Tessa Thompson Explains How 'Creed II' Shows 'Millennial Love' and the 'Many Hats' of a Woman Through Her Character, Bianca

Tessa Thompson on How 'Creed II' Shows Millennial Love
Tessa Thompson attends "Creed II" New York Premiere at AMC Loews Lincoln Square on November 14, 2018, in New York City. Thompson talked about her "Creed II" character in an interview with Newsweek. John Lamparski/Getty Images

Creed II is more than just a boxing movie. Yes, it's overall theme is about Michael B. Jordan's antagonist, Adonis "Donnie" Creed, maintaining his status as the heavyweight champion of the world, and yes, he'll have to fight a rather particularly strong and interesting enemy to keep the title. However, the focal point of film—directed this time by Steven Caple Jr.—centers heavily on the aspects of Adonis's life that essentially motivate him through his matches, like family, self-purpose and love in the millennial age.

Just as Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) had the love and support of Adrian Pennino (Talia Shire) in the Rocky franchise, Adonis has the devotion of Bianca, played by Tessa Thompson, yet their romance is much more dynamic—and depcited—than the latter.

Newsweek recently chatted with Thompson about the underlining love story in Creed II and the integral role her character plays in Donnie's development (and success).

Check out Newsweek's interview with Thompson below.

How was it getting back on set with Jordan and returning back to Bianca after three or four years?

Neither of us had ever done a sequel before, so that was new for us. I can't speak for Mike, but for me, getting back into it was pretty seamless. We went in wanting this to be good, and at first, I think we were both nervous because we didn't have Ryan [Coolger, director] with us and he was a part of so much in making the first one. Once we got Steven Caple Jr., we felt good because he was the perfect filmmaker for this, and we felt a real instant rapport with him. Mike and I, we got along from the second we met each other on the first Creed, and we stayed in contact. We've been in each other's lives and have known what's happening with one another. Even when we're not talking, from afar we're keeping tabs on each other. It feels like we've both done a fair amount of growing up since the first one, individually and together too, and we'd still check in to ask, "How are you, what's going on, how are you feeling," because so much has happened for us since the first film. So, in a way, it didn't really feel like any time had passed because we didn't really let it pass as time went on. It felt like we both came with a new level of maturity just in ourselves, and that sort of naturally played into the characters because also they've matured and they've grown. Mike calls it "adulting." They're adulting better than we are though. They're really adulting. He and I are like baby adulting. It felt really natural to be back working with him.

Bianca's hearing disability was revealed in the first movie, but Creed II really depicts how her hearing loss has advanced and how it's affecting the couple, their family and their future. Considering that, did you do anything differently in your approached the character this time around?

When Ryan Coolger first asked me if it was something that I would feel comfortable with the first time around, I was, but I was also nervous. I feel like there's something very powerful about telling folks stories, but I also feel like there's something very powerful about letting people tell their own stories and [hearing loss is] not my story. I felt a closeness to it because my little brother has dealt with hearing loss throughout his life, so I've seen it. I've been around. I know what that's like to be on the other side of it as a family member and a loved one, but I've not personally dealt with that. I felt a lot of sensitivity in terms of getting it right. In the first film she's totally hearing, she's just dealing with the eventuality [of losing her hearing]. Now as the film progresses, it's something that she's really dealing with physiologically, so for me, I had to try to understand as much as I could about what that's like. I hadn't realized until this film that hearing is so complicated. How we hear, why we hear, why we don't hear—it's so hard to understand the mechanics of it. So I spent time trying to wrap my head around that and looking at charts and graphs and trying to understand what frequencies I would hear with Bianca's condition. I probably drove [Caple] crazy trying to get the specificity. We were up late nights trying to figure out what makes sense and how do we sell this, how does this work? We had a lot of specialists from that community, who gave us their time and their energy, and I got to speak with a lot of different folks in that community. I did as much research as I could, and I hope and I pray I did ok, because the worst thing I know—and I've had this experience—is when you're a part of any community and you feel like you see a representation of it on screen that doesn't feel honest, it just makes you feel even smaller than seen. That's something that I'm so sensitive to. We did our best and I hope that it resonates with people.

You became a mom in this film. Is this your first role as a mom?

It is! Yes! It is the first time I've been a mom on set [laughs].

How was that experience?

