Tessa Thompson is set to return to the big screen today as she teams up with Sylvester Stallone, Michael B. Jordan and filmmaker Ryan Coogler for the already critically acclaimed boxing movie Creed.
Creed is the latest chapter in the Rocky story and will see Stallone reprise the iconic role as Jordan plays Apollo Creed's son Adonis. This is the second feature for Coogler and the first since his debut Fruitvale Station.
Thompson is an actress who has been making a name for herself on the big and small screen and the role of Bianca in Creed looks set to send her star rocketing ever further. We caught up with the actress to chat about the film, what drew her to the role, and working with Coogler.
- You are about to return to the big screen this week with Creed, so can you tell me a bit about the film?
Creed borrows from the iconic story of Rocky franchise. This time, we follow Adonis Creed, the son of the late Apollo Creed, and he moves to Philadelphia in the hope that he can get Rocky to train him. He is, in a way, reluctantly following in the footsteps of his father. While he is there, he meets and falls in love with this young songwriter called Bianca, who I play.
- You take on the role of Bianca in the film, so what was it about this character and the screenplay that was the major draw for you when you read it the first time?
I was so inspired to work on the film before I had read the script or even knew what it was because of director Ryan Coogler. I had really loved his film Fruitvale Station, I thought that his collaboration with Michael B, Jordan was so special, and the idea of getting to work with the two of them was great.
Ryan had a really personal reason to write this movie as it was born out of the relationship with his father and their relationship to the Rocky movies. I thought it was so unique and special and a chance to take something that is a rich part of film history and bring it to a new generation.
- Where does Bianca fit into the story and how are we going to see her develop as we go through the film? She plays a very important role for Adonis as he goes on his journey.
Yeah, she does. Adonis, Michael B. Jordan's character, is reluctantly following in the footsteps of his father and is having a really hard time trying to figure out the idea of his father's legacy and how he fits into that. He is really a character that you seeing struggling with his own identity, even down to his name; he doesn't know which name he wants to use.
Then he meets Bianca, a woman who is very sure of herself and very self-possessed. Even though she is dealing with her own struggle of progressive hearing loss, she is someone who has such a strong sense of self. I felt that was so interesting because in this relationship she is the one who is wearing the pants and I love that about her.
- The movie marks the return of Ryan Coogler to the director's chair, so how did you find working with him? How collaborative a filmmaker is he?
He is so collaborative; he may be the most collaborative filmmaker that I have ever worked with. It is so intrinsic to his process. One thing that he does is he always wants to know if a line isn't working how you would make it work. While most directors will do that, he always anticipates that you will have something better to say.
In rehearsal and outside of shooting - we would get together on a weekend - and we would just do some improvisations and, based on some of those improvisations, he would rewrite scenes. He really wants you to feel like you have a real say and no detail is too small to talk to him at length about; we had so many conversations about the way that Bianca dresses. I was in L.A. working on the music before we started filming, and he would send me pictures of girls he would find in Philadelphia.
There was one picture that we kept going back to and there was something about every article of clothing that she was wearing but also, there was an expression behind her eyes. She became a real source of inspiration and there is an outfit in the film that is almost identical to what this girl was wearing. He just loves to work in all sorts of ways and have you be a big part of that process.
- You also worked with the film's composer Ludwig Göransson in the studio for some of the music in the film. How was that experience?
That was incredible. Ludwig has worked on Fruitvale Station, he worked on the show Community and New Girl and he is really accomplished. As well as working in television and film, he produces records. In the music community, he would be somebody that you would give a limb to produce one of your songs and the fact that I had him produce these songs for Bianca was incredible. It was such an incredible thing as he is so talented.
I have always been a huge music fan, dabbled a little bit and been a hobbyist, but I have never had to turn over songs like the ones we had to for this film and in such a short length of time. It really was boot camp in a way but I couldn't think of anyone better to do it with. Ludwig was so kind, really supportive of me and never made me feel like I was a slack actor having to be a musician; he really treated me like a musician and an equal. I thought that was just so kind of him.
- The movie sees Sylvester Stallone back as Rocky, I read there was a lot of excitement on the set at the beginning of the shoot when he arrived? How did you find working with him and Michael B. Jordan?
That day on set we had around seven hundred extras - it was his first day - and we were filming the first professional boxing scene that you see in the film. He got up in the ring at one point and was just shadow boxing to pass the time in between takes, and the whole crowd was shouting 'Rocky, Rocky' (laughs). I could not believe it. It was really at that moment when it truly started to sink in what we were making and what it could possibly mean to people.
- The movie is released in the UK this week - you were on the red carpet in London last night - so how have you been finding the response to the film so far? It seems to have been very well received in the U.S.
Yeah, it has. Audiences really seem to love it and at the same time, it has been critically acclaimed, which is incredible and not something that we necessarily anticipated. I have had some critics be honest with me and say that they didn't know what to expect or how they felt about this film when I went to watch it, and couldn't believe how incredible it was. That has been so cool to hear from people.
But last night at the premiere in London, I couldn't believe the fans. I know that Rocky is an enormous and iconic America movie, but I guess I hadn't anticipated just how much this movie means to people abroad. There were two fellas that had been there since 6am to see us. They had been out there in the cold and the rain but they were just so excited.
I think it is a movie that really means a lot to people and hopefully, I think Creed will bring a new generation to the franchise. You don't have to have seen any of the Rocky movies for this one to mean something to you but I think it will make you want to go back and re-visit those films.
- Throughout your career, we have seen you move between TV and film and back again, so how do the two mediums compare?
To me, I am always aiming for the same thing; to be truthful, to make stories that have a purpose and have something to say. However, there are differences between the mediums. Truthfully, it is such an interesting time in Hollywood in general because content is being made across a wide range of platforms with the rise of Netflix. Netflix is now making movies where actors are getting nominated for Golden Globes for best performances.
I think good content is being made across the board and all over the place. We are arguably in the golden age of television right now. I feel so lucky to be back on television and working on the show Westworld with such incredible filmmakers. You see actors and film stars wanting to do television because it is so good. I think it is an exciting time to be working as there are endless possibilities.
- Finally, what's next for you?
I have been working on a show called Westworld for HBO. Right now, I am in rehearsals for a play in New York called Smart People, which opens in February. I have a film that opens at Berlin International Film Festival next month, called War on Everyone.
Then in a couple of months, I am going to be going off to do a movie - I don't think I can say anything about that yet. It is exciting and with a really brilliant filmmaker.
Creed is out now.
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