- 19 Dec 18
Actress Tessa Thompson discusses her stellar performance in Creed 2, the rip-roaring new installment in the Rocky franchise.
Some fights are about more than titles, more than championship belts, more than the glory and the pride of the win. Some fights are personal – and in Creed II, that personal quest for redemption and vengeance takes our characters on journeys both literal and metaphorical. Michael B. Jordan, Tessa Thompson, and Sylvester Stallone, reunite for the movie, this time directed by Steve Caple Jr. Jordan plays Adonis Creed, a boxer seeking to avenge the death of this father, Apollo Creed, by defeating Viktor Drago – the son of the villainous Ivan Drago.
Ryan Coogler’s original Creed was an intelligent, layered and beautifully acted film, which revived the Rocky franchise while introducing audiences to new and compelling characters. One of the many brilliant performances came from Tessa Thompson, who played Adonis’ girlfriend, Bianca. Thompson, an actress and singer/songwriter, is best known for her sterling work in HBO’s Westworld, as well as Selma, Dear White People, and upcoming satirical comedy Sorry To Bother You. The 35-year-old is also known for being a passionate activist, opening the Women’s March alongside Jane Fonda at Sundance; actively working with the Time’s Up movement; and speaking out about racism and equality for the LGBTQ community – issues that she has experienced firsthand.
The bisexual actress has long been romantically linked to pansexual singer Janelle Monáe, though the two women prefer to remain private and leave these rumours unconfirmed. Nonetheless, both women actively use their platform to highlight issues of inequality and celebrate queer communities who often go unrepresented. Thompson has proven adept at selecting smart, thoughtful projects and imbuing her characters with a fierce intelligence and crackling energy. In the original movie, she was drawn to the complex relationship between Adonis and Bianca, and in the sequel, she’s happy to see their relationship evolve and mature.
“In Creed, Bianca and Adonis each had their own hopes, dreams, aspirations and things to deal with,” Thompson explains. “They tried to help each other along their journeys, but understood the limitations of relationships and the necessity of allowing individuals to make their own way. I think that’s one of the most exciting things about their love for one another, and makes it a love that I would really root for, even if I weren’t playing the character. Of course, their relationship has evolved over the years. Without giving too much away, I’d say that they’re spending their lives together in a real and intense way, while also continuing to navigate their lives as individuals. That was very exciting to me.”
The authenticity of Bianca and Adonis’ relationship onscreen is fuelled by the deep friendship Thompson and Jordan share in real life – and how they are helping each other tackle the transformative nature of their growing fame and careers.
“Mike and I became very close on Creed ,” reflects Thompson. “We’ve continued to stay close between the two films. We check in with each other about our heads and our hearts and our careers. So, on Creed II, we picked up where we left off on the first film. But a lot has happened for us. I think Mike and I have both grown up in a way – not that we weren’t grown up when we made Creed, but we’re starting to ask ourselves the bigger questions: what do we want our legacy to be? How do we really want to live our lives? What do we want our contributions to be? We were able to bring some of that thinking to our characters.”
It’s fitting that Thompson and Jordan are considering these questions in their personal lives, as Creed II tackles similarly meaningful themes, such as honouring your family’s legacy, owning your destiny, and summoning your inner strength to be a champion – some of which have been mainstays of the Rocky franchise. Thompson says it is that complexity and emotional intelligence that initially made her a fan of the films.
“When I got the role of Bianca, I went deep and watched all the Rocky films,” she says. “During the press tour for Creed, and in the years since, I’ve had such lovely conversations with so many fans of the Rocky movies. I’ve met young people who watched Creed and then watched all the original Rockys, and now have a relationship with those films. I think what our film does so brilliantly is humanise the Dragos, which you don’t often see with antagonists. That adds an interesting dimension, because you understand what the boxing matches are going to cost them and what they mean to them. It creates a complex, exciting and emotional dynamic inside of these matches.”
Thompson’s passion for this film goes beyond her role as an actress and a fan of the Rocky legacy. In the films, Bianca is a singer, and Thompson used her experience as a singer and songwriter to make Bianca’s career struggles feel authentic. She worked on two original songs for the film – with the help of some incredible musicians.
“Music is such a personal thing,” says Thompson. “You make music, perhaps with your friends, in your apartment, and then you want to get it out to the world. But first you have to navigate outside influences, like record labels, or putting your work on the internet, or creating an image – and still make it authentic for you. That’s something I wanted to bring to Creed II. My father’s a musician, so I really wanted to get Bianca’s music right in the first Creed. We had artists like Donald Glover, Moses Sumney and Sam Dew perform or contribute to the songs in some way – but I did a lot of the writing.
“For this film, it was essential for me that Bianca was continuing to make music and that her sound had really evolved, and could reach a wider audience with a bigger platform. So, we had fantastic people like James Fauntleroy come in and write the songs. It was incredible to see the way they work in writing a song from the ground up. I really trusted those writers to lead me, and I performed some of their work, which was exciting and certainly something that any aspiring musician would love to do. I’m excited about the music that we made.”
Though Creed II is based around a high-profile fight, Thompson believes audiences will be moved by the sense of unity and connection evident in the story.
“Creed showed us that family is more than blood; it’s the relationships you make. That’s a potent idea, particularly at a time when things are so tough. We need to remember how important it is to be good to the people around us – that there are good people who come into your life and even change it. It’s a chance to get together in a theatre, and tie yourself to the idea of what it means to have family – and how lucky we are when we find it.”
Creed II is in cinemas now.