- Steven Caple Jr. talked to Business Insider about how he got the job to direct “Creed II” (in theatres on Wednesday).
- That included being vouched for by his friend, “Creed” director Ryan Coogler.
- Caple also described the talk with Sylvester Stallone that convinced Caple he would be allowed to put his own mark on the franchise.
Steven Caple Jr. watched “Creed” a little differently than you and I. Having studied at USC film school at the same time the movie’s filmmaker Ryan Coogler did, Caple had a specific eye for certain details his friend put in.
“The opening of the movie, showing Creed as a kid meeting his mum, that really reminded me of this short that he did called ‘Fig,’ I was like, ‘There’s his style,'” Caple told Business Insider while sitting in a restaurant in New York City. “So when I stepped into the franchise I wondered, how do I make it mine?”
Back in 2015, when “Creed” become a critical and box-office hit – launching the “Rocky” franchise back into the public conscious, and solidifying Coogler as Hollywood’s latest wunderkind – Caple was just a indie filmmaker rising up the ranks with one solid movie, Sundance entry “The Land,” under his belt.
But when Coogler announced that he was stepping aside from making a “Creed” sequel to go do Marvel’s “Black Panther,” the continuation of the story of Adonis Creed suddenly lost its captain.
By that time, Caple was honing his craft. He’d sold a miniseries on Emmett Till to HBO and was directing episodes of the Freeform series, “Grown-ish.” And it was on the set of that show a year ago he got the call: Sylvester Stallone wanted to meet about doing “Creed II.”
Caple learned that Stallone had been sent a copy of “The Land,” Caple’s debut feature about Cleveland stakeboarding teens with dreams of going pro, and was impressed. Caple also heard Coogler went out of his way to let Stallone, star Michael B. Jordan (who is also an executive producer on the movie), and the studio behind the movie (MGM), know that Caple was ready for the big time.
That part was a shock to Caple, since he had been hanging out with Coogler just days before the call and his friend didn’t mention he was in the running.
“Ryan was on the Disney lot editing ‘Black Panther’ and I came in and looked at stuff, and we talked about sports and other things, but no mention of ‘Creed,'” Caple said. “So after I got the call about ‘Creed II,’ I called Ryan and was like, ‘You didn’t tell me!’ And he said he knew they were looking at directors, but he was excited for me.”
But Caple was extremely nervous that because of his inexperience, he would be more susceptible to just going along with whatever Stallone, who also co-wrote the script for the sequel along with reprising his legendary role of Rocky Balboa, wanted to do.
But Caple said those nerves quickly vanished when he got on the phone for the first time with Stallone.
“I thought I was going to talk to Rocky or Sylvester Stallone, but on the phone with me was a director and a writer,” he said.
Stallone talked to Caple about the three-fight structure he came up with for the sequel that didn’t just give a little homage to “Rocky III,” but also touched on “Rocky IV,” since the main plot point of “Creed II” would be Adonis Creed going up against the son of Ivan Drago, the man responsible for his father’s death when they fought in “Rocky IV.”
Caple loved what Stallone had come up with and instead of bracing for the point in the conversation when the legend told the newbie not to change a thing and just shoot what’s on the page, Caple felt more like Stallone was pitching him to do the movie. That was especially true when Stallone told Caple what was needed to make the sequel as good as the first “Creed.”
“He said, ‘I can’t capture Adonis Creed’s voice,'” Caple recalled Stallone telling him. “He said, ‘With Rocky, I write all the dialogue, but you tell me where you want to go with the rest of the story and I’ll do it.'”
Caple realised the trust Stallone put in Coogler to bring his beloved “Rocky” franchise to today’s era of moviegoers in a believable way was now being passing to him – if he wanted it.
Caple signed on.
Caple said the script at first was just a straight revenge tale. Drago and his son, Viktor (Florian Munteanu), wanted payback for Ivan’s loss to Rocky in “Rocky IV,” and Adonis wanted to avenge his father’s death.
It was Caple’s talks with Jordan that elevated the story with the parts that Stallone couldn’t capture.
“When I listened to him I found parallels of Adonis and what he’s going through in his own life,” Caple said. “Becoming the champ of the film world. I felt that was something we could play with.”
Their talks led Jordan to open up about his own personal goals, and about running on the heels of the great black actors before him like Will Smith and Denzel Washington, while at the same time wanting to make his own mark. Caple felt that’s also what Adonis is facing with the legacy of his father hanging over him.
So that became a theme in the movie. As Caple put it, “rewriting last names.”
Now among the boxing matches and training montages that the “Rocky” fans crave, Caple felt he was bringing something fresh to the franchise that would give it some standalone qualities.
It also didn’t hurt that throughout filming he would get little words of encouragement between takes from Stallone.
“We would be on set and Sly would say to me, ‘You have something special,’ I mean, talk about a boost of confidence!” Caple said.
And now the critics are beginning to give Caple a greater feeling that he pulled off a successful sequel, as the movie is sporting a healthy 74% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
But so far it’s been the feedback of one person that has made Caple the happiest: Ryan Coogler.
“He had seen the movie while touring with ‘Black Panther’ and he called me and said, ‘You did it,'” Caple said while getting choked up.
Caple also made a point of doing some shots in “Creed II” that mirrored similar ones his friend did in the first, like the point-of-view, behind-the-back shots that follow the characters.
“I wanted him to know I admire him as a filmmaker,” Caple said. “But him saying, ‘This is yours,’ that meant a lot.”