It was a little weird because I'm riding that tender age when mom-hood and your body are supposedly telling you to have a baby and I've been in denial that that is true. I'm like, "No, I don't wanna have babies. I'll adopt!" Then, of course, I have like four infants any given day on set with me, because you have to have a bunch to switch out for scenes. So I had all these twins, which is like the most delicious thing, and I'm wearing this pregnant belly and everyone on set is saying, "Oh my God, you're so good with kids. You want one! I can tell!" Phylicia Rashad's telling me, "Girl you're gonna have a baby soon." And I'm like, "Oh no!" I don't know about all that [laughs], but I definitely will say it was a joy every day. And it was such a challenge to get those babies to be quiet when you need them to be quiet. It was so fun. It really was. It was a gift. I felt hesitant at first about [Bianca] being pregnant because I wanted to continue to explore her as this individual and I was worried, and I think that's an unfair bias. It's an unfair bias, this idea that you can't be a mom and be singular and do your thing. The truth is there are so many incredible mothers that just do that, and unfortunately, we're always asking as women, "How do you balance your career and being a mom" and men are never asked that. So it was exciting to get to play her as a young mother, as a mother that's still on her grind and doing her own thing, because that's the truth. That's the truth about so many mothers.

Since the very first Creed, Bianca has always been incredibly supportive of Adonis and his career even when she has to put her own dreams on the backburner, but yet she still finds ways to get what she needs done. Now she's got a baby to look after, all while juggling her musical career and helping Creed. What do you think her role says about the work of a woman?

She's excited because she resembles so many women, which is really just having to wear so many hats and be exceptional. I think Bianca's return is that she is operating from a place of incredible love and heart, so it comes naturally to her, but there are so many women that don't get the return. Even culturally, I think we don't respect moms and women enough. They get so much done and so many don't have a lot of resources. Bianca's lucky because she has a spouse that she loves and they're doing it together, but so many women are raising kids on their own and also trying to have a career and pursue their dreams. That means a lot to me, so it's cool to give a woman like that some love on screen.

What can people learn or take away from Bianca and Adonis's relationship?

We talked about this a lot on the first one and again for the second one: What does millennial love look like when our ideas of family and home life and gender roles are changing so wildly? I love that Bianca says to Adonis [when they find out she's pregnant], "I'm not gonna be barefoot and making sandwiches." I love the whole Rocky franchise, but in the second one Adrian is so incredible and then she like disappears. I think it's really exciting in this particular film that [Bianca] is still so strong and so present. One thing their love says to audiences is that love is truly incredible and exciting when there's equity, when its two people meeting heart and mind, challenging each other and making each other better folks. It sounds saccharine, but it's kinda true. I think that's the thing that's really cool and inspiring in the movie.

So you really got to intertwine both your artistic loves—singing and acting—in Creed II, and your songs are featured on the album's soundtrack.

Yeah! That was really fun. The first time around, I had a couple weeks to write music to perform and I was really happily terrified. I really like to do things that scare me in some way, and that was a big challenge for me. This time around, I really wanted her voice to evolve. So we had incredible folks like James Fauntleroy and an incredible songwriter Bibi Bourelly, who I wrote a song with. I wrote a song on my own again this time around, but it was really cool to collaborate with incredible writers and recording artists. I'm so lucky I get play in this space, but when they came in it was like, oh that's what professional looks like. They can write a song in an hour. You can talk about ideas with them and they catalyze an emotional experience into something that is melodic and beautiful that you could hear on the radio. It's such a gift, and I feel so lucky to have worked with them and for them to acknowledge and treat me like I deserved to be there. I'm really proud of the songs and I'm excited to hear them in the context of the whole soundtrack.

If there's something that separates Creed II from the first movie, what is it?

True to the legacy of the Rocky movies, there's a really intense, complicated villain, but this villain is also humanized in a different way. You get to understand his family life, and, obviously, his ties to the other Rocky films. It's steeped in some of that long-lived rivalry, which I think is so fun. Obviously some of the fun of the sport with these real rivals. You can't wait to get them into the ring, but it's not just about their physical agility or their boxing style, it's also about their narrative and what they have against each other. That's so exciting for boxing fans in real life, and I think it's something that this film does really well. Whereas the first film that felt like a real character piece and you were getting the origin story of Creed, and there were some incredibly exciting fighting scenes. But this film has a proper villain, and a villain that I think is sophisticated. You don't all the way hate him, and I think that stands to make the fight scenes even more exciting.