PHILADELPHIA — As Sylvester Stallone sat down to talk about “Creed,” his seventh “Rocky” film, the actor and filmmaker said he had a feeling it was going to have an impact similar to that of the Oscar-winning original in 1976.
“I think we’re sort of catching people off guard,” Stallone said. “That was the case with the first ‘Rocky.’ Nobody knew what to expect. This one is similar in that it also is fresh and different from what people are going to expect.”
In “Creed” (opening Nov. 25), Michael B. Jordan plays Adonis Johnson, who turns out to be the biological son of Apollo Creed, the legendary boxer who was the father he never knew. He travels to Philadelphia to track down his father’s rival and eventual friend Rocky Balboa, hoping to convince him to train him and turn him into the world-class fighter he instinctively knows is in his genes.
Stallone said he knew — “right from when we first met” — that Jordan was the right guy to tackle the role of Adonis. “Michael is kind of at the point I was when I made the first ‘Rocky.’ Yes, he has a certain kind of physicality to make him believable as a fighter, but behind that external toughness there’s a young man — a fellow struggling for answers.
“But in addition, I immediately trusted him, liked him, believed in him for this role. There are so many men who have played fighters, but they are missing what he has. It’s something undefinable. It’s what makes a star. It’s something I think we would have found with Denzel [Washington] if he had played this role of Adonis when he was Michael’s age.”
For Jordan, the opportunity to both connect with Stallone and again team up with director Ryan Coogler, who helmed Jordan in the acclaimed “Fruitvale Station,” was what the young actor called “a a truly humbling experience. Simply to be there and watch Sly transform himself into the character of Rocky was so amazing to watch.”
The evolution of his Rocky character through these seven movies, Stallone said, is something “that may never be done again. I’ve acutally aged in the same character over the years.”
Stallone said he believes he has infused his evolved Rocky “with what has happened to me in my private life. Rocky is now much more worldly. He’s kind of beaten up a bit. He’s all alone and he’s lost the love of his life. … At the beginning of ‘Creed’ he’s at a point he’s simply waiting to join Adrian in heaven.
“Then along comes this kid who gives him a new lease on life, a reason to go on living. Here’s a kid he can pass on his hard-fought knowledge — not just about boxing, but about life itself. This becomes his gift to Adonis.”
While Stallone stressed the importance of wisdom, Jordan made it clear that the role demanded he also get into the best shape of his life.
“The training was intense, but stripping down the diet — that was the hardest part of it for me. Of course, the exercise was intense — six days a week, sometimes two or three times a day.”
While the actor said he sustained no serious injuries while making “Creed,” he experienced “a soreness like I would have never believed possible. My body broke down after we finished the fighting scenes. I was on bed rest for a couple of days!”
Stallone has been living with Rocky and his impact on the public for some 40 years now and says he hears similar messages from fans over and over.
“I think it’s simply about inspiration. I didn’t think along those lines when I orginally wrote it — I was just writing what I hoped was a good story, and something that worked for me personally to play.
“But now I can see when I talk to fans — especially at the [Rocky Balboa] statue [at the Philadelphia Museum of Art], I get it. People come up to me from all over the world, from Peru and Ecuador and Brazil and Australia and Europe. I ask them, ‘Why are you here?” And they invariably say the same thing, just a bit differently.
“Basically it comes down to what one man told me. ‘Rocky makes us feel strong. Makes me believe I can do it. I can win. Before I have a big football game, I watch “Rocky.” I may be scared, but if he can do it, then I can too.’ ”
Michael B. Jordan is scheduled to be in Chicago on Thursday to help unveil a “Creed”-themed mural at Jones College Prep High School, 700 S. State. He is scheduled to walk a red carpet with co-star Tessa Thompson and “Creed” director Ryan Coogler at 3 p.m.