The junket for Creed II is taking place in what may be the most Philadelphian room since they tore down the jail under Veterans Stadium. In a swank hotel lounge overlooking Rittenhouse Square, the movie’s PR team has helpfully set up hors-d’oeuvre versions of the city’s delicacies, including a make-your-own-cheesesteak bar and a crab fries station, while the film’s trailer plays on loop. It also happens to be the same day on which the Philadelphia 76ers will debut their new Creed-inspired uniforms in a game where Michael B. Jordan will show up to support co-star Tessa Thompson ringing the ceremonial pre-game bell. In other words, it’s the right occasion to take one of Hollywood’s biggest young stars, and ask him a bunch of silly questions about the City of Brotherly Love, as well as the flood of female attention he receives, and why he had to do all those push-ups for Lupita Nyong’o.
A lot of things have happened in the world since the first Creed movie came out. The most important, obviously, is that the Eagles won the Super Bowl.
We came back here right before we shot the second one, right after the parade and it was crazy here. It was just mayhem. You could still feel the energy in the city — everybody from the transit bus drivers to the bartenders, to the meter maids all the way up to politicians and bigwigs.
You’re a producer on this movie. Was there anything that you wanted to include but didn’t?
I wanted him to have a best friend. I wanted to kind of create a kind of Paulie, in a sense. That didn’t end up in this one.
You’ve worked with Ryan Coogler three times. With Steven Caple Jr., it’s a little newer. What was the difference in their directing styles?
Ryan is very internal, very quiet. There’s a lot going on. There’s a lot being said without being said with me and Ryan. I think Steven was a little more vocal. It’s not a good or bad thing, just different.
In the movie, Adonis has to decide if he’s going to fight Viktor Drago, and there’s a whole question about whether he’s doing it for someone else’s reasons, or his own. Have you ever been in a position like that with a project?
For me, I’m always a giver. I’m a pleaser, you know, a fixer. I do a lot of things for other people. That’s something that just comes with me. It’s okay, it’s who I am. Obviously everyone has their own limits, but I think I’ve found a nice little balance between not spreading myself too thin and, at the same time, helping people.
Do you have an example?
Part of the mix of the Creed movies is that Adonis is this aspirational, role-model figure, but he also has to be a real, relatable guy. Are those two goals ever in conflict?
I think there’s always … we take it a scene at a time. Like in the initial moment he found out they were pregnant, I think the real is, Oh snap, I’m not ready for this. Like, “You sure you pregnant?” But then you don’t want that taken out of context, like he’s not happy or he doesn’t want it. We still wanted him to be a proud dad. You can tell by how he runs towards the responsibility. He’s really, really excited about having a kid.
Has playing a dad made you think more about that in your own future?
My own future? I love kids, man. I can’t wait to be in the right position to start a family of my own. I’m looking forward to the day that I start my own little tribe.
You’re in the Oscar conversation for Black Panther.
I think you’re on some of the lists. You’re someone who seems very intentional about the choices you make. I was wondering how important that would be for your plans?
Honestly, it’s an honor and it’s definitely humbling. It’s not in my plan. It’s not part of the … it would be cool to win, but at the same time it doesn’t motivate me to just strive for that. I just want to tell honest stories and good movies. Be successful at that. If I get put in that conversation with other talented actors and films, I’ll take that as a plus too.
For both the Creed movies and Black Panther, you have to get very big. Does that kind of thing affect the way you feel about your own body?
Right now, I feel so small, man. I’ve lost so much weight to play [real-life lawyer] Bryan Stevenson in Just Mercy. I don’t want to look the same all the time and I can’t grow a beard, so I’ve got to find different ways to switch it up. Coming off of a project like Creed II, where Adonis is un-human like, it’s so hard to walk around like that. I’m kind of like, What is my real body? I gotta buy different clothes. I go through a period of time where I’m pretty huge, and then suits don’t fit me the right way. But I prefer being in shape. I’m about to start getting back into shape.
On the Black Panther press tour Lupita got to make you do push-ups whenever she wanted. Is that still in effect?
First of all, that was my thing. I created that. Me and Joe, my barber, we started doing this thing, on-site pushups. Just a way to keep sets fun. So you can bet on anything — “What color is your cardigan?” “It’s green.” “I disagree, it’s blue” — you bet five pushups, but they’re on retainer. If I lost, you could call me up whenever you wanted within a week, ‘cause they expire in a week. You can ask for however many you want: You can go all five or you can go one at a time. But the goal is to get somebody in the most embarrassing situation. So if you’re at a floor seat of a Laker game, or if it’s four o’clock in the morning and you’re in bed, then you’ve got to get out of bed and do your pushup. It’s a fun game, and I lost a bet to her.
