In the space of about 18 months, Steven Caple Jr. went from an indie director with barely two episodes of Grown-ish under his belt to the director of Creed II, the sequel to a major franchise—starring Michael B. Jordan, Tessa Thompson, and Rocky Balboa himself, Sylvester Stallone. From now until 2019, Caple will be promoting the movie all over the world: South Africa, Italy, Spain, England, Brazil. One might think that his franchise-friendly co-stars, who could do all-consuming press tours in their sleep (and probably have), would have offered him a few pointers on how to navigate being shoved into the spotlight.
“They gave me no tips!” Caple said, laughing, in a recent interview before conceding that Thompson did tell him to “dress fly.”
Caples journey to Creed II began with his days as a film student at the University of Southern California, where he struck up a friendship with a departing senior named Ryan Coogler. The pair stayed on good terms as Coogler went on to direct Fruitvale Station, Creed, and Black Panther. Production on the latter kept Coogler too tied up for the Creed sequel—so Coogler suggested to MGM that Caple take his place.
When Coogler himself tackled Creed, he had only one indie feature under his belt: the achingly wrought Fruitvale. Caple, too, had just one full-length indie on his résumé before Creed II: a skating drama called The Land, set in his hometown of Cleveland, Ohio. He had no idea he was even up for the job until his agent got a call from Jonathan Glickman and Adam Rosenberg, MGMs president and co-president of production, respectively. “I called him [Coogler] up immediately afterward like, Dude, you didnt even tell me!” he said.
As Caple remembers it, the call came in the morning; by the afternoon, Glickman and Rosenberg were on the set of Grown-ish, where he was directing one of his two episodes. No one on the set knew about the potential Creed II offer except series creator Kenya Barris, who had also gotten a call from MGM asking him about Caples potential and working style. Barriss approval “helped push the initiation,” Caple said, and also helped set up the meeting—guiding Caples path to franchiseland.
“Caple is a fucking star,” Barris tells Vanity Fair via email. “Period. Like a legitimate once in a lifetime kind of talent that you realize within minutes of working with him. Hes different. Hes one of those guys with a lot of opinions but somehow theyre all usually right.”
Still, Caple didnt say yes to the film right away—even though Coogler was staying on as an executive producer. He needed to know if this project would allow him to make his own mark, or whether he would simply be a cog in a pre-determined machine. And he needed to meet with Stallone. So he was ushered to the action stars mansion for coffee. Caple was floored by the giant Rocky statue—just like the one in Philadelphia—that Stallone had in his living room. At first, Caple said their conversation was formal; he and Stallone sat on two separate couches, talking shop. A few hours later, said Caple, theyd warmed to one another: they were perched on the same couch, Stallone sitting cross-legged, and chatting animatedly about story ideas.
“It turned into two fans of the same series figuring out how to make this thing fresh,” Caple recalled. “At a certain point, he turned on YouTube videos on his projector and started playing all these fight clips. I was amped up. We started talking about fight sequences. He started imitating moves, walking around the room getting all excited, talking about choreography. He was so passionate . . . I was like, wow, man, he has this big, huge house and this projector because of this one movie. At the same time, here we are 40-plus years later, and people still love this one movie and this character.”
Once Caple signed on, Stallone whisked him to one of his home offices—“his house is huge,” said Caple, still impressed—and showed him videos of Florian Munteanu, a real-life boxer he thought would be perfect for the film. “Thats when I first got introduced to Viktor Drago,” Caple said.
In this iteration of the Rocky spin-off, Adonis Creed (Jordan) is a thriving world champion. His partner, Bianca (Thompson), is working on her music, though her encroaching hearing loss seems to be getting worse. Theyre still happily together—until Rocky IV antagonist Ivan Drago and his brick wall of a son, Viktor (Munteanu), challenge Creed to a fight that could destroy his life.
Thematically, the movie is rife with father-son drama. Rocky is dealing with his guilt as an absentee father to Robert (Milo Ventimiglia). Adonis is struggling to face the ghost of Apollo Creed. Viktor is bottling up the anger and lovelessness of Ivan, who is seeking redemption and glory through his sons success. When Coogler made the first Creed, he spoke regularly about how the film was inspired by his fathers love of the Rocky franchise, and his battle with a neuro-muscular condition that whittled away at his strength. Caple saw his own father-son parallels in Creed II. The Ivan-Viktor relationship resonated: his father was a basketball player who wanted his son to follow in his footsteps. Caple did until he didnt. It triggered a deep rift.
