“Creed” is produced by Irwin Winkler and Robert Chartoff, who produced the original 1976 Best Picture-winning “Rocky,” Stallone and Kevin King Templeton. Now it looks like Stallone has a shot at a supporting actor Oscar nomination, which would mark his first since “Rocky” earned 10 Oscar nominations in 1977, including Stallone, for Best Original Screenplay and Actor.
Coogler is the real deal. He started out studying to be a doctor at the Bay Area’s St. Mary’s College on a football scholarship. He took one creative writing class, where his teacher told him he should write screenplays because his writing was so visual. He transferred to Sacramento State on another football scholarship, where he majored in finance, then attended USC grad school in film.
There’s a reason why Harvey Weinstein scooped up the budding Bay Area filmmaker’s “Fruitvale Station” at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, after it had been developed at the Labs. He saw Oscar potential in this heart-tugger about the last day in the life of Oscar Grant, (Jordan) who at 22 years old was shot and killed by an Oakland police officer at the titular BART station on New Year’s Day, 2009. Coogler cared deeply about this story and made it real. And now he’s done it again with an intensely personal father-son story that helps to heal this country’s racial divide.
Coogler has long been a fan of the “Rocky” franchise, watching the films when he was growing up with his father and later, when he was fighting cancer (which he eventually beat). “I knew the film really well, Rocky was my Dad’s hero,” Coogler said. “I came up with this idea of a young guy who interacts with my Dad’s hero, when he’s aging and dealing with his own mortality in a way we’ve never seen before.” His USC buddy Aaron Covington wrote it with him on spec while Coogler was prepping “Fruitvale.” He landed a WME agent, who loved the “Creed” concept and had him pitch it to Stallone’s agent Adam Venit, who encouraged him to pitch Stallone. “He just kind of a listened,” Coogler recalls. “Sly’s a listener. He’s not asking a whole lot of stuff. He was charismatic, and different from the characters I’ve seen him play. We’ve got a lot in common.”
Filming began in January 2015 in England and wrapped in Philadelphia, where the crew converted an empty store into a boxing gym. “It was hard to go back,” Stallone told me at a holiday party. “This time I had no physicality. I was so happy that the last one had ended on a good note, full circle, I put it to bed; I have nothing more to say about Rocky the fighter. Then along comes this kid and pulls me back in. Ryan Coogler is such a really good director.”
“[Being sick] was complicated for Sly to wrap his mind around,” says Coogler. “At this point, Sly’s at an interesting moment in his life where he was very emotionally raw in many ways. He’s such a talented actor. I never met someone who worked as hard as Mike except Sly, he could match his work ethic. This 68-year-old dude shows up and he’s got 10 pages of character work he came up with, and 100 questions…What made him excited was seeing the story from a millennial perspective. Aaron and I were born after ‘Rocky 4’ was made. He would give notes, he knows the boxing world intimately.”