CS Interview: director Steven Caple Jr. takes Creed II to the next level
MGM and Warner Bros. Pictures‘ boxing sequel Creed II starring Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone is out now in theaters. ComingSoon.net got the chance to talk to the sequel’s director Steven Caple Jr. (The Land) about taking over for Ryan Coogler and working with Stallone. Check out the interview below!
Creed II is the continuation of the Rocky saga and sequel to the 2015 critically-acclaimed and crowd-pleasing 2015 hit Creed, which took in more than $170 million at the worldwide box office. Ryan Coogler (Black Panther), who directed the first film, returns to the franchise as an executive producer on Creed II. The new film is being directed by Steven Caple Jr., who helmed the acclaimed 2016 drama The Land.
Life has become a balancing act for Adonis Creed. Between personal obligations and training for his next big fight, he is up against the challenge of his life. Facing an opponent with ties to his family’s past only intensifies his impending battle in the ring. Rocky Balboa is there by his side through it all and, together, Rocky and Adonis will confront their shared legacy, question what’s worth fighting for, and discover that nothing’s more important than family. Creed II is about going back to basics to rediscover what made you a champion in the first place, and remembering that, no matter where you go, you can’t escape your history.
Also reprising their roles from the first film are Tessa Thompson as Bianca, Phylicia Rashad as Mary Anne, Wood Harris as Tony ‘Little Duke’ Burton, and Andre Ward as Danny ‘Stuntman’ Wheeler. The new cast is rounded out with Florian “The Big Nasty” Munteanu as Viktor Drago, Dolph Lundgren returning to the role of Ivan Drago and Russell Hornsby as Buddy Marcelle. Creed II will be distributed theatrically in the U.S. by MGM on November 21, 2018, and Warner Bros. Pictures will distribute the film internationally.
Caple Jr. directs from an original screenplay written by Stallone based on characters from the Rocky franchise. The film is produced by Irwin Winkler, Charles Winkler, William Chartoff, David Winkler, Kevin King-Templeton, and Stallone. Coogler, Jordan and Guy Riedel will executive produce.
ComingSoon.net: You and Ryan Coogler knew each other, and he kind of roped you into this. Can you talk a little bit about your relationship with Ryan and how you sort of came into the director’s chair for “Creed II”?
Steve Caple Jr.: Ryan and I went to USC Film School together, the international program, coming together his last year and my first year there. You just look for people for advice, and he happened to be that guy that everyone was kind of talking about. People thought that he was going to break out or something. So I spoke to him and picked his brain like I always do. He became sort of a guidance to us, an example of how to work the system in the industry. It meant a lot for us to later be down the road and have our careers going. He’s in a position coming off of a successful film and producing a sequel, he’s able to have a say-so in the next director, in choosing who to carry on a franchise and he just brought up my name. He’s like, “I think Steven Caple can capture the voice of Adonis Creed and Bianca. I think he speaks for the generation.” Those were all things that Sly was also looking for with in doing the project. It just kind of worked out. I was in the midst of writing another feature film when I got the call and met with Sly and met with Mike, all of the people, and they were very welcoming and opened the doors and allowed me to do my thing.
CS: Obviously they hired you so you could bring your own voice to it, but how much did you actually research the other films? Certain filmmakers coming onto a franchise will go so far as to get the average shot length in the previous movies.
Caple: You definitely do that. Yeah, yeah. You definitely have to do that research, you know? I had to re-watch the entire series. There’s a certain formula that goes with directing a “Rocky” franchise movie that was also done in “Creed,” which is fight sequences, the amount of montages you have, and the format of the fights. Sly has it down to a specific science, man. He knows everything from who wins what round, how the rhythm goes when you kick into a montage and when to come out of a montage. When you watch “Creed” you see there’s a lot of resemblance to “Creed” and the last “Rocky” fight, you know? For this film he created a format that mimics two movies, which were “Rocky III” with Clubber Lang, because of the rematch aspect, and then you have “Rocky IV” which was how long he’s in the ring and the revenge aspect. He was there on set to help out a lot and help with the rhythm of stuff because that’s what the franchise is about. It’s a back and forth rhythm and a song and dance. We’re dealing with a fight, we’re dealing with the montages, they’re this story arc that’s in every “Rocky” franchise. Those are the things you pull out of those movies, because they work and people are expecting those, right? Those are the expectations when watching this franchise. What I try to do is pay homage to that and make sure that the characters stuck out in a way that either felt fresh or unique and yet still were the characters that you fell in love with like Adonis and Bianca and Rocky. So that was the balancing act, if you will, of carrying on the franchise and making sure that they did have the heart and the DNA of the franchise. Then you find moments that you’re able to sprinkle in some of your personal touch. With me it was the Drago side and their father/son dynamic. That was personal also in my life, starting off a little bumpy and now they needed to rekindle their relationship, something I’m going through as we speak. And then the relationship with Bianca, that’s another avenue I wanted to really hit, because I felt like there was a natural way to progress in her storyline with her hearing loss and his career what do they do next, that all things that are relatable to people and super relatable to myself that I was able to put a spin on each scene to make it feel like it was authentic and have a certain voice.
CS: The shot with Bianca at Donny’s bedside at the hospital, that’s kind of an homage to a specific shot from “Rocky II”, right?
