Creed III : Interview with Michael B. Jordan, Tessa Thompson, Jonathan Majors and Ryan Cooler

Creed III : Interview with Michael B. Jordan, Tessa Thompson, Jonathan Majors and Ryan Cooler
© 2023 MGM

Synopsis : After dominating the boxing world, Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) has been thriving in both his career and family life. When a childhood friend and former boxing prodigy, Damian (Jonathan Majors), resurfaces after serving a long sentence in prison, he is eager to prove that he deserves his shot in the ring. The face off between former friends is more than just a fight. To settle the score, Adonis must put his future on the line to battle Damian — a fighter who has nothing to lose.

Rating: PG-13 (Violence|Some Strong Language|Intense Sports Action)
Genre: Drama
Original Language: English
Director: Michael B. Jordan
Producer:William Chartoff, Ryan Cooler, Jonathan Glickman, Michael B Jordan, Elizabeth Raposo, Sylverster Stallone, Charles Winkler, David Winkler, Irwin Winkler
Writer: Keenan Cooler, Zach Baylin
Release Date (Theaters)  Wide
Distributor: United Artists Releasing

Photo by MGM – © Photo credit: Eli Ade © 2022 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved CREED is a trademark of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Interview with Michael B. Jordan (Director & Actor “Adonis Creed“), Tessa Thompson (“Bianca Creed“), Jonathan Majors (“Damian ‘Diamond Dame’ Anderson”), Wood Harris (“Tony ‘Little Duke’ Burton”), Mila Davis- Kent (“Amara Creed“), Selenis Leyva (“Laura Chavez”), Ryan Coogler (Writer & Producer).

Q: Michael, producer and friend Ryan Coogler said to you, “Hey, do you want to direct this?” What were the conversations you had with him? And with other directors you worked with before that helped you get ready for this moment? 

MBJ: It was never a moment like that. [laughs] But he definitely had a lot to do with it. He told me that I could direct. There was a moment where I was in awe of what he was doing: a Black man my age, somebody I knew well or getting to know at that time, commanded[ing] a set, “Fruitvale Station”, and what was possible. He’d tell me, “Mike, you can do this too.” That was the first seed he planted in my head. I’m like, okay, maybe I could direct one day. I didn’t know what it was going to be, what movie I was going to step behind the camera on. 

We did “Creed” [2015], and “Creed II” [2018] came along and Steven [Caple Jr.] jumped into the director’s chair, had that experience. And as we grew, the third one seemed like it was the perfect time for me to step behind the camera, internally myself. Irwin Winkler being another one as well, a manager, and some people whose opinion I really respect. Ryan definitely was one of them. It was like this was the perfect opportunity to step behind the camera, and I think preparing to shoot this movie, Ryan had a lot of thoughts and was a great sounding board for me. So was Jon Favreau, Bradley Cooper and Denzel Washington. Those were some people that I tapped into to get their opinions. 

I really wanted to talk to actor-directors, knowing that that was going to be a big challenge for me, to be behind the camera and in front of the camera simultaneously. Those people have had success at doing it, sometimes their first project being that as well. So that really helped inform me of what to expect — even though there was nothing that anybody could really tell me to prepare me for what the journey was going to be like. It was one of those things you just have to live it and get through it. It’s the hardest thing I’ve had to do so far, but at the same time I felt the most alive doing it. It was rewarding. 

Q: Tessa, you have been directed by each of these directors as you played Bianca. But with this one, what do you think about the colors that you brought to her in this chapter? How did you approach it differently than you did with Steven and Ryan? 

TT: Thank you for that. I think something I have always enjoyed about making these films — and that began with Ryan and our work together — is that I have always been invited to really be a co-author and to be a part of the collaborative process of building Bianca together with them. It feels like I’ve gotten to continue to do that. The interesting thing while making these films over the course of — I was saying eight years, and you told me the other day it was nine — it’s crazy. 

The thing I find so fascinating is the ways in which our personal growth as people gets to be communicated inside of these characters, and that is a very unique thing. I mean, we’re separate in a way, but I think some of the things that our characters are contending with, and some of the things that Mike and I are contending with personally, we get to explore in the context of these films. I think that’s really a gift. You’re always hoping to get to make films and working on something that is also asking you to ask questions of yourself. 

