Carl Weathers Looks Back on Creed: Sparring With Ali, Slighting Stallone and Passing the Torch

United Artists/Photofest
Sylvester Stallone and Carl Weathers in 1976's 'Rocky'

The 67-year-old reminisces at length about one of his most memorable characters — and recalls auditioning with the 'Rocky' star and saying "I could do a lot better if you got me a real actor to work with."

Carl Weathers criticized Sylvester Stallone's acting during his audition for Rocky — an insult which he says helped land him the role of Apollo Creed. Now, nearly 40 years later, Weathers says the torch of the beloved franchise has been passed, and he couldn't be more proud. 

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, days after the release of Creed, Weathers shares his thoughts on the new film, his favorite moments of the series and how through the years Muhammad Ali tried to fight him every time they saw each other.

"With this movie, I am close to it without being close to it at all," Weathers tells THR.

While watching Creed, the seventh film in the Rocky franchise, Weathers says he was moved by the endearing, but not over-the-top connections to the original 1976 film.

"I don't think I would call it a sequel," says Weathers. "In my mind, it is its own entity. I think it stands on its own."

Citing the film — which tells the story of the late Apollo Creed's son climbing the ranks of professional boxing with the help of trainer Rocky Balboa — Weathers says he was impressed with star Michael B. Jordan as well as Stallone. "I think it's the best work Sly has done to my memory," he says.

The 67-year-old, who played linebacker for the Oakland Raiders before becoming an actor, said the new film is the perfect balance of a fresh story with a peppering of nostalgia.

"I wanted to see what they did with it, and I was pleasantly surprised," says Weathers. Recalling his audition for the first film, the actor says his start in the iconic franchise was not auspicious. 

"There was nobody to read with, and they said you're going to read with the writer [Stallone]," Weather says, beginning to chuckle.

"And we read through the scene and at the end of it, I didn't feel like it had really sailed, that the scene had sailed, and they were quiet and there was this moment of awkwardness, I felt, anyway. So I just blurted out, 'I could do a lot better if you got me a real actor to work with,'" he says, laughing. "So I just insulted the star of the movie without really knowing it and not intending to."

Apparently Stallone felt the verbal jab was something Apollo would say. "Sometimes the mistakes are the ones that get you the gig," Weathers adds.

Rocky would go on to be a huge financial and critical success, spawning six sequels to date, and while the public may have become more cynical with each release, Weathers says he never felt anything but pride in his work.

"The scripts I read were compelling," he says. "Those movies, for me, were not only interesting, but always worth making, worth being a part of and worth seeing."

The original pic and the fourth film, in which Apollo fights and is ultimately killed by Ivan Drago (played by Dolph Lundgren), are Weathers' favorites, he says.

"With [Rocky], it was breaking new ground and we delivered something that was so magical in so many ways,"  says the actor. "In [Rocky IV], there was this extravaganza that was built all around this [Drago] fight."

Those films also contain subtle but insightful glimpses into an otherwise always talking, always boastful Apollo, says Weathers.

The first glance is during the fight in the climax of the first film. "Rocky has been knocked down and he gets back up, and Apollo Creed gives that look like, 'What the hell? What's the matter with this guy?'" Weathers reminisces. "The challenge for me was, how do I show something in the movement that you can script, but says more about the power of this fight and these two men, than you could ever say with words?"

The other moment comes in Rocky IV, during the opening fight with Drago, when Apollo is decimated in the ring by the gigantic Russian.

"It's when Apollo Creed twitches on the ground after the fight," says Weathers. "If you're going to lose Apollo Creed, it better be a loss that you really feel. Doctors [on set in case of accidental real injury] and people filming thought that I had been actually hit on that one. It worked so perfect to book-end the life of Apollo Creed — a man who in the very beginning comes into do this as a lark ... and in the end, a guy who has already left, but there is still that fighter in him and that muscle memory in him where he is still trying to move, and it's gone."

Weathers says he made such a convincing boxer — a sport he never participated in before training for Rocky — that the most famous contender to ever step foot in the ring always wanted to fight him when they saw each other in public.

"One time in Beverly Hills, I was siting outside a restaurant and Ali was coming down the street and had a group of people around him .. and they look over where I'm sitting and Ali goes 'Apollo Creed!'" Weathers relates, mimicking the former champ's booming voice. "Then all of a sudden, there is Muhammad and I standing on the sidewalk throwing punches. It was so bizarre. It was all just in good fun, of course," he says, laughing.

"Last time I saw him was in New York in a hotel lobby, and it has to be 11:30 at night, and he makes me get up to make sure I know he can still whip me," Weather says, with hysterical laughter. "And there we were on our toes, bouncing, and it was just so bizarre but such fun. He is a great man."

Weathers, an action star in his own right, had the unique opportunity to work with both Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger in the prime of their careers. 

Appearing with Schwarzenegger in 1987's Predator, Weathers said there was always competition among the men in the cast — all gym rats — on set, including Jesse Ventura, Sonny Landham and Bill Duke.

The famous handshake between Schwarzenegger and Weathers is a moment remembered well. "It was scripted that he was going to win, but of course I am not going to concede that without making him work for it," says Weathers. "That is a part of who I am and a part of who he is."

Although the actor does not make an appearance in Creed (he is shown in pictures in the film), Weathers, when asked by THR, said he felt confident he knew the advice Apollo would give his son.

"If Apollo Creed was there to counsel his son, it would probably be, in my mind: 'Don't do this. You don't have to do this. The reason I sweat and bled the way I did was so that you didn't have to,'" says Weathers. "And then if his son insists and is going to do it come hell or high water, then who better to show his son the ropes than the greatest."

As for Jordan, the actor who plays Apollo's son, Weathers has feelings on that, too.

"I think he is doing so well as a younger actor," he says. "He seems to be making really good choices at this point, so if anything, I would say, 'Keep doing what you're doing, young man. You're doing a great job.'"

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