Caple: Yes. That scene she’s also wearing a beret like Adrian was wearing, she had the same costume on, but kind of altered. Yeah, there’s a lot of that in the film.
CS: Were there any other specific nods like that, that you can mention?
Caple: Oh completely. The stare-off between Rocky and Drago in the ring, at the last fight. It’s the very exact same shot setup and looks that they gave in “Rocky IV” when they fought each other. There’s also the break of line, obviously, that they had to come back somehow, some way or another. There’s a touch gloves moment like in “Rocky IV” when when Apollo touches Drago’s glove, he feels the dude’s wrath. Like, you can’t knock his hand down. And so, when he tries to bang on his gloves, it’s like ba-boing, and like, it stops. So I didn’t want to do the cartoony way to express that. The two ways I played with it was a push at the weigh-in, and during that push at the weigh-in, in the next scene, he tries to touch gloves and Creed doesn’t even touch his gloves. You know what I mean? So it was just small bits to pay homage to the “Rocky” franchise. For the “Creed” franchise there are also things I wanted to take from “Creed I” because I want him to have his own identity. In the opening there’s a scene where Bianca slams the door on Adonis’ face when he’s on one knee and he has that conversation through the door. That’s the same layout as when they’re having that conversation in “Creed I” when he tried to explain to her that he’s sorry for messing up her show. You know, she’s on the other side and she actually took out her hearing aid on purpose, not to hear him. There’s also another shot, where we’re looking down at them laying on a floor upside down with the baby just before he decides to take the fight. That’s paying homage to “Creed I” when they’re doing the same thing, the same shot and they have their very first kiss onscreen.
CS: Bianca’s hearing plays a huge part in the story again. Ryan’s wife Zinzi is an ASL interpreter, and she was a consultant on the last movie. Did you also consult with her this time around?
Caple: Her and Ryan. They both read the script. They sent me over notes, and then we also brought in two consultants later in LA. They were only coming on because we had a lot more sign language going on in the film. We also had the baby, which… I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, but obviously the baby has issues. We wanted someone to come in and let us know how to properly handle these issues, what are the tests that are being done. So we had multiple consultants. We really didn’t want to dismiss the community or disrespect anybody, so we wanted to handle that situation with care. I know Tessa was very sensitive about that.
CS: Sly co-wrote the script this time, as opposed to last time. How important was it to you that Sly contribute? And on the same token, do you think it’s important that Donny’s journey be told from the perspective of black filmmakers?
Caple: Oh man, I think that’s a huge thing. As you mentioned before, it is a balancing act, so he did want a bit of the “Rocky” feel in there, you know? So Sly does a great job at that. He’s a filmmaker at heart. I think we skip that box, we see him as the actor Sly, the superstar, but he’s written a lot of these pieces. He’s directed a lot and produced. When he steps on the scene he appreciates the art. For him to say, “This is you guy, I wrote a version of the script that I think would work, but you’ve got to definitely put your own spin on it and your own voice on it.” And it means a lot, you know what I mean? With everything behind us with Ryan Coogler and myself in it for black filmmakers, man, to have this kind of movement involved and also be able to bring on a black writer like Juel Taylor. For him to trust us with this, it means a lot, you know what I mean? I think there’s actually a progression in the industry where you see black filmmakers and women are now behind the camera making moves. I think it’s important that we contribute to the movement and make that statement, not necessarily onscreen. We don’t have to with this particular kind of family film, but I feel like it’s there already and that has been in the film’s DNA and how we portrayed everything. It’s an exciting time and I hope more films with black leads are changing the narrative of the stereotypes in how we’re portrayed. I’m excited about that. This is a film that’s going to play big and play overseas and it’s good to see that black films are being played overseas. We’re not just stuck in a box in a certain demographic.
CS: I remember talking to Ryan right after he’d made the first “Creed.” He was about to kind of be launched into the stratosphere with “Black Panther.” After this movie comes out you’ll have some of that same leverage. There are the directors that use franchises as stepping stones, and then there’s other people who use success as a leverage to make the kind of smaller films that Hollywood isn’t making a lot of anymore. So what do you kind of feel yourself at this point gravitating towards? Do you want to do the career stepping stone and hop to a bigger franchise like Ryan did?
Caple: Yeah, I don’t necessarily mind getting into another franchise. I don’t mind it. I think for me, man, as long as it’s a franchise that I love or there’s a take on it that I can relate to and connect with. I think that’s the way I kind of play it by ear on what project I do next. It can be another million dollar movie. I don’t need to run and chase this Marvel stuff. I think for me it could be a $10 million project, it could be kind of mid-range. As long as I’m feeling it. Making films that take up so much of your time, and you have to sacrifice a lot so far as spending time with family and stuff like that, like it took almost a year. So it’s a year gone. I just turned 30 while doing this and I missed so much just being committed. And so, when doing that and stepping into a project, I take that into consideration, you know? As long as there’s a project out there that I feel like I could really connect with, and it’s big, if it’s with Marvel or DC, hey, it works out. If it’s with, as I said, something smaller, but yet I feel like it’s something powerful or it makes a statement, I’m definitely down for that. I would love to keep what we’re talking about, this movement going. If there’s a way to keep that buoyancy into other projects, I’m there.
(Photo Credit: Getty Images)