In terms of some of the things that we’re unpacking in this, which has to do with, what does it look like to have a successful partnership inside of your dreams? That’s definitely a question we ask ourselves. The two of us, we get to ask inside of the context of making these films. Like, what does your personhood look like when it’s not entirely tethered to what you do in the world, or what you make, or your success? What is success? Those really central human questions that I think we’re at a point in our lives where we’re really asking, we get to also put in this script. Or, what does it look like to unpack masculinity? What does friendship look like? What does “Black brotherhood” look like? — inside of spaces that typically are competitive. All of those themes are really things that we get to tease out in developing these films. I feel very lucky to get to work on something where there’s an opportunity to do that. 

Q: Jonathan, when you came into this, it was a conversation with you. His name change was so much of the character change. What was very central to the character that you wanted to make sure stayed in all these different iterations as you shaped him? 

JM: I think the most ancient quality that was put in. But at home was his aspiration for freedom — and not just physical freedom, but mental freedom. That never changed, that never shifted. That was the thing that I went, okay, that makes sense to me. They baked it in, Mike saw it, we went after it. It’s the most universal quality in the piece. Second to that was brotherhood, and that brotherhood becomes paramount because that’s connected between our hero and me. And the changing of the name is all about implication — the idea that for those of you who don’t know, 

Brandon was the first name and Mike came and the last name was a generic name, up in the air to be changed eventually. Then I said well how about Anderson? Anderson is my maternal last name. And it had to do with implication. One of the highlights of the experience was when Mike said yes to that. And then when I walked in on the day of fighting, we’d done all our prep. But still, I’m in a “Rocky” movie — I’m in a Creed movie. I’m going to fight Michael B. Jordan. “You look nervous.” So there’s something going on, but you look out there and you see Adonis, you see Anderson. That’s the implication. That’s oh, we’re here now, this is me, this is us. That’s a cues gift from my director, and it kept the process more emboldened. 

Q: Tessa, how did you balance the strength and the delicateness of your character? 

TT: I actually was really interested this time around in getting to see a softening from her. Something that’s always been interesting is that I remember Ryan and I would have conversations, and the first one was chipping away at this exterior that was outwardly very, very tough and guarded. Over the course of the films, we’ve seen that soften. I think motherhood is something that softened her tremendously. I felt very grateful because there was an idea that I had of [Adonis] saying to Bianca “Your emotions come too easy to you” and this idea of her actually being like “no, it’s actually challenging. This is challenging for me. It’s not easy for me.” 

So often there is this idea, particularly of Black womanhood that has to do with strength, that we are the pillars of our community, that we are the backbones of our families, we lift our men up. And that’s beautiful, and that is very often true. Also it is not not hard-earned, and it’s not easy. I really wanted her to have the opportunity to say that. I felt very grateful that Mike felt open to it — I was like, can I try this? — and that it gets to exist in the film. For me, it feels like an honest portrayal of her that she has to also unravel. 

Photo by MGM – © Photo credit: Eli Ade © 2022 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved CREED is a trademark of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Q: Michael, can you tell us how important it was to be able to bring all these visuals to the story and create your own flavor visually in the movie? 

MBJ: Yeah, I think the first time directing, you’re in your head thinking about it. all right, what’s your style going to be — you over-think, you’re so going into it, you’re trying to create your own visual language. You’re following Ryan and Steven! oh man, I’ve gotta do this, I’ve gotta do that — there’s a little bit of that. [. . . ] You start to realize that it’s just showing up and being honest every day. Then slowly, your style will start to shape itself. I can’t even tell you what it is right now, the movie is done and finished. I think that is a representation of my truth, a [composite] of things that I’ve watched, things that I like to look at, things that move me in an emotional way, in a visual way. I started to put it together with Kramer Morgenthau, my DP, [this is] our third film together. We have a shorthand, he understands the vision, what I’m trying to accomplish. And then, I took swings. There are some scenes, some shots in the movie that I’ve dreamt about, literally. I’ve imagined and daydreamed in my head, and when we see it on screen, I’m like, aw man — the type of gratification you get out of that is crazy. So to answer your question, I think it’s an impression of things that move me, that tell the truth, and it’s what’s necessary and needed for the moment. 