What was the bet?
I can’t remember. Oh, actually, I do remember but I can’t talk about it. It was a bet along the lines of DMs. She made a bet about how many DMs I got of a certain type. I feel like I won, but for the sake of the game I was a good sport. To this day she still feels like I owe her one pushup. Hopefully on this next press tour I’ll be able to get her in my pocket and you’ll see her doing pushups.
Where’s the most embarrassing place you had to do them?
We’re at the Calvin Klein fashion show, Raf Simmons’s creative vision of the set was a foot of popcorn, like everywhere. We’re sitting down at the thing and she’s like, “Mike, give me one.” I’m like, “Oh snap, that’s good.” She learned. So I had to do pushups in the middle of a fashion show in a foot of popcorn.
When I told people I was interviewing you, basically every woman I talked to, including my sister, asked me if I would give you their numbers. I’m not going to do that, but I was wondering how cognizant of that type of thing are you?
I’ve become more aware of it as time goes on.
How does that make you feel?
It’s a humbling feeling, you know. I’m a pretty quiet guy, so you know, the attention is welcome. It’s all good. I appreciate it. I’ll take that position.
Do you have to worry about feeling yourself too much?
No, no. I’ve got people around me, from my family to my best friends and stuff and they all hate. They don’t care what all I’m doing. They take pride in trying to deflate me as much as possible. We heckle each other, we call bullshit, so it’s good.
There’s one more thing I wanted to do before we’re done. Because I feel like these are becoming very iconic Philadelphia movies, I wanted to get your opinion on other iconic Philadelphia figures. And if there’s one you don’t have an opinion on, we can skip. So first: Sly Stallone.
Legend. Icon. He started the Rocky franchise, he set the blueprint to boxing movies, and passed the torch to my franchise. He’s always dropping gems of wisdom.
What kind of gems?
Just anything business, in front of the camera or behind the camera. The art of selling a punch. How movie fights are supposed to go, all that good stuff. He’s always willing to tell or share.
The future of Philly. Last of a dying breed, as far as true big men, but can still come out and shoot the three, stretch the defense out. I think personality on the million. He’s so funny and entertaining. Confident to a fault sometimes, but great guy and cool dude.
Confident as well. Super talented. He’s got to work on the shot.
He’s got to take the shot.
Yeah, I know, but he’s a pass person. I love that about him. Once the defense has to respect the shot, I think that is going to make him that much greater. Future of the league, for sure.
Gritty, the Flyers mascot.
I didn’t know she was from Philly. Tina Fey is dope. I like her a lot, her personality and her sense of humor. She always makes me laugh. I just think she’s a good human.
I love Bradley Cooper. I got a chance to meet him and become cool with him over the years. Funny, multi-talented, stepping behind the camera. I can’t wait to see A Star is Born, I haven’t had a chance yet. I hear it’s phenomenal.
Oh man. Mentor, somebody I look up to. Somebody I feel like has paved the way for me. Opened the doors for me. Opportunities for me. You know, Fresh Prince. I think Will is the man.
Quest is the other man. Really, really nice guy. Extremely talented. Trailblazer. I feel like he’s a really smart guy. Socially aware. Socially conscious. Such a key cornerstone to his community. I feel like he’s level.
I thought she was from Baltimore.
I think she’s from Philly. We can table that.
[After we’ve confirmed that Eve is indeed from Philly.] Eve’s dope. You know, the paw prints, the short hair. As a kid growing up, she was one of the few woman I saw rock a really low haircut. I was like, Wow that’s really hot. And she was a rapper. She could spin. And I love motorcycles, so the Ruff Ryders and all that stuff is something that I was always into. So yeah, she was dope.
She’s from Philly too? No kidding.
She’s from the suburbs. Bucks County.
Incredible voice. Oh man, hearing her sing is angelic, but so soulful. She has a really, really strong voice.
Diplo is a buddy of mine. Extremely talented, crazy, good guy. Has a lot of fun. Doesn’t take himself too seriously. Self-made.
Love them. Gennaro’s, not Pat’s or Geno’s. You know; you’re from here.
Roast pork sandwich.
I don’t eat pork.
Great seasoning. Love it. A little Old Bay? [Smiles]