Twenty miles outside of Philadelphia stands the beige building; It may look mundane, with a humble exterior, but it’s full of movie magic once you enter. Aston, Pennsylvania’s Sun Center Studios is the temporary home to an unrelated family of actors, producers, writers and other creatives that are working on the sequel to 2015’s blockbuster, Creed. A fleet of extras sit in the boxing stands as eager spectators fill the vast room with sounds of anticipation. The harmonious noise immediately hits you once you enter the modestly lit set. As four bass knocks quiet the room to signal rolling time, 470 audience members prepare to usher in the titular character as he heads to the ring to enact a scene that’ll play out in the film’s final format.
Starring Michael B. Jordan, Tessa Thompson, Sylvester Stallone, and Wood Harris, the team rekindled their onscreen chemistry that’ll take the audience from Brooklyn’s Barclays Center to a main event in Russia’s Olympic Stadium. Adonis Creed seeks to avenge his father’s death [Apollo Creed] by possibly defeating the son [Viktor Drago] of the man [Ivan Drago] responsible for the incident. This time, director Steven Caple Jr. guides the eyes. Like Creed’s previous captain/creator Ryan Coogler (Black Panther, Fruitvale Station), Caple’s foundation with the Rocky franchise — which Creed is a spinoff of — is also rooted in family. Caple’s father, who sat proudly on set, was amazed by his son’s leadership as a young black man steering the cinematic ship with heavyweights like Stallone.
It’s not hard to soak in the camaraderie that will shine through the film’s final format, especially in the quick timeframe Caple had to shoot, edit and package the reel in line for the November 2018 release. The timing challenge (it was Day 32 of 58 during this set visit) proved to be just another aspect of Hollywood’s unapologetic attention span. Despite this demand, the gleam in Caple’s eyes didn’t dim, and he didn’t appear to break a sweat when he sat down for a roundtable discussion. From Grown-ish to the Logic episode of Netflix’s Rapture documentary series, Caple looked to Creed II as another form of storytelling, taking cues from Coogler, who posed the question: “Why are you telling this story? What is connecting you to it?”
Those inquiries stuck with Caple throughout the filming process, where he had to break down the textbook definition of different forms of film and figure out how to make Creed’s characters appear as real as possible. “With narrative filmmaking, it’s all about planning, time constraints, but I think there’s another element to it that allows you to creatively express yourself,” he says. “Documentary, I’m trying to showcase you. Television, I’m trying to stick to the format that they’ve created. Filmmaking, it’s like, ‘How do I put my own touch into these characters,’ which I really liked.”
Since conceptualizing thought-provoking pieces like The Land (a drama that follows four teens with dreams of becoming pro-skateboarders by escaping Cleveland’s inner-city), it was finally time for Caple to graduate to feature filmmaking to mold Creed II’s world. The characters’ storylines are more complex in a way each persona can stand on its own if another addition were to happen. One actor in particular, Tessa Thompson, and her layered character of Bianca will experience a newfound sense of worth.
In tandem with the reel’s writers, the Thor: Ragnarok actor says this sequel will expand her character’s power. “We’ve just had a lot of conversations around how we can try to give this character, Bianca, her own agency and how we make sure that her voice is really present in it,” Thompson says, sporting similar extension braids that her persona adorned in Creed. “Even if she doesn’t occupy tons of page space, the page space that she does occupy feels really vital. Some of that has to do with her being able to articulate where she’s coming from. I think the only time I would ever feel mad is if I feel she’s not taking agency in the way that I hope that she would.” Thompson also worked on two original songs for the film, one that audience members will surely remember that boasts the lyrics “I will go to war.” From the melody’s opening chords, the severity and intensity of the scene that accompanies the track will automatically shift moviegoers in their seats. The famed thespian says she worked with James Fauntleroy and other pop music scribes to make audience members wish Bianca were a real-life singer.
While part of the mission is to make these characters seem as if they can prevail in the real world, producer William Chartoff also believes they exist in a mythological sphere. He’s been a part of the Rocky franchise since he was a pre-teen. His father Robert Chartoff co-produced the very first Rocky and the rest of the films thereafter, and in a sense passed the torch to his son. For Creed, he supports the notion of the melting pot between make-believe and real life and wants Adonis Creed to find a spot within that train of thought. “It’s kind of this strange melding of fiction and reality, real life, is taking place in a strange kind of way. But I think there’s no question that we want Adonis to also be a part of this mythology because in the end, it has become a kind of mythology,” he says. “These characters have all become mythological in a sense and we are hoping that Adonis will have his place in Philadelphia as well and will also symbolize Philadelphia as well and this spirit of Philadelphia.”
Jordan agrees with Chartoff’s outlook on the city of brotherly love. After changing from his stage attire of red, blue and white boxing trunks to an outfit that his character would probably wear on an off day out of the gym, the New Jersey native says Philly’s DNA is undeniably weaved throughout part two, beginning with the people on set. “There’s a certain energy to this city that when you’re shooting on location in the street or different locations, everybody has this infectious attitude that seeps into the production at some point,” Jordan says. “A lot of people from the crew are from here, so it’s just a certain energy that’s automatically brought to set. I think that’s probably the most that the city, besides the locations and Philly being a character in the film on its own, I think that’s the one the energy is translating to the movie.”
One thing that wasn’t translated in this film is Adonis’ presumed relationship with his deceased mother. As the franchise is based on his quest to extend his father’s legacy, it would be interesting to see how the film can explore his mother’s influence. But when you have no more than 120 minutes to make sure you hit every point and “so many healthy characters and things you want to build on, it’s tough to dive into everything,” he says. “I think that’s one thing we didn’t get a chance to go into too much.”
Could rumblings of another Creed installment begin to make noise? Jordan and presumably the other stars believe round three is imminent.
Creed II hits theaters on Nov. 21.
READ MORE: Michael B. Jordan: Black Star Rising