When “Creed” star Michael B. Jordan signed on to make his feature directorial debut with the third film in the successful franchise, the actor-turned-director already had one major supporter in his corner: long-time co-star Tessa Thompson. As the film arrives in theaters this week, Thompson has nothing but praise for Jordan, and her admiration for his directing style just might hint at what she hopes to bring behind the camera, as she readies to add “director” to her resume as well.
“He did it well!,” Thompson said in a recent interview with IndieWire when asked what it was like to see Jordan directing.
And Thompson, who has starred in films of every stripe — from massive Marvel Cinematic Universe features to smaller indies like “Passing” and “Little Woods” — knows the difference between a good director and a bad one, a happy set and a stressed one. “I know that this is a business where, of course people are overworked and sometimes it can be stressful and sometimes people can butt heads, but I don’t have a huge tolerance for work environments that feel unhealthy or unkind. I just kind of think there’s no excuse for it in a way,” she said.
Jordan, she said, delivered on crafting a wonderful film and ensuring that the entire team around him had a great experience while doing it. “In some ways and in my estimation, someone that’s really brilliant at directing, it doesn’t just have to do with the product that everyone sees, it has to do with the experience that they create for however many months that you’re making the thing,” Thompson said. “How well they take care of a crew and honor everyone’s contribution, because people work really, really hard. There are a lot of people that no one ever sees on screen. So I felt so proud of him for being able to create an environment that was pleasant to work inside of.”
That doesn’t mean the shoot was always easy, but Thompson was extremely inspired by Jordan’s ability to direct, act, and make everyone around him feel appreciated. “Even though he was taxed and stressed, and I know it because I know him so well and I could tell the days where things were tough for him, never would he take it out on anybody around him,” she said. “He would take a breath and figure it out and go back in there and treat everyone with respect and ask people how their weekend was and be just a lovely, lovely leader. That, to me, is the mark of someone that can really do this because this should be, at its best, a team sport, and that person is just the captain, but everyone is important on the team.”
She added with a laugh, “I don’t know anything about sports, so I can’t do the metaphor, but everyone has their turn where the game is dependent on them. Just because you’re the captain, it’s not all about you, it’s about the collective. And I felt very impressed by his handling of the collective.”
Given the insightful way Thompson talks about her own philosophy of directing, we had to ask: is directing in the cards for her? “Yeah, absolutely,” she said. “I have something in mind.”
While Thompson, who has also started producing her projects in recent years, including Rebecca Hall’s “Passing” and Steve Buscemi’s “The Listener,” was mum on what she’s got cooking for her first directorial outing, it’s clear she’s long valued being part of the creative process. That’s been the case with the “Creed” films, which have seen Thompson’s character ascending from down-her-luck singer to massive success as a record producer.
“I’ve always been invited into the process of developing [Bianca], so we had real conversations about that,” Thompson said. “We were like, ‘OK, she’s going to own a record label. For how long? How successful is it? Even as an artist, does she have Grammys? How many? And when she plays, the last that she was on stage, would she be in an arena? What is her level of success?’ We get to define what success looks like for her.”
Three films in, Thompson said she’s still surprised by the endurance of the franchise, but not by Bianca’s own evolution within the series. “I guess I couldn’t have imagined when we made the first one that nine years later we would be making any more,” she said. “But I think each step of the way, I always am imagining where she’ll be in real time, because we’re always developing the scripts together.”
Even now, Thompson lights up when talking about the emotional landscape she had to mine for Bianca, a successful woman who isn’t entirely defined by her professional life. Perhaps that’s something Thompson can relate to.
“The real curious thing, the thing of interest to me is, where’s her emotional life?,” Thompson said. “I think it’s a really good reminder for me and for all of us is sometimes we can get very myopically focused on this idea of success, but it doesn’t mean that we’re happy. It doesn’t mean that we’re sorted. It’s kind of fun finding those textures.”
Curiously, that same sense that professional success doesn’t equal everything is also at the forefront of Thompson’s other massive franchise role, as Valkyrie in the “Thor” films. In the fourth “Thor” feature, last year’s “Thor: Love and Thunder,” Thompson’s character treads similar ground as Bianca. As Thompson continues her own professional ascension, she seems keenly aware of what “success” really looks like.
“I hadn’t thought of the symmetry of the two characters, which is so astute,” Thompson said. “When we find Valkyrie, and she is king, she’s kind of like, ‘King is not what I thought it would be.’ In a similar way, I think we find Bianca so happy with owning this record label with having that kind of ownership with being a really successful artist that can cultivate and help other artists, but she’s also in this period of, ‘Well, performing was such a huge part of my identity. Without that, who is this new me?’ Those are the textures inside of success that feel really important to me.”
MGM will release “Creed III” in theaters on Friday, March 3.
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