By Gill Pringle

“I do not want to be barefoot and pregnant in this movie making you a sandwich,” Tessa Thompson told her fellow actor, Michael B. Jordan, when he first pitched her on jumping aboard for Creed II. 2015’s Creed was a true surprise packet: a superb continuation of the Rocky franchise in which Jordan went twelve smashingly impressive rounds as Adonis Creed, the heretofore unknown illegitimate son of Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), the nemesis and eventually friend of Sylvester Stallone’s underdog boxing hero, Rocky Balboa. The film was a smash hit and critical darling, and boasted many highlights, one of which was the film’s central romance.

When not in the ring delivering and taking the punches, Michael B. Jordan’s Adonis was outside it sweetly courting Tessa Thompson’s wonderfully headstrong and well-written Bianca, a musician living life on her own terms. The chemistry between the actors was voluble, and Thompson was concerned that her character would be relegated to mere domesticity in the sequel, which finds Adonis squaring off against the monstrous Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu), the son of Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), the Russian powerhouse who so unforgettably killed his father, Apollo, in the ring in the opening scenes of Rocky IV.

Tessa Thompson and Michael B. Jordan in Creed II.

In Creed II, Adonis and Bianca are new parents, which set a few alarm bells ringing for Thompson. “I had some reticence,” Thompson admits of Creed II. “Because what we established in the first film was a character who happens to be a woman, who has agency in her own life, and I didn’t want her role in this second installment to be squarely in the place of domesticity. Some of the initial ideas, it was like,” the actress sighs. “One person pitched me an idea in which she was not even making music. I don’t sing two minutes, and then I’m done.”

The actress does reveal, however, that there was initially a lot more to her character, and that a large part of Bianca’s journey ended up on the cutting room floor. “It’s tricky because these are part boxing movies, and that takes up real estate,” the actress says. “Those boxing scenes are sizeable, and they’re brilliantly done. [Director] Steven Caple Jr. really wanted to humanise the villain in the movie, which complicates the boxing matches. But that takes up real estate, so there was stuff that was cut. There was a whole thread that had to do with my career. I feel sorry for admitting this, but it happens. You have to kill your darlings. It bummed me out obviously, because Bianca’s music is so central to who she is. But given this space that we have, truly, I feel so excited that I’ve been able to be a part of creating a character that feels complex and interesting enough to inhabit her own narrative. And in the context of a boxing movie? That hasn’t been done before. [Rocky’s wife] Adrian [Talia Shire, in the original Rocky movies] was scratching the surface. But we’ve chipped away at that and bucked convention in huge ways with Bianca. I’m hugely proud of that. Is there more that I wish we could do? Yeah, of course. But there’s a lot of music in this. You see her perform. You know that she’s continuing to do that and also navigating other spaces.”

Tessa Thompson and Michael B. Jordan in Creed II.

Thompson did, however, find a sense of purpose in Bianca’s newfound motherhood. “I’m not the result of a planned pregnancy,” the actress reveals. “So many people aren’t. Those are surprises. It was important for us to portray that in a way that felt honest. With the joy of becoming new parents, there are also all those things that you talk about – Are we ready? Can we do this? And when we talk about having a real depiction of millennial love, our ideas about family and union have changed so wildly, particularly since the first film. It’s difficult. I’ve joked with Sly about this. I was like, ‘Did you put Adrian in a coma because you didn’t know what to do with her in the second movie?’”

Despite pushing for her character to have depth and real purpose within the film, Thompson remains pragmatic about how much can be done within this existing framework. “The truth is, the movie is called Creed,” she smiles. “And Bianca is a character that functions to deepen him and to make real stakes for him. And I’m happy to function that way in the narrative. It’s a really exciting thing to do that, so long as we get to also portray a person that doesn’t feel like a cypher and feels like a real woman.”

Tessa Thompson and director Steven Caple Jr on the set of Creed II.

Pushing that as far as it will go is Tessa Thompson’s ultimate goal. “Ultimately, you want all these things that you are, that you stand for, not to be as noteworthy,” she says. “I want representation to just be more normalised, so that it’s not something that we even have to talk about. Particularly as a woman, and as a woman of colour. This is going to sound odd, but when I think of real, true equality and equity, it will be when we get to be mediocre…when we get the right to not have to be exceptional. You’re one of many. I don’t want to be the exception to the rule. I just want to change the rules so that we can do more and be more.”

Creed II and Sorry To Bother You are in cinemas now.


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