He’s the star of Creed II and hot property in Hollywood, but the uber-talented Michael B Jordan is taking it all in his stride. Here, he talks fighting, fame and films with Gemma Dunn
WHEN Sylvester Stallone revealed his plans to retire Rocky Balboa as Creed II opened recently, fans of the franchise were left saddened. The veteran actor, who has played the world’s most celebrated fictional boxer since 1976, dropped the bombshell via Instagram, where he told his eight million followers: “It’s been my ultimate privilege to have been able to create and play this meaningful character.”
“Though it breaks my heart, sadly all things must pass… and end,” added the 72-year-old, alongside a video of the speech he gave to his Creed II co-stars.
Suggesting his appearance in the blockbuster reboot will be his last, Stallone has insisted his lead, Michael B Jordan, will now “carry the mantle”. And it seems the 31-year-old star is suitably flattered.
“It’s an honour, honestly,” says Jordan, who put in a knockout performance as boxer Adonis Creed in the original Rocky spin-off and returns to the title role in Creed II, now showing in cinemas across Ireland.
“I know what that character and that franchise means to him – and for him to see that same potential inside of me, I think it’s a big deal.
“I didn’t expect him to say that and he did, so it caught me off guard. But it feels special; it’s something I take seriously. He knows that I’m gonna do him justice.”
If the Californian’s previous efforts are anything to go by, there’s no doubt he will. Hot on the heels of Creed’s success in 2016, Creed II, this time directed by Steven Caple Jr, sees Jordan take on the next chapter of the Adonis Creed story, which follows the young boxer’s life inside and outside of the ring as he deals with newfound fame, family, his father’s legacy, and his continuing quest to become a champion.
But to defend his acquired world title, Creed must fight a worthy opponent. Hence the introduction of Viktor Drago: a young, undefeated heavyweight contender, played by real-life sports enthusiast Florian ‘Big Nasty’ Munteanu.
He’s the son of Ivan Drago (played by Dolph Lundgren), the Russian boxer who killed Adonis’s father Apollo in the ring three decades earlier. Deciding he has a score to settle, Adonis prepares, with the help of trainer, Rocky, for a showdown.
“I think Adonis has felt like an underdog ever since he became champion,” says Jordan of his character. “I don’t think he ever felt like a champ. He never felt like he was the sure-win, which is an interesting thing to play. “He’s always felt like he has something to prove.
“And out of nowhere, this blast from the past arrives which forces Adonis to go down a dark road, to really reflect on and figure out why he fights,” adds Jordan, who earlier this year received critical acclaim for his portrayal of villain Erik Killmonger in Marvel’s Black Panther.
“This film shows that sometimes you have to go through darkness and the fire to realise what’s important.”
But to get back in the ring, full stop, was going to take some serious training, especially if Jordan was to square up opposite newbie Munteanu – a 6’4″ Romanian-born, German-raised boxer by trade.
“For the first [film], there’s no way I could imagine what I was going to be doing – the second time around, it was worse,” he confesses, with a laugh.
“I have to believe when I was stepping into the ring, I am a fighter. I would work out to exhaustion day in and day out, sometimes twice a day, going home with swollen knuckles and all.”
Jordan adds: “A boxer has a certain look and has to make a certain weight. To get in shape for this one, we definitely amped up the cardio along with the boxing, which itself is an amazing workout, two times a day, every day for six weeks.”
But fitness aside, the high-action fight scenes still resulted in a number of hospital visits – on both sides. Not that it left Jordan deterred.
“It’s a badge of honour, honestly,” he says, smiling. “We’re making an action film and if you’re not getting hurt, then you ain’t trying hard enough. So I feel like it just means that we were putting it all on the line for the perfect shot. For the perfect scene.”
Has he had any pinch-yourself moments, given the success the Creed role has earned him?
“I think the first time I finished the fight scenes, in the first movie, was a pinch-myself moment of like, ‘Oh, we did that’. Especially working with director Ryan [Coogler],” he says.
“That was our second film we’ve done together [the pair previously collaborated on Fruitvale Station and have since joined forces for Black Panther] and I felt like, ‘We did it again’. It was such an accomplishment.”
The fact he served as an executive producer on Creed II also left him feeling “more conscious” of his involvement, he says.
“I’ve always been producing or always trying to add to the story or character of the film in some type of way. I’m a team player, so I just want, as a whole, for the movie to do well.
“For me, you’ve got to do it one movie at a time, one scene at a time, and just try to do your best. Give it your all, every day. And at the end of it, if you’ve got something great, then people are going to let you know.”
As for the fame, Jordan, who is in high demand in Hollywood, is taking it in his stride.
“I’m the same guy, I’m not changing,” he says. “It’s an adjustment when you have your privacy taken away but that’s what comes with it.
“I love my fans, I love the love that I get for what I do, so I just try to reciprocate it as much as possible. You’ve got to throw your energy back out into the universe and it will send it back to you.”