Film fans have been flocking to see Stallone’s films for almost 40 years, making Stallone one of Hollywood’s biggest-ever box office attractions. Stallone was born in 1946, to Jackie Stallone and Frank Stallone. His father was an Italian immigrant, and his mother’s heritage is half German and half French. Initially struggling in films, he got a crucial career break in the film, The Lords of Flatbush. Wanting to flex his writing skills and inspired by the 1975 Ali-Wepner fight, Stallone penned a film script about an unknown boxer given the once-in-a-lifetime chance to fight for the heavyweight title. Released in 1976, Rocky, would go on to score ten Academy Award nominations, winning the Best Picture Award of 1976 and initiating one of the most commercially successful movie franchises in history. Stallone followed up with the sequel, Rocky II in 1979, and Rocky III in 1982. Riding a wave of amazing popularity, Stallone released Rocky IV in 1985 and Rocky V in 1990. In 2006, some sixteen years later, showing age had not exhausted the franchise, Stallone brought back the Balboa character to star in Rocky Balboa. Now ten years later, (and some 40 years since his hit screenplay debut), Stallone is playing a character reminiscent of the original “boxing trainer” role that Burgess Meredith initially played, with Michael B. Jordan playing the talented young boxer (who happens to be Apollo Creed’s son), seeking Rocky as his mentor in the hit new film, Creed. Sylvester Stallone has built an enviable and respected career, and has been a considerable influence in popular culture through several of his iconic film characters.
STRIPLV: Rocky’s your baby. I’m curious to your thoughts on the evolution of Rocky, and what it was like to play him now in Creed.
STALLONE: Well, it’s very biographical, if you know what I mean, because we’re at the same age—and when I saw Burgess Meredith for the first time, I said, “Burgess, is wonderful—but he’s definitely up there.” And here I am… and now I’m the same age as Burgess. (all smiles) What Rocky has afforded me that I think has been… and maybe never will be done again, is I’ve actually aged in the character, and it’s been the same performer throughout. I literally have brought along what has happened to me in my private life, and I think it’s shown. I’m totally different from what I was in Rocky I, than what I am now. Now he’s worldly, he’s kinda beaten up a little bit, you know, he’s figuring he’s all alone, he’s lost his love… And I think about a lot of people that when they face that, when their mate passes on: ‘What are they really going on for? What are they living for?’ And quite often, if you’re lucky, they find some sense of accomplishment in helping others. That’s why quite often they do charity work—anything that takes them out of their doldrum. Well, Rocky wants to see Adrian so badly, that he’s fine: “I’m ready to go.” And then this kid presents this alternative. And he thinks, you know: ‘Maybe this goes against what human nature’s all about.’ You are responsible, I think, as an adult, to leave as much behind that is useful for someone you love. Otherwise—what are you doing here? (chuckles) What’s the point? I mean, that’s what makes the world a better place is that you are gonna to take all the pain, all the wisdom, all the hard work and knowledge, and give it to him and say, “Look, I’m giving it to you. You may blow it—you may not pay attention, (which many people don’t), but this is my gift to you—my life.”
STRIPLV: You’ve done some great acting, but I think this is some of your best acting of your career, seriously.
STALLONE: Thank you.
STRIPLV: Tell us about Michael, and what it was like working with him.
STALLONE: Michael is kind of like in a situation that I was where, when you see me or you saw Michael, you didn’t think ‘boxer’ or this or that. There’s a certain kind of physicality to him, but behind the toughness, it’s a young man. It’s a fella struggling for answers. In other words, you like him, you embrace him, you trust him. And there’s so many men that have played fighters—and they’ve done it very well—but they’re missing what he has. And I can’t define it—you know what I mean? It’s what makes a star. It’s what makes you want… Like Denzel, if he had played it, you’d go: “I’m being pulled into his life. Even though he may have issues… I want to be his friend. I want to support him.” And he has that. But ninety-nine-percent of people, who are great actors…but [don’t have it]. And you don’t know until it’s there. When Carl Weathers walked on, (the man who plays his father), and I saw him in an office and he’s going: “You know, I could be a much better actor, if I had someone else to act against.” I go: “It’s me—I’m playing the part of Rocky.” (chuckling) He goes: “Oh, sorry.” But that kind of bombastic… but on film, he never came off as cruel. There was something so genuine. And I wish I hadn’t gotten rid of Carl Weathers so early on. And I think that’s one of the reasons they want Creed, like “Oh, he’s back!” …in some incarnation, “He’s back! Great!” because they love that character.
STRIPLV: Why do you think millions of fans are so attached to the Rocky films?
STALLONE: The people that have come up to me have used it [Rocky] to become inspired. I think it’s just inspiration. It wasn’t a master plan. I didn’t think along those lines when I wrote it. I was just writing what I thought worked for me. But I can see that everyone that I have witnessed going to the statue—they’re from Peru, Ecuador, Brazil, Australia. I kept saying: ‘Why are you here?’ They said: “Rocky makes us feel strong.” “Rocky makes us feel I like I can do it.” “Right before I have a football game, I watch Rocky.” So it touches that cord—that: “I’m scared, but if he can do it, I can do it.” That kind of thing: “I’m gonna take this best punch.” So I think the word is inspiration. And determination.
STRIPLV: What’s the most important thing that director Ryan Coogler brought to this?
STALLONE: He brought absolute, unwavering love and passion—commitment. It was though he was on a mission that started when he was young, to fulfill his father’s and his destiny, that he feels has really helped his father get through a physical dilemma. And he was gonna pay homage to it. So it started many, many years ago. But what he brought to it was just absolute unwavering commitment, like I’ve never seen.
STRIPLV: And it shows on the big screen. Great film, Sly!
