Steven Caple Jr. connects with underdogs. The director’s Ohio City upbringing inspired his gritty 2016 debut The Land, a tale of teenage Cleveland skateboarders dabbling in drug deals and dreaming of going pro.
Still, even he was knocked out when Sylvester Stallone asked him to helm Creed II, the latest installment in the beloved underdog franchise Rocky.
“The first Rocky movie I saw was Rocky IV when I was 10 or 11 years old,” says the Baldwin Wallace University alum. “I’m definitely a Creed fan. This is a franchise with a legacy. I’m adding my two cents to it.”
Opening Nov. 21, Creed II follows 2015’s acclaimed franchise reboot starring Michael B. Jordan as Adonis, the boxing son of Rocky’s original rival, Apollo Creed. Caple was specifically chosen by Stallone, Jordan and Creed and Black Panther director Ryan Coogler to helm the sequel, Caple’s major studio debut.
“I had some ideas for the script, some things that go back to Rocky and Rocky II,” says Caple, who took a break from post-editing to talk about making Rocky relevant to a new generation.
On His First Marquee Feature Film: It’s a big movie, the biggest shoot I’ve ever had. I’ve stepped up to a bigger platform with so many moving pieces. With all the digital effects, I feel like I’m making a Marvel movie. I was never able to afford digital effects before. It’s like making two movies.
On Working With Stallone: Sly has done more fight scenes than anybody. He’s been in this game for years. It was interesting, because there are two different parts of Sly. The actor is different from the writer. It was weird, because he is Rocky. When he walks into a room he gets a standing ovation every time. He still has that youthfulness and energy. To see him still be excited about that character blows my mind.
On Rebooting The Franchise For a New Geneartion: To be honest, I think that was one of the big reasons I got the job. Sly told me that he needed me to help him figure out how to crack this story and carry on what was created in Creed. I wanted to pay homage to the classic Rocky moments but be able to bring some texture to the younger audience. There are some young dudes who did music for this film who never saw a Rocky movie — they only knew the Creed movie.
On The Creed II Story: There are a couple different storylines. We reintroduce Ivan Drago [Dolph Lundgren’s villain from Rocky IV] and [introduce] his son Viktor. We had to make a scary character feel fresh, and I think we accomplished that in a way that feels real. People are really going to dig the new Drago character.
On Filming a Blockbuster: It can be hard to have your own voice with a big industry film. There are a lot of big exclamation points, but the stuff in between is what you focus on as a director or an actor. The [boxing] choreography was very time-consuming. Everything else felt normal. Once you have everyone on the same page with the same vision, it comes together. I had a lot of pros around me who have done this for years.
On Spotlighting Characters of Color: Sly and MGM were very specific about that. Michael B. and Tessa [Thompson, who plays Creed’s love interest] are black people on the screen who are not slaves or drug dealers. Our culture is embedded in their storylines, and we stay true to their environment, not some cliche environment.