The iconic film character Rocky Balboa is returning to theaters this week. While Sylvester Stallone reprises his role in the 7th installment of the Rocky franchise, Ryan Coogler’s spinoff Creed mostly focuses on a new generation of talent.
Michael B. Jordan (The Wire, Fruitvale Station) stars as former heavyweight champion Apollo Creed’s son Adonis. The younger Creed decides to follow in his late father’s footsteps by pursuing a career in prizefighting. Jordan is joined by Tessa Thompson who portrays Adonis’ love interest.
Previously, Thompson garnered praise for her performances in film such as Mississippi Damned and Dear White People, but Creed provided the California native the opportunity to fuse two of her gifts into one job. Besides acting in plays, movies, and on TV, Thompson is also a member of the indie band Caught A Ghost. So taking on the part of Philadelphia singer-songwriter Bianca was an extension of Tessa’s real life passion.
In addition to performing on screen in Creed, Thompson also appears on the movie’s soundtrack. The vocalist is featured on three tracks – “Grip,” “Breathe,” and “Shed You.” The collection also includes contributions from Future, Meek Mill, The Roots, Nas, 2Pac, Joey Bada$$, Jhené Aiko, and more.
AllHipHop.com spoke with Tessa Thompson about her work in Creed. She shares some of the female artists that inspired her take on Bianca as well as what it was like for the cast and crew to pull off a very ambitious boxing movie accomplishment.
[ALSO READ: ‘Creed’ Soundtrack Features Future, Meek Mill, The Roots, Joey Bada$$, Jhené Aiko & More (TRACKLIST)]
Was there anyone that inspired your role in Creed?
There were tons of artists that I looked to. I’m playing a Philly girl, so Jill Scott was a reference point. People told me my speaking voice reminded them of Jill Scott. That was a big compliment, because that was someone I looked at to figure out the Philly accent.
Sonically, artists like FKA twigs, Kelela, Pink, and Aaliyah were reference points. Obviously, the music is electronic based, so artists like Grimes were really inspirational. The idea of self-produced artists that create music in their living room – which Bianca is – were women that I looked to.
How involved were you with the music?
I was absolutely involved. I wrote the songs that I performed in the movie with the brilliant composer Ludwig Göransson. He is an incredible composer. He did stuff for Community, and he produced the Childish Gambino records.
We spent about two weeks together in the studio in LA, and we wrote those songs. It was really important to [director] Ryan [Coogler]. He loves authenticity, so it was important for him that whoever played Bianca was also writing the music.
What was that experience like working with Ryan?
It was incredible. I was such a fan of him from afar. I just love Fruitvale Station. I thought it humanized a headline in such an incredible way.
I had the chance to meet him very briefly at Sundance [Film Festival] when I was there screening Dear White People. I think we all sort of modulate who we are depending on who we’re talking to, but when he’s talking to you it’s like you’re the only person in the room. He’s just so open, honest, and curious about people.
When I met him, I thought, “Now, I really want to work with him.” So when I heard he was doing this movie called Creed, I didn’t even know what it was. I didn’t know if there was anything in it for me, but I called my manager and said, “Ryan Coogler is making a movie called Creed, and I want to be in it.” Then we found out it was something in it for me. I was so excited when I got the call and asked if I would do a chemistry read with Mike [Michael B. Jordan].
Ryan is just so cool. There are a lot of things in the movie that are actually improvisation. He is very collaborative. He takes the best idea. It doesn’t matter where it came from. I think that’s something that’s very rare to find.
The fighting sequences definitely stood out to me – the way the camera cut back and forth between what was happening in the ring to you and Stallone on the side. Was that all one take?
There’s one fighting sequence that takes place all in one camera move. There was not a cut. We spent about 3 months choreographing and rehearsing that.
That’s a really hard thing to do in any kind of scene. We knew it was our ambition to not have to cut, but we weren’t sure if it was going to work because there’s a large margin of error.
Once we finally got it right, it was one of the most electrifying things I’ve ever been a part of. When I jump into the ring, I push Mike. I was so excited. There was no acting happening in that moment.
So when you pushed him, that was your natural reaction?
That was my absolute natural reaction. I believe it was the first time in boxing film history that a boxing match has been done in one take. That was something we were really excited about.
Creed is scheduled for release nationwide on November 25.
Stream the Creed soundtrack via Spotify below.