“Me and my father stopped talking for a while,” he said. “He didnt show up to my wedding. We had this huge gap.”
That aspect echoed the Rocky-Robert story, which gets some screen time in Creed II. “I didnt understand what my dad was going through,” Caple said. “My dad, he was absent most of my life. I would blame him, I would get angry.” He didnt realize until later—much later, when his film made its New York premiere—that his dad felt too ashamed to heal their rift after all he had missed in his sons life, just like Rocky.
But all these years later, theyre working through their issues. When Caple brought the film to Cleveland, he invited his father. “He doesnt come out so much, [but] he saw the film and it was just emotional afterward. He hung out with me for the rest of the press tour,” he said.
“Were trying to still get this relationship right. I think Ive come to more of an understanding after this project,” the director continued. “Now hes calling me every day. It just feels good to see where this goes. I feel like Im at peace.”
This article has been updated to include remarks from Kenya Barris.
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Get Vanity Fairs HWD NewsletterSign up for essential industry and award news from Hollywood.Full ScreenPhotos:10 Enchanting Movies and TV Shows About Witches
I Married a Witch
This overlooked 1942 gem stars Veronica Lake, she of the perfect side part, as a colonial Salem-era witch who gets burned at the stake, then reawakened hundreds of years later, determined to get revenge on a descendant of the family who tried to kill her. I Married a Witch is more rom-com than horror, a love story with a healthy serving of cauldrons and broomsticks. Its easy to fall under its spell. (On Filmstruck.)Photo: From Everett Collection.
Double, Double, Toil and Trouble
If youre of a certain age and looking for a deep-cut nostalgia trip, Hulu has you covered with a Mary Kate and Ashley joint—one thats well worth revisiting if youre both a 90s kid and a fan of Cloris Leachman, who played the evil witch grandmother at the films center. As with most old media, some parts of the film have aged better than others—but the Olsen magic remains eternal. (On Hulu.)Photo: From Everett Collection.
The Blair Witch Project (1999)
Ah, yes, the classic cautionary tale about what happens when three college students venture into the woods to investigate local legends. Although this might not count as a witch movie in the typical sense, it would feel wrong to leave Blair Witch out of our selections—especially given its terrifying ending, which makes all the run-up worth it. (On Hulu.)Photo: From ©Artisan Entertainment/Everett Collection.
One of the many network enchantments cast by Aaron Spelling is Charmed, a San Francisco-set drama about three sisters—originally played by Shannon Doherty, Alyssa Milano, and Holly Marie Combs—whose combined abilities make them the most powerful witches of all time. Before all you kids out there tuck into the CWs woke reboot, take a trip back to 1998 to see where it all began. (On Netflix.)Photo: From ©Viacom/Everett Collection.
Sabrina: The Teenage Witch
Netflix might have its own Sabrina adaptation on the way, but for now, Melissa Joan Hart still reigns supreme. Besides, even with the new Sabrina coming, this one will always have a place in our hearts; did you hear that the cat wont even talk in the new version? (On Hulu.)Photo: ©Viacom/Courtesy Everett Collection
In this crunchy New England fall leaf of a film, Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock play a pair of witchy sisters battling against a family curse that dooms any man they fall in love with to an early death. There are perfect autumnal Massachusetts vibes, plus Stockard Channing and Dianne Wiest as a pair of aunties who love to cackle over midnight margaritas. (On HBOGo.)Photo: From Everett Collection.
If youve found yourself with enough money to pony up for a couple other rentals, here are some of our favorites that, alas, cannot be streamed for free: Kikis Delivery Service, The Craft, Eves Bayou, The Wizard of Oz, Hocus Pocus, and Bell Book and Candle.Photo: Clockwise from right; From Everett Collection, from Everett Collection, from ©Buena Vista/Everett Collection.PreviousNext
Yohana DestaYohana Desta is a Hollywood writer for VanityFair.com.