Michael B. Jordan is 28 years old, meaning the actor wasn’t around when the original classic Rocky came out in 1976.
“I was definitely a fan, but obviously didn’t have the opportunity see a lot of the movies in the theater,” says Jordan in Miami Beach on a press tour for Creed, the seventh and seemingly final notch in Rocky’s belt. “I was able to kind of re-fall in love with all the characters.”
In the film, Jordan stars as Adonis Johnson Creed, the illegitimate son of world heavyweight champion Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), who died at the hands of Russian beast Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) in 1985’s Rocky IV. Jordan plays a 30-year-old in this film, so to not give any major spoilers away, let’s assume he was in utero at the time of his father’s death, OK?
To prepare, the Fantastic Four star re-watched all the Rocky movies, to fully understand the depth of the tough-as-nails underdog boxer from Philadelphia (Sylvester Stallone).
The pressure was on.
“To step into this world, yeah, it was intimidating,” Jordan admits. “Everyone knows Rocky. Everyone loves Rocky. It’s one of those things you don’t want to mess up.”
Jordan already had some experience with being the newbie: In 2009, the California native was cast in television’s football drama Friday Night Lights. He appeared in seasons four and five, before the show ended in 2011.
“[The show] was already a well-oiled machine,” Jordan says. “So I kind of felt that same anxious nervousness walking on set on Creed like I did back then.”
Adding to the nerves: The not-so-small matter of getting into the shape of his life.
Jordan got an able assist from working with actual professional fighters, including his costar and on-screen opponent, English heavyweight champion Tony Bellew, who makes his big-screen debut.
“Having people in the industry gave this film the authenticity,” says Jordan, who gained 24 pounds of muscle over the course of the shoot. “They wouldn’t give me a pass. If I did a move that looked unnatural, they would call me out. It really kept me focused.”
Focus? You could say Jordan had the eye of the tiger.
“It was my personal challenge; I was balls to the wall. They had to tell me to tone it down!” he says, laughing. “I wanted to stay true to this character and show his transformation. He was an amateur, so I couldn’t come in all cut and ripped like Superman. That’s not who he was at the time.”
Ringside to give the young man advice was Stallone, who plays Adonis’ trainer and mentor.
“Working with Sly was surreal,” Jordan says. “I mean, he’s such an incredible actor and a smart man. He’s quiet about certain things, then he’ll come out with the most random bit of trivia or a joke, then instantly turn into Rocky. Having him approve of my performance was the biggest confidence boost.”
Another boost to Jordan’s confidence came from teaming up again with Ryan Coogler, Jordan’s director in the critically acclaimed, tragic biopic Fruitvale Station.
“We have security in our chemistry and our friendship,” Jordan says of Coogler, who told Ebony he took on Creed because his own father followed Rocky religiously. “I’m starting to learn that the stronger the relationship you have with your director, the easier it is on set.”
The Creed set, though, didn’t sound easy at all. Yes, Jordan is proud of the accomplishment, but he certainly sounds relieved that the crushing workouts are in the rear-view mirror.
“Though I took real punches, it was more about soreness and recovery,” he says. “After the main fight scene I was bedridden for two weeks. The complete mental and physical exhaustion were the real obstacles for me on this one. I have a new respect for fighters.”
For diehard Rocky fans, Jordan wants to reassure you that this movie is the real deal and might even give you some Throwback Thursday chills.
“It’s not cheesy or forced,” he promises. “Sometimes sequels are pumped out just to make money, but this is legit. Creed goes back to the roots of what Rocky is — an American icon. There are a lot of homages to the original so people, pay attention! You’ll know them when you see them.”