Q: This film is so tight visually. Michael and Ryan, how did you work with the editors? 

MBJ: I’m still learning how to answer these questions. You write one movie, you shoot one movie, and you edit one movie. The movie starts to tell you what it needs. That’s something I’ve learned in this process. There are scenes on the editing room floor that had to be ripped from my fingers. [You think] about run time and pace, and you’re listening to test screenings and cars and how people feel about certain things that — it starts to take on a life of its own. You have to give it what it needs in order to be the best version of itself. 

Sometimes I’d [call] Ryan in the middle of the night, “Hey man, what about this? Do I not need it? Are you sure? Okay”. Getting that reassurance from somebody who’s been through the process before, writing his baby, making his baby, and then having to kill his darling in certain areas is not an easy thing. Getting that emotional support was extremely helpful. Getting a close unbiased eye, but not too close to it, was extremely helpful. And then the visuals are a reflection of the things that I love and I like to see. I was curious to see if other people, if they saw them, would they feel the same way? And here you guys’ response and reaction are validating that. 

Q: Ryan, can you add to that? 

RC: It was great to watch Mike working and it’s super-rewarding to support filmmakers. It gives you a different type of creative fulfillment, and I love it. I was always happy to put the text messages in or come by. We had a great editorial team, the performances were great, the script was great, and it was a very satisfying experience to be involved in to help him realize his vision. 

Q: Mila, you threw some great punches in the movie and you showed impressive boxing skills. Were you exposed to boxing before joining the film, and like your character, do you have any interest in the sport? 

MDK: Well, until the film I didn’t have any experience in boxing, and I wasn’t really interested in it, to be honest. But Ann [Najjar] the Mitt Queen taught me a lot of technique. When I got the role, I realized that being a boxer was part of that character and that made me more interested in it. She was interested in being a boxer because her dad was. So after I started doing it, I realized, you know, boxing is a lot of fun. 

I don’t think I’m going to try to be a boxer in real life, because I’m kind of scared to be hit, to be honest. But when I was doing it, I had a lot of fun. I thought it was a great experience. 

[MBJ]: And she was such a fast learner. I think from watching and paying attention to Mitt Queen and following instructions to a T, she picked it up extremely fast. She’s a natural at it. Her technique and things like that were cultivated in a very short amount of time. But she’s fearless and there was nothing that seemed too big for her to accomplish. She was really, really good. 

Photo by MGM – © Photo credit: Eli Ade © 2022 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved CREED is a trademark of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Q: Wood, Little Duke seems to know exactly how this story is going to play out before it does. Why does he know everything? Why didn’t he see the redemption for Damian? 

WH: It’s the gray hairs: wisdom. Just being close with the person and having a perception of the person, I believe, that will give you some insight on the future, of what you believe may happen. When that happens, you get to be like “I told you so” or not. 

Q: Selenis, does your character, Laura Chavez, resemble how you take charge of your own life? 

SL: Oh yeah, absolutely. I’m a mama, I’m a mama bear, and I protect the people I love. There’s conviction when there’s passion, you go for it. That’s what I loved about this character. She was written so well, and the director here let me just do my thing, and I loved that.  

Although when people think about a boxing film, they automatically think “male”, you know, and the power of the man. But here, the power of the women also exists in this film, from Mila’s character attests to Laura. So I love that. I love that it’s well-rounded and powerful black and brown people doing their thing. 

Q: He’s scared of you. Legitimately, when things go wrong with Felix [Jose Benavidez], he’s not scared about what Felix is going to do. He’s scared about what you are going to do. 

SL: Yeah, there’s a moment when I turn to him and I was like, “I’m going to eat you alive!” I did see a little bit of fear in Michael’s face. The gloves will do that. 

Q: Ryan, you and Michael have worked together for over a decade. What do you like most about working with each other? 

RC: Over ten years relationships change, people change. What was best about working with him when we first started has shifted. Now, it’s the fact that I know him really, really well, so that’s an added color that comes with that. When you know somebody and you see them do something new, and excel at it, it gives you a different type of joy. 

