Remembering Carl Weathers, who played Apollo Creed in 'Rocky'
DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ROCKY IV")
CARL WEATHERS: (As Apollo Creed) We don't even have a choice. See; we're born with a killer instinct that you can't just turn off and on like some radio. We have to be right in the middle of the action 'cause we're the warriors. And without some challenge, without some damn war to fight, than the warrior may as well be dead, Stallion.
BIANCULLI: That's actor Carl Weathers in the role of prize fighter-turned-trainer Apollo Creed in the film "Rocky IV." He played in all of those early "Rocky" films. Weathers died last week at the age of 76. Carl Weathers was a linebacker for the Oakland Raiders before he turned his attention to acting. His other roles include Combat Carl in the animated "Toy Story 4."
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "TOY STORY 4")
WEATHERS: (As Combat Carl) When Combat Carl gets stuck in a jam, he says to himself, Combat Carl never gives up. Combat Carl finds a way.
BIANCULLI: He also parodied himself in the sitcom "Arrested Development," playing a money-pinching acting coach. In this scene with Tobias, played by David Cross, they're at a party where food has been served. Tobias is chewing on a rib and is about to toss it.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT")
DAVID CROSS: (As Tobias Funke) Do you see me more as the respected dramatic actor or more of the beloved comic actor?
WEATHERS: (As himself) Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. There's still plenty of meat on that bone. Now, you take this home, throw it in a pot, add some broth, a potato - baby, you got a stew going.
CROSS: (As Tobias Funke) Yes, that's fine. But I would like to focus on my acting, Mr. Weathers. I did give you my last $1,100.
WEATHERS: (As himself) Let me tell you a little story about acting. I was doing the Showtime movie "Hot Ice" with Anne Archer - never once touched my per diem. I'd go to craft service, get some raw veggies, bacon, a cup of soup. Baby, I got a stew going.
CROSS: (As Tobias Funke) I think I'd like my money back.
BIANCULLI: Weathers also co-starred in the Adam Sandler comedy "Happy Gilmore" and in the action movie "Predator" with Arnold Schwarzenegger. More recently, he played Greef Karga in the Disney+ "Star Wars" TV series "The Mandalorian." Terry Gross spoke with Carl Weathers in 1988. At the time, he was playing the title role in the film "Action Jackson," about a cop sidelined to a desk job for unorthodox behavior, a part that was written for Carl Weathers. In fact, Weathers came up with the character's name.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)
WEATHERS: Actually, I was talking to an Australian one day, and he was telling me about this incredible love affair that he was in. And he made mention of a phrase, action Jackson. And I said, hey; sounds like a good movie to me, sounds like a guy I'd like to know. And then I had this name, this last name, Jackson. And I was looking for a first name. And I thought, well, you know, he's a strong guy, and he's very physical. And you think of something happening, and I think of Jericho. The walls came tumbling down. And so that's pretty much how it came about.
TERRY GROSS: Now, you're a very muscular guy, but you're more of an athlete than, say - well, I don't know if you bodybuild or not, but your background is as an athlete as opposed to martial arts...
GROSS: ...For instance.
GROSS: So in writing the stunts, were the stunts written for someone from your kind of athletic background?
WEATHERS: Yes. When I do movies and develop movies now, I certainly look, when I'm the star of the movie or I'm involved in the movie and a lot of the stunts, to build stunts that I can do very well and the - you know, the kind of stuff that's more like track and field and that comes out of football, which is the world I came out of, as opposed to bodybuilding and martial arts and that kind of thing, you know?
GROSS: Well, really, the very first stunt that you do is running.
GROSS: There's a scene where you were kind of attacked by a taxicab.
WEATHERS: I like that. I love the way you put that.
GROSS: And you say, I've got to go and catch a cab.
GROSS: And you start chasing the cab. And in the movie, you're running at the same speed that the cab is going.
WEATHERS: I ultimately chase it and catch it and then surpass it and jump on top of it. It's a Carl Weathers kind of day. You know what I mean - kind of stuff I do on a normal day in Los Angeles.
GROSS: Well, just the running, just seeing you run, I thought, well, that's the first stunt (laughter).
WEATHERS: Yes, that was 12 hours that day of just running. It's the toughest day I've ever had in filmmaking