*This interview contains spoilers for Creed 2*
Creed 2 plays like the dark, emotional reboot of 1985’s Rocky IV, a description that doesn’t quite do justice to just how well this film works. The sequel to Creed—with director Steven Caple Jr. stepping in for Ryan Coogler—sees Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan) feeling the pressure of the light heavyweight championship around his shoulder, the same belt his father once defended. With his fiance Bianca’s (Tessa Thompson) star on the rise as well, Adonis’ life is upended when the man who killed Apollo Creed, Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), arrives in Philadelphia to announce the latest challenger for the belt: His son, Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu). Against the advice of his trainer Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), Adonis takes the fight, and what follows is basically a Shakespearian tragedy told through stiff jabs and workout montages.
Before Creed 2‘s November 21 premiere, Collider hopped on the phone with director Steven Caple Jr. In this 1-on-1 interview, we discussed designing the film’s elaborate fight entrances, filming workout montages in the New Mexico desert, the film’s ending, Sylvester Stallone’s emotional last day on set, and more.
Collider: The film is built around two fights against Viktor Drago, which means there are two entrances for Adonis. How did you want to frame each entrance to showcase where Adonis is at that point in the story?
STEVEN CAPLE JR: I think for me, when you look at the entire franchise I didn’t realize how big the entrances were so I went back and looked at the Rocky movies for research. They’re huge. They do tell a story. With this one, he’d been in a fight before so in the first fight he’s the champion. He would glam it up a bit but not to the point where he was Apollo Creed. You wanted just a hint of that just for nostalgia. Just to tap into the history of who his dad was. But ultimately it was a tactic he used to showcase that this is his house. It’s something that boxers often use. Roy Jones is a big proponent of using that. It’s a technique to get into Drago’s head.
Then after that we went into the Russia fight, and with the Russia fight we wanted to show that in the first fight he was doing it for the right reasons. He didn’t necessarily have the full support of his family. In the second fight, it was war. He had to switch up his styles, he had to change his mentality. So Bianca’s character had written a song that expressed that, I thought it would be nice to see them come out together. A lot of fighters today come out with like a musical artist. We felt like it if he was going to walk out with an artist it made sense storywise to have his fiance take him out to the ring. To lead the way, lead the charge. Now they’re a team and they’re going into this together, which they didn’t do the first time.
What were the conversations like about when exactly to bring in the classic theme? Because it’s almost a moment you have to earn.
CAPLE JR: Yeah, we talked about it even earlier on when we first turned in the draft, like where was it? You’re right, you don’t want it to come in too early, but you also don’t want it to come in too late. It felt like his first comeback moment after he yells “Creed, Creed” and knows what he’s fighting for and had motivation. That’s when we played the Creed theme. So there’s a Creed theme when the ref says “What’s your name?” and he says “Creed.” Right there, we were battling that because at a certain point we wanted to have the Rocky theme, but it made sense to actually have the Creed theme. Right after he does the first knockdown which is like the ultimate underdog story, the ultimate achievement, we felt like that was the moment where we can now play the Rocky theme. Then we played it throughout, I think we played it throughout that round, got a little deep into the Rocky theme song. And then at the end, we played a little bit of the Rocky-Adrian theme when Bianca is out, he has his own subtle Adrian-esque moment when he runs to Bianca and they have their thing between the ropes. So yeah, we definitely wanted to pay homage to it but it’s tough trying to figure that right moment.
There’s a massive, intense training montage out in the desert. First of all, where were you for that, and what were the logistics of getting that shot?
CAPLE JR: We actually shot in New Mexico. We wanted to portray Death Valley in California but logistically we couldn’t shoot there. Production-wise, it was easier to get to New Mexico. We built that whole area. Everything from the small windmill you see…actually that was there but it was a water tower. But we built the ring. We wanted to go somewhere that was deserted. We called it “Hell” so Adonis could sort of rise from the ashes. It felt like that kind of place, gave us that kind of identity, that feeling. The dry heat. Beautiful skies. And of course the intense workouts.
What we did was, we had one of the scouts check out New Mexico doing prep, then we started to build the world. Virtually, at first. Then when we went out there we had about one day to prep, so me and Mike and Sly went through the desert, tried to point out spots where we would like to complete the sequence. We only had a couple days to do it. It was definitely a sprint as soon as we landed. Each workout, you don’t want to wear out Mike. We really had to time the day right, we had to stop for desert storms. The sun was beating on us so we had to take multiple breaks. The car sequence was a trip. Trying to run with the Mustang, trying to time it out with driving and running. There were some difficult challenges with it, but ultimately we knew we had to get it done and everyone was really supportive of each other. It was a team-building exercise [laughs].
Could you talk a little about working with Florian, who not only isn’t coming from an acting background but you have to deal with him throwing punches at Michael B. Jordan?
CAPLE JR: Yeah, yeah, you said it, he’s just very intimidating. We had that portion. When it comes to acting, in my experience working with non-actors, you don’t want to get too much into the method of acting. Or the technical stuff. As you would with Mike, who has been doing it for years. He just knows acting in and out. With someone like Florian you have to cater to him and pull from real life experiences. Make sure he’s in a real place. Because once he tries to perform or act he’s going to pull out and everyone is going to realize he’s trying to act. And yes, he has a few emotional scenes, and he didn’t know Russian so he had to learn Russian. He learned Russian to try and understand what he’s saying at what moment and had the right cadence and tone with the line because in Russian he doesn’t know what he’s saying. That was between him and Dolph. I spent a lot of time with him. We had journals that we shared back and forth. Everytime on set we’d just go to a real place and change the whole scenario, change the whole scene in front of us so so mentally it means something else although visually we’re in the Ukraine. In his mind he’s in a much more personal experience that he actually had to deal with. It helps the scene stay alive.
Dolph was a whole other element to it. His chemistry with Dolph helped a lot. They spent a lot of time together. Training and working out together and everything.