When I first met him, I knew he could act so I was not surprised. But now I see him and, can he do a sports film? Can he direct? Seeing the growth and the shifts, and seeing him knock out work, and not without struggles, not without going to the mat and having to get back up. It’s really satisfying — I keep using this word — and it’s rewarding. It’s affirming. 

You meet actors — like Jonathan— and I’ll talk about authorship. But I’ll meet him and I’ll [think] oh, this person should be a director. They’re acting now, but I can see a world where it’s directed by Tessa Thompson, it’s directed by Jonathan Majors. As a filmmaker, I get excited about these and I want to watch them. So I like to see this happening and have it be affirmed and the suspicion I had about this creative ten years later, oh yeah, I knew they had it in them. And it’s fantastic to be a part of it. That’s part of being a director, you’ve got to be a bit of a [talent] scout. 

Photo by MGM – © Photo credit: Ser Baffo © 2022 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved CREED is a trademark of Metro-Goldwyn-May

Q: Zack and Keenan, what was the inspiration for this story and how did you tackle this chapter of Adonis’s story? 

ZB: It was a very collaborative script writing process, and I think the inspiration came from a lot of places. It came from Michael about what the next chapter of Adonis’s life was that he wanted to explore, and Bianca. And it came from talking to Ryan about what was happening in all of our lives that we thought we could get out and really put into this movie.

Then Keenan and I had this pretty amazing collaboration where we got to really talk about what we thought was possible in a movie like this, and how we could make it personal for everyone involved.  There are not that many franchises or films of this caliber where you get to work with these actors and actually make a movie that’s about something. For me, that was the most exciting part. And all the exciting elements of the boxing and the inspirational story were going to be there, but also these characters are so deep and dynamic and we really got to explore a lot of things. That’s pretty rare in a movie of this scale. 

Q: Keenan, you saw Ryan go through the first “Creed”, and you were probably one of the first people that knew he was writing that script, and now you’re writing the third installment. 

KC: I used to make fun of him, because I thought he was making the whole thing up.  We shared a room at the time and my parents’ house, and — sorry, buddy — he was working on the script early from the idea in his head. He would talk about it, and then he would go have telephone conversations with Sylvester Stallone. He would go pacing up and down the street talking [on his phone]. I thought he was making the entire thing up. But no way — no way — would Stallone even answer that phone call. 

And then I worked on the movie. If you watched “Creed I”, I am literally under the ring in pretty much all the shots. Ryan had to set up a little village that would be underneath the ring so we wouldn’t have to sprint off camera every take. I was underneath there, watching these guys’ characters. But the funnest part honestly has been watching the character of Adonis change hands. But the entire time, he is — everybody who sort of had [entry] at this point implicated themselves in this character, they’re growing up with him in real time. It’s really interesting because I’ve been working with these two [Ryan and Michael] for over ten years now, and we’ve all grown up with this character. So the scenes get super-emotional because everybody is implicated in them, and when Adonis is struggling it’s hard not to imagine where that came from. 

I really loved that this character has always been equal parts Mike and Ryan. Mike’s been a big brother to me from day one, but to now sort of be tethered by this actual character that people respond to just makes it that much more fun to write the character. 

Q: Tessa, Bianca plays a huge part in Adonis’s successful career with her nonstop support, push and love. How important is it to continue to showcase that having the right partner can help you achieve your goals no matter how impossible they may seem? 

TT: You know the truth is, those partnerships can come in any form. With Adonis and Bianca, it happens to come in the form of romantic love, they’re co-parents. But that’s not for everybody; not everybody has that, and not everybody wants that.  The thing that I love about these films so much, and particularly in the first one, you really get to see Rocky and Adonis and Bianca make a little chosen family. That is the reality for a lot of folks. 

So what I love about these films is they’re about relationships: the relationship between mentor and mentee; the relationship between father and son whether chosen or blood; the relationship between parents; the relationship between folks that have history that can stand to learn from each other and unpack their trauma. I love that I get to exist in this with Mike and that we get to push each other and love each other in the context of these films, and individually as friends. But it’s really about whoever your partner is, whoever is in the proverbial ring with you, and that can take on so many forms. Sometimes it’s just you in the ring, alone. And that’s okay, too. That’s what I love about these films. 

Q: Jonathan, as Damian Anderson you inject a lot of physical and emotional energy into making your character unique to Creed’s family history as well as the overall story. Were there any aspirations or inspirations you had for the character which you [had] for the film? 

JM: In a nutshell. First and foremost, it was my stepfather, the idea of freedom that I spoke about earlier. My stepdad was locked up for fifteen years before he got with my mom and raised me up. An ankle monitor situation, the P.O. [probation officer], I was the kid that was trying to make sure Dad got home on time before the P.O. got to the curb. And I watched it. I watched that happen. 

My stepdad — Joe, say his name — he tried out for the Dallas Cowboys — I’m from Dallas — and he almost made it to the Cowboys. He made it to the second round. I watched that aspiration, I watched that hustle, I watched that dream that he had. The big part about that, that big hard shell, of that young boy that had the aspirations to be more, to be free. So that’s the big part of it. 

And then we had the brothers Rye Spencer, and Delo, whom essentially I just touched on. He had experienced very much the life that Damian had experienced. I got pictures of Delo standing, how he stood, and there’s a certain decorum to the lifestyle that Delo still had, walked with, talked with. I could check in with him any time of the day and every time we saw each other, we were talking that shit. 

And I watched all the “Rocky” films. But it was very clear to me that the only thing that was really important was who Adonis was in this third installment, and how to antagonize this character. How to help this character continue his hero’s journey. So I studied Adonis, and I studied Mike, and I saw everything, and I saw the values. Us being brothers, being close friends, our values had to be similar — and how we went after it had to be different. The films are relational, and Damian lives and dies on his relationship with Adonis Creed. Everything else is set decoration. It’s all about [Creed]. So that was the most thorough inspiration, and that I got to meet every day. 

SL: Can I just say, when I was on set watching [Jonathan] in particular, there were moments when you wanted to hate him, and as Laura I had to go there — me, the actress, was like, wow, I wanted to hug him. I did. There were heartbreaking moments when I would just look at him and I was like, I just want to hug him. So kudos to the person that could be that powerful and that menacing, at the same time break your heart. I needed to say that.    

Q: Michael, what is the significance of Los Angeles as a backdrop for the film in terms of how growing up in the city has shaped Adonis and Damian as people, but also in terms of where they end up — where they live, where they trained, and ultimately where they fight the fight of their lives?

MBJ: From the franchise perspective, you’ve seen Adonis start in L.A. and then end up in Philly in search of this teacher, this mentor, that’s going to help him achieve the things that he needs to achieve in Philadelphia. The second film is mostly in Philly, and then a little bit in Los Angeles, and end up in Russia. We never had a chance to really establish Adonis’s home — what’s his home base, what really shaped him. And since we were treating this like an origin story, and in synch with the trilogy going on, we thought it was important to make L.A. a character, a homecoming of sorts. 

Then you break it down further, by okay, what childhood trauma did they share? Who was his first  protector? We’re products of our environment. So we leaned into the reality of those environments: we’re from Crenshaw, Adonis is Baldwin Hills-ish, Bel-Air-ish, and that type of area where we’re Black families lived and thrived, that had money — probably where Apollo Creed would be at. We talked of those things. 

And then we started thinking about, what iconic environments do we put these two guys in when we show them in montages? You know, driving down the streets with familiar places that aren’t over-saturating when you think of L.A. and Hollywood. Sometimes those can be a little bit cheesy when it comes to films — like, we’re not going down the Hollywood Walk of Fame and this and that. Certain areas that are very familiar to L.A. But what hasn’t been photographed before? What part of South L.A. that you don’t really see on film and television? So that was  a challenge, to find those places. We ultimately ended up at one of the more iconic places, the Hollywood sign. The sign you can’t get away from. I think it served as a final nail and I felt that Adonis needed it. I think the audience needed to see and feel that. “Hollywood” was his first nickname that they gave him when he went to Philly. So it felt very poetic to come back around in that type of way. 

New developments that came up in Los Angeles. The Sixth Street bridge, a new place that we wanted that’s become very, very popular, with people running their cars, drag racing down there, walking the bridge, it’s very visual and you want to take in new places. So visually we wanted to take them to different spots. 

Q: Thank you all. 

Comment (0)


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here