Creed 3's Jonathan Majors On Boxing Choreography And How Music Helped Him On Set [Exclusive Interview]

Jonathan Majors has been an actor on the rise during the last several years, popping up in offbeat studio films like "Hostiles," "White Boy Rick" and "Captive State" before making a splash in "The Last Black Man in San Francisco" and HBO's gone-too-soon series "Lovecraft Country." It's on the strength of his work in those films and shows that Marvel Studios hired him to anchor the next phase of their Cinematic Universe as Kang the Conqueror, a villain who's currently mixing it up with Ant-Man in the recent "Quantumania," and he continues to play challenging characters elsewhere, such as in the upcoming "Magazine Dreams." 

Now he's poised to demonstrate his considerable range once again with his performance as Damian Anderson in "Creed III." In the film, Damian is a man who's grown up within the prison system while his old buddy, Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan, who also directed the film), has risen to greatness in the boxing ring, which was a dream Damian once had for himself and something he's now determined to achieve at any cost. With Damian, Majors portrays the dark side of the "Creed" franchise's theme of an underdog finding success, as Damian's feelings of jealousy and betrayal curdle his determination into something dangerous.

I was able to speak with Mr. Majors on the cusp of the release of "Creed III," and he generously explained how he trained for the film, learned how to box, and which particular L.A. rappers served as an inspiration for building Damian's character.

Note: This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

'First you have to learn how to box, so that's like just building a house...'

So, what was it like to jump in the ring and try to take your director's head off? [laughs]

I never thought of it [like that]. That was cool.

Those fights, were they a lot of moving parts in terms of the choreography and the shooting, or was it something you kind of got in the groove of, like a dance? What was it like filming those?

Probably all of the above. First you have to learn how to box, so that's like just building a house, getting all the material for the house, so you learn how to throw a punch properly, turning the fist over, all those things that a boxer would know. He would know naturally, if you were a boxer, but learn those things. That's a whole workshop, that's just a lifestyle that you develop. Then there's the choreography with your partner so I can learn it with you, but ultimately, I got to do it with Mike, so you and I will work that out, and then I would work it out with him. Then once we have it, the dance, we have to figure out how to do it with our third partner, which is the camera, and where to put the punch so it sails in the best way for the camera. So it happened in stages and ultimately, it's all those parts together. Then they edit, and that was not my business.

'It was probably a year and a half of just living like a boxer, eating like a boxer, running like a boxer...'

In terms of the physical preparation to get there, what was the training regimen like? Was it super intense, or was it something that you kind of picked up easily?

Oh, well, I enjoy stuff like that, so whether it's riding horses or flying airplanes, I really lean into the challenge of it. And no, I mean, I had more wind than I thought I had, but then you realize you need more. Then there's the conditioning of it. Films are different than real life, obviously, because you got to do it, but you also have to look it. Whatever that aesthetic is, you have to capture that. So sometimes, you know the choreography. There's a point where I was running so much that I was actually too lean and couldn't keep my muscle mass because of the running, and so we cut my cardio all the way down. And the roadwork was like jump rope and bags and all that work. Yeah, you do all of that. It was probably a year and a half of just living like a boxer, eating like a boxer, running like a boxer, et cetera. Yeah.

'I want it to be real, as real as possible'

One of the things that really struck me about the film in general is how nuanced it is to the characters. No one feels wholly good or evil. And especially Damian, he feels dangerous because he seems like such a live wire. There's this intensity going on behind his eyes all the time. How did you maintain that performance on set?

Same way with the boxing element of it. I work in a particular way that I've cultivated over these years and it changes every time, but it's an approach where I try to make the line between action and cut as thin as possible, and only I know what that is. Sometimes it may seem as if I'm joking around, but there's something, there's always a method to it because you know what's coming up next.

It's discipline just to stay in it. Keep the body physically strong, keep the mind physically focused on the task at hand, and ultimately you're playing make-believe and pretend, and the deeper you get into that world, the easier it becomes, the more brain and body begin to go, "This is real." And for me, I want it to be real, as real as possible, at least. I play my music, I stay — everyone has different processes. Some processes can clash. If someone's, if they've got to shake it and come right out, some of the greatest actors in the world do that, and you got to deal with that person then as their pedestrian self. Sometimes that's helpful, sometimes that's not, but very much I can rely on just kinda staying in my own [world] and keep it cooking.

How Tupac and Nipsey Hussle influenced Damian

I'm so glad you mentioned music, because it's such a big part of the movie and this series. Was there a particular artist or song that was important to you in creating the character of Damian?

Yeah, I really listened to a lot of Tupac, Nipsey Hussle. All of Nipsey's stuff was really helpful. They're from the same area, Dame and him, so that's cool. So you can hear ... there's also dialect work, and so he's rapping in his L.A. sound. The things he's talking about are things that resonate with the world that Dame comes from, so that was very helpful. Then there's other songs that come from your subconscious that just touch you in a way that can align you. You kind of write that song next to the top of the page or whatever, and there's playlist upon playlist upon playlist, and even those can [be curated] into "This is that scene" or "This is that moment."

"Creed III" hits theaters on March 3, 2023.