Tessa Thompson was born in Los Angeles, Calif., on October 3, 1983, and was exposed to acting and stage performance as a descendant of a family of performers. Her father is a singer and songwriter and her grandfather was an actor and musician. She is best known for her debut role as Jackie Cook in the drama series, Veronica Mars. In 2006, she landed her first movie role as Scarlet in the thriller, When a Stranger Calls. This enabled her to work with Camilla Belle, Katie Cassidy, and Tommy Flanagan. She also appeared on the hit ABC medical drama, “Grey’s Anatomy”, and more recently starred in the film, Selma, and now, Creed.
STRIPLV: What did you know about boxing, before you got involved in this movie?
THOMPSON: Really—nothing at all. In fact, I didn’t really have much respect for the sport—mosting because… Well, I shouldn’t say I didn’t have respect. I just didn’t understand it. And it can be very bloody and brute, and so it was something that sort of intimidated me. But getting to know the real-life boxers that work in the film, like Tony Bellew and Andre Ward, and Gabe Rosado—and getting behind their narratives, I mean, so many boxers are family men. And there’s something about the sport—the camaraderie of it—that became really beautiful to me. And once I understood the sport, I was just obsessed with taking in as much boxing as I could. I went to a bunch of boxing matches here in Philadelphia. And now I’m really a big fan. So by the time I got to the scenes where I’m ringside, I had an incredible affinity for the sport.
STRIPLV: What’s it like to join this incredible Rocky franchise with the film, Creed?
THOMPSON: Yeah, I mean, it’s such an iconic American story. It’s arguably I think, Rocky I, the best storytelling about the tale of the underdog…about love, about perseverance, about self-determination… So joining something like that is incredible. And to work with Ryan Coogler… To me, it’s two things: You get to join this iconic franchise in a way, or a reimagining of it, and then to work with a really exciting, new voice of his generation, and the next Ryan Coogler movie. So I was sort of sold from the beginning.
STRIPLV: And of course, Sylvester Stallone. I mean, to meet him, to work with him, to be in this amazing film. That must have been quite an experience.
THOMPSON: It was. And you know, he’s such a cinephile—so he knows so much about film history. And of course, he’s such a huge part of it. And he is so different than with Rocky, that he’s created. It’s this character that you just sort of assume is going to walk into the room. And instead, in walks Sylvester Stallone. And then to get to see him put on this Rocky, this character that he just loves playing—it’s just exquisite. And then also to see the bravery that he had with taking Rocky into a new space, in a vulnerable space, that we haven’t seen him in yet… So I’m so excited for Rocky fans that have followed the trajectory of his story. And I’m excited for a new generation that aren’t familiar with Rocky. I think that after seeing Creed, hopefully they’ll be inclined to go back and sort of, you know, see his story unfold.
STRIPLV: Yeah, it’s great, because you don’t have to have seen the earlier movies—although it does help, of course.
THOMPSON: Not at all. Yeah, I mean there’s sort of jokes that you’ll have an extra sort of giggle at, if you are familiar with the Rocky movies. We pay homage to it in some moments. But I think it really is a new story that you don’t have to be familiar with Rocky at all to enjoy.
STRIPLV: Exactly. Also you’re very convincing as “Bianca”. The music aspect of it, the singing—talk about that little bit. Is that sort of a new thing for you?
THOMPSON: Sort of. I mean, yeah, I’m sort of a hobbyist. I came from a musical family. I sang in a band for a couple of years just for fun. But writing music was certainly something that was new to me. But I was lucky because we have an incredible composer who’s also a… you know, he produces records, in general. His name is Ludwig Göransson. So he worked closely with me and it was a unique challenge. Ryan Coogler is someone who really loves authenticity, so for him, whoever was going to play Biana was gonna to write the music—and I’m just so glad that it got to be me.
STRIPLV: You did a great job with it.
THOMPSON: Thank you so much.
STRIPLV: Michael B. Jordan…
THOMPSON: (smiling with giggles)
STRIPLV: There’s so much to talk about here. First of all, the two of you as actor and actress, but also the relationship between Adonis and Bianca—very complicated, very interesting.
THOMPSON: We were excited to tell a story about what Millennial love looks like—that you have these two people that really feel for each other, but also are, you know, really after dreams that at various moments seem impossible to them and what that looks like. How do you navigate love, and friendship and family, and also trying to pursue something? And so we thought that that was something that young people could really relate to. And I think so often you get to see sort of the girlfriend, sports wife character, someone who just exists just to hold the male character up. And I think in this movie you get to see, hopefully, if we did our job right, the portrayal of a young woman who has her own life, her own dreams. And I’m hoping that that’s something that women can really get behind and relate to, and it will be an anchor for them, in what is otherwise you think might be just a very testosterone-driven movie. (laughter) I infected some estrogen and I just love the Adrien in the original Rocky movie, so it was fun to get to play sort of an “Adrien 2015” and what that looks like.
STRIPLV: You added estrogen in a terrific way in this film, let me tell you—absolutely. Philadelphia (you said this yesterday), is sort of a character in this film, and from your standpoint what was that like?
THOMPSON: It really is. I mean it was incredible, because I got to spend two months in Philly just getting to know the city. I had not stepped foot here before I made the film, and it’s an incredible city with just really, kind people. And it sort of feels like the backbone behind America in a lot of ways. And I think for us, Creed was an opportunity to show another side of Philly that you haven’t maybe seen in the previous Rocky movies. And then the enthusiasm from people here in Philadelphia, just little things… I mean, there’s a sequence in the film, (I don’t want to give it away), when Philadelphians saw that sequence, they were so excited because they felt like we were really portraying their city in such an honest way. So I think people that aren’t familiar with Philly will get to see a side of it that they’ll be really interested in.