*In the words of the late ‘Ol Dirty Bastard, Ryan Coogler and the “Rocky” films go back like babies and pacifiers. Kinda.
While the filmmaker’s history with boxer Rocky Balboa and his archrival turned friend Apollo Creed may not go back that far, Coogler does credit his father for his love of the franchise running so deep.
“I grew up with all of the movies. My dad is a big Rocky fan and he’s been showing them to me since before I can remember,” Coogler shared with EURweb.com. “My relationship with him is what inspired the concept of this film. So I’m heavy into the films and I know ’em all like the back of my hand.”
Knowledge like that proved invaluable for Coogler, who ended up co-writing the film-in-question, the upcoming “Rocky” spin-off “Creed,” with Aaron Covington. The movie, which stars Michael B. Jordan and Tessa Thompson, centers around Apollo Creed’s son Adonis Johnson (Jordan), who wants to follow in the footsteps of his deceased father — a man he never knew — while carving out his own identity personally and in the world of boxing. Thompson plays Adonis’ love interest Bianca.
Although “Rocky” fans are familiar with Rocky’s wife Adrian, his trainer Mickey and brother-in-law Paulie, Adonis is a new character among the fixtures. Especially since Apollo only had two children that were he fathered in the previous movies. Nevertheless, Coogler cites personal motivation for introducing Adonis to moviegoers.
“I came up with the idea of this movie based off my relationship with my dad and seeing my dad, who is a really strong guy, get sick and lose his strength and dealing with the stress of that,” Coogler admitted while going deeper into the creation of “Creed” and confirming the film is “absolutely” a homage to his father. “[It was] kind of a loose effort to kind of motivate him through that situation. I came up with this idea of the hero going through the same thing, but through following somebody, like my perspective, a young guy’s perspective, who is in a relationship with this guy. So that was how the concept was created.”
“And my love for Apollo Creed as a character,” the director continued about the other reason behind “Creed.” “Apollo was a such a beloved character, such a great performance by Carl Weathers, you know, such a great character. That’s why I wrote it.
“My love for him, maybe it stems from being a black kid growing up watching all of his movies and relating to Apollo, you know, and kind of rooting for him in all the films and wondering about what happens to his life, to his family after he dies. “That’s kind of set up in “Rocky IV.” Apollo dies and you see how it affects Rocky. You don’t really see how it affects his family and his loved ones too much, though. So it was kind of those two things. My relationship with my dad and my love and curiosity about that character of Apollo were the things that kind of motivated me to write the script from this perspective, I would say.”
The father-son dynamic is apparent throughout “Creed” in Adonis’ relationship with Rocky as well as his internal struggle with wanting to connect with Apollo and making his own path in life away from his father’s shadow, a point Coogler wanted to get across in relation to how he was with his dad over the years.
“Father-son relationships are so complicated. My relationship with my dad, which is fantastic, my dad is always around. He was always there for me. He was ever present and we’re very, very close, but it was still so complex,” he said. “We would often come into conflict with each other. We would argue about things. It was one of those things where your relationship goes through these different stages. I remember when my dad was my hero. Like, I got a little older and I got to that point where I was embarrassed when he would come around. I didn’t even want him to even come around. I didn’t want him to even drop me off at parties, you know. I didn’t want my friends to see him, you know what I’m saying. [laughs]
“And now I’m at this point where I’m incredibly proud of him. I wish I could see him more than I do,” Coogler adds. “So we kind of wanted to capture that. And Adonis’ relationship with his father is so complex because he’s not around. It’s kind of one-sided, but yet he still has this kind of overbearing presence on his life. So we definitely wanted it to be something that wasn’t simple, you know.”
Despite being half of the team responsible for writing “Creed,” Coogler mentioned that the project would’ve been a bust if the man who plays Rocky was not involved.
“It was absolutely necessary,” he stated about the character’s creator Sylvester Stallone, who returns to the big screen as Rocky in “Creed.” “I wouldn’t have made it without his blessing for many reasons. 1) Just out of respect for all of the work that he had done in the past and 2) We had needed him to make it. Obviously, Rocky is a major character in the film and I think it would have been a crime to do it any other way.
With Stallone’s blessing and him officially on board as a producer, the stage was set for Coogler to fully realize his vision for “Creed.” Noting Stallone’s input and influence, Coogler praised the action star as well as his desire to make the film a great addition to the “Rocky” franchise.
“The process was really great. You know, Sly has a lot of experience as a writer and as a director and obviously so he’s a wealth of information,” the “Fruitvale Station” moviemaker stated. “It’s such a great perspective. I think because he wanted this film to feel fresh and different from the films he had done in the past, I was encouraged to be as unique and true to myself as possible, both by him and by the studio.”
“Creed” is in theaters now.