground got to the filmmaker. ‘Creed’ also opens on 26 November, a day after the original’s 40th anniversary.
“There was a whole new level of pressure, making it look new. Creatively, we were walking on razor blades with this movie: how do we capture the essence of ‘Rocky’ but give people something new, something they haven’t seen before? How do we show this character, who is part of American culture, in a different light?” Coogler admitted.
“You don’t want to be the guy who messes it up.”
Although he is a natural born athlete (he won an American football scholarship to Saint Mary’s College before film school), Coogler still had to learn the basics of boxing to give the script an air of authenticity.
MAKING IT ‘REAL’
Director Ryan Coogler and actor Michael B Jordan on the set of 'Creed' | Photo: Warner Bros
“One thing that we knew we had to get right was the boxing,” said Coogler, “Because if it wasn’t right, we’d be doing the film a disservice, the fans a disservice, and a lot of people for whom this is their livelihood, a disservice.”
“I had to study it. I took classes while I was writing the script. I wanted to learn the basics so I could put myself in Adonis’s head,” he revealed.
Stallone also became an unlikely mentor for the young filmmaker, taking him to boxing matches and giving him insights into the world of boxing.
“Sly brought the professional element to it. He’s got so many connections in that world. And he’s got a whole library of books on boxing,” Coogler said.
“He also knows more than anybody about boxing – about the sport itself and about how to make a movie about it.”
To further add realism to the movie, lead actor Jordan was put through the paces to get him fighting fit for the movie. Coogler also enlists the help of professional boxers. The movie also stars three-time ABA (Amateur Boxing Association of England) heavyweight champion Anthony Bellew as Adonis’ main rival ‘Pretty’ Ricky Conlan and former WBO Light Middleweight champion Gabriel Rosado who plays Leo 'The Lion' Sporino.
“Every time Mike steps into the ring, he’s fighting real guys,” Coogler said.