After wreaking havoc in Wakanda as Black Panther’s revenge-seeking Erik Killmonger, Michael B. Jordan returns to the boxing ring in Creed II—the sequel to Ryan Coogler’s highly acclaimed 2015 film Creed, which reimagined and extended the Rocky franchise. Now that Jordan has established himself as a bankable leading man, don’t expect him to hold back.
“I approach every movie like it could be my last,” said Jordan at the Creed II premiere in New York on Wednesday evening. “I work hard. I put my all in every scene that I’m in. I’m giving as I can to other actors, and just hope for the best.” To look the part of a heavyweight champ,
the actor bulked up to a lean 191 pounds by doing up to three rigorous, full-body weight-lifting workouts daily, for months. For his boxing scenes, Jordan was even willing to take real hits to his face. “There are some punches that you can’t fake, so I took a few real punches that you will see in the movie,” he said. “I was sore for a couple of days after. It hurt!”
Sylvester Stallone arrived at the premiere with his wife, Jennifer Flavin, and their daughter Sistine by his side. The original Rocky posed for photos with his family and greeted Jordan with a hug, before the two stars cheekily threw shadowboxing punches at each other for the photographers.
“Working with Sly and being around him is really fun, and it’s not intimidating because he makes you feel comfortable,” said Jordan moments after welcoming Stallone on the arrivals carpet. “He’s super cool and laid-back and an incredible guy. He knows a lot, and shares a lot of his wisdom.”
The best advice he received from Stallone, Jordan said, is to focus on his performance, and not to worry about the pressures of starring in a beloved franchise. “He said to me, ‘Mike, don’t try to copy what I did. You are Creed. You own it. Don’t worry about having to live up to any expectations or the legacy of the movies.
Put in the hard work, but also have fun,’” recalled Jordan. “He gives so much to you. When you are shooting a scene with him, he allows you to respond. He gives you respect. He looks at you as a partner. It was a real collaborative process.” Out in theaters November 21, Creed II is the eighth installment in the Rocky series.
The story finds Adonis Creed (Jordan) training to defeat the son of Dolph Lundgren’s iconic character, Ivan Drago—the Soviet heavyweight fighter who killed his father, Apollo Creed, in the ring in 1985’s Rocky IV.
“The movie is about family. We get specific about fatherhood, but ultimately it’s about the importance of family,” said director Steven Caple Jr., who takes over the franchise from Coogler. (He wasn’t able to helm the sequel because he was finishing Black Panther at the time.)
“For us, it was about taking the story outside the ring and making it more real and relatable. The fact that Creed is now a father, and taking his relationship to a whole new level with Bianca [Tessa Thompson], the stakes are much higher. And then there’s so much history between Creed and the other side, with Viktor Drago
[Florian Munteanu] and Ivan Drago as his opponents. There’s so much more emotion, and it’s a little bit more intense than the first movie.” Lundgren admits he initially had no intention of reprising his cold Rocky IV character 33 years later. He did not want to return to the part, fearing his character would be one-dimensional.
But Lundgren changed his mind when he met with Caple and read the film’s script, written by Stallone and Juel Taylor. “It was a character study of the man who’s been marginalized, has been mistreated and misunderstood, and he has a lot of anger—and he’s trying to use his son to come back. So it’s a very Shakespearean story,” said Lundgren.
“It’s very emotional, and it was great to come back and play Drago, and to give him a little bit of soul and not be just a killer.” Milo Ventimiglia also returns to the Rocky universe in Creed II, making a small but important cameo appearance as Rocky’s estranged son, Robert.
The This Is Us star appeared opposite Stallone in 2006’s Rocky Balboa, when he was 29 years old. Ventimiglia flew out to Philadelphia from Los Angeles for one day to shoot his scene with Stallone. Caple said there wasn’t enough time for a proper costume fitting, so the clothes Ventimiglia wears in the movie were the clothes he showed up in on set.