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Arts & Life

'Creed' Takes Rocky Back To The Big Screen

(SOUNDBITE OF BILL CONTI SONG, "GONNA FLY NOW")

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Time to climb some stairs and pump your fists in the air because Rocky Balboa is back.

(SOUNDBITE OF BILL CONTI SONG, "GONNA FLY NOW")

MARTIN: The last time we saw the Italian stallion on the big screen it was 2006. Balboa is a widower living in Philadelphia, long retired from boxing. And that's where the most recent "Rocky" film picks up. In this seventh installment of the beloved series, Balboa is cajoled into the ring again. But this time, Rocky is the trainer, and the young boxer hungry to prove himself is the son of Apollo Creed. The guy who landed that amazing role is Michael B. Jordan. You've seen him in "Friday Night Lights" and the award-winning film, "Fruitvale Station." He joins me now from our studios at member station KPCC. Thanks so much for being with us.

MICHAEL B. JORDAN: No problem. Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: A gentle reminder first for some in the audience who might not remember. Apollo Creed was played brilliantly by Carl Weathers. And he was Rocky's biggest rival in the ring. They ended up being close friends, and Apollo died in the epic fight with Russian boxer Ivan Drago. Can you introduce us to your character by picking up the story from there?

JORDAN: Without spoiling it?

MARTIN: Yeah, yeah, do that.

JORDAN: OK (laughter) I mean, it's kind of an origin story. So, you know, you have the son of the late, great Apollo Creed who never had a chance to meet his father. But somehow his legacy has been stopping him from following his own dreams and leaving a lot of questions. He uses that drive and curiosity and motivation to, you know, finally move to Philly and seek out Rocky, who is the only person that kind of knows his father the, you know, the best.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "CREED")

SYLVESTER STALLONE: (As Rocky Balboa) Your father was special. To tell you the truth, I don't know if you're special. Only you're going to know that when the time is right.

JORDAN: And in doing so, he kind of finds this mentorship father figure and finds out a lot about himself along the way.

MARTIN: So let me ask this question. There is a moment when your character is super excited about a particular fight. And he yells out, you know, I get to fight this guy. And I wondered, in that moment, if in real life that was how you responded when you found out you got to play this role - because this is a huge role.

JORDAN: Sorry to let you down, not really, no (laughter). I mean, me and Ryan, we talked about this project. It's - it was one of those weird things. It doesn't really happen that, you know, a director asks you to do a project before we even shot our first one. And I was like, OK, cool. And I was on board. But my mind was so focused on the project that was in front of us, "Fruitvale Station," that I didn't even have time to think about "Creed" until, you know, a year and a half later. And when that went by, we were kind of already knee-deep in the process. And that wow factor didn't really set in, I think, until, you know, I actually got to meet Sly for the first time. And it was like, you know, you're expecting to meet Rocky. And you go in there and you meet him. And it's like, this isn't Rocky. Who is this guy? And it's, like, Sly. And it was like, OK, cool. And then you realize what kind of phenomenal actor he is. And then the weight of the world of "Rocky" - you know, a history and legacy that's 40 years old - you can't really put into words. And I'm literally just taking it a day at a time.

MARTIN: And now here's the part of the interview where I have to ask you about training. And I'm sure everyone does.

JORDAN: What's up?

MARTIN: But it doesn't matter 'cause I have to know. Did you ever box before?

JORDAN: No, no, never boxed. You know, took some mixed martial arts as a kid but nothing really worth talking about. But this project, I had to, you know, really, you know, become a fighter. So I didn't want any special treatment. I wanted to be treated just like a fighter. You know, I went to the real gyms, you know, sparred with real fighters, trained - worked out with their trainers six days a week, sometimes two to three times a day. And I just really put the time in for about a year.

MARTIN: So I've never interviewed anyone who's been in a boxing movie, and so this may be an obvious question to you. But I still want to know how you shoot the fight scenes. I mean, how do you - how does that happen? How do you pull the punches?

JORDAN: I mean, that - I think that's - the key is to really not pull - not to pull punches. And that was definitely a process. You're dealing with real fighters who knock people out on a day-to-day basis. We rehearsed for months. It's like a dance, you know? It's like a violent ballet. And, you know, sometimes there are slip-ups and, you know, you're supposed to slip left or slip right. And sometimes you go the other way, and you get tagged. (Laughter). And either you stick with it and try to keep the choreography going or, you know, you stop and you start over again.

MARTIN: Did you ever get hurt?

JORDAN: Yeah, I mean, I got hit a few times. You know, there's a few punches you just can't slip - you can't fake - especially when you're shooting a slow-mo. And, yeah, I got tagged a few times. You know, according to Sly, it's my initiation into the world of "Rocky." So I should be proud and happy. And I am, so it was fun.

MARTIN: Is this a one-off for you? Any chance you're going to reprise the role again?

JORDAN: Within success, you know, hopefully. I mean, it's definitely a character that I'm very invested in and, you know, at the - by the end of the film, I'm curious to see where he goes. I'm very, very hopeful that, you know, in success that, you know, and people will behind this character and this franchise, that it can be something that we could definitely see more of.

MARTIN: Michael B. Jordan stars in the new film, "Creed." Michael, thanks so much.

JORDAN: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.