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‘Creed’ Director Talks of Personal Connection with “Rocky” Films

Award-winning filmmaker Ryan Coogler directs the upcoming boxing drama “Creed.” The film reunites Coogler with his “Fruitvale Station” star Michael B. Jordan as the son of Apollo Creed, and explores a new chapter in the “Rocky” story, starring Academy Award nominee Sylvester Stallone in his iconic role.

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Coogler talks about the origins of the Rocky spinoff film in the following interview.

Question: What set you on the path to making “Creed” and why you were drawn to telling a story about Apollo Creed’s son?

Ryan Coogler: It started a long time ago. I’m very close with my dad, who is a big Rocky fan. I played a lot of sports as a kid and before he’d take me to a game, he’d put on a Rocky film to get me pumped up. His favorite was Rocky II. He was a big, strong guy, but he’d get really emotional whenever he’d watch that one. So, because my dad was so passionate about them, I had an affinity for the films too.

As I got older, I found out my dad was so into the Rocky films because he’d watch them with his mom when she was sick. She passed away before I was born. So he was reacting to the movies, but he was also reacting to the memory of his mom.

When I went to film school, I was getting ready to shoot my first feature, and round about that time my dad started to have some health issues. I had a hard time dealing with that—him getting older and me taking care of him. As I was going through that experience, I came up with this idea of a similar situation with his hero, Rocky. It was kind of an artistic way of venting my feelings. I was so busy working on Fruitvale Station that I asked my buddy, Aaron Covington, if he’d like to write it with me.

I mentioned it to my agents at the time and they introduced me to Sylvester Stallone’s agent. This was before I’d even made Fruitvale; I was still casting it. But I had a meeting with Stallone’s agent and his business manager. I pitched them the idea, they thought about it and said, ‘I don‘t think Sly wants to do anything like this.’ [Laughs]

Q: Was that because he’d already done Rocky Balboa?

Coogler: I think so. That movie was sort of his farewell to Rocky and he was very happy with it.

Q: So when did you first talk to him about it?

Coogler: It was in July of 2012; I remember because we were getting ready to shoot Fruitvale. I met him, I pitched it to him, we talked about it, and I could tell he was really apprehensive.

I hadn’t made a feature film yet, so he was probably thinking: who is this kid coming in talking about making a Rocky movie – something that’s so precious to him? I told him, honestly, I wouldn’t blame him if he thought I was crazy. I knew when I was pitching it to him that it was a wild idea. But Sly’s a smart dude; he’s an emotional dude. He’s a thinker, you know what I’m saying? He was thinking about every different way this could work, and every different way it could fail.

Q: What did you say that convinced him to give it his blessing?

Coogler: I was just honest with him. I told him how I saw the film, how I saw the characters. I think what appealed to him was that it wasn’t a Rocky movie, in that Rocky isn’t the main focus of the film. Obviously the character was going to be heavily involved, but the focus is very much on Adonis Johnson.

Q: In a way, your movie takes Rocky full circle in that he becomes a mentor to this young fighter in the same way that Mickey, Burgess Meredith’s character, was to him in the first Rocky movie.

Coogler: Exactly. And I think that connection resonated with him.

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Q: Has your dad seen the movie yet?

Coogler: No, he hasn’t seen it yet. If I showed it to him too early he’d tell everyone the whole movie [laughs]. But he’s seen bits and pieces. The crew had tee shirts and sweatshirts made and he’s got all of those. He wears one every time I see him.

Q: Did he get to meet Stallone?

Coogler: Yeah, he got to meet Sly. You know the restaurant in Rocky Balboa [Adrian’s]? We shot some scenes there. My dad came to Philly for those scenes so that’s where he got to meet Sly.

9 Creed

Opening across the Philippines on Dec. 09, 2015, “Creed” is distributed worldwide by Warner Bros. Pictures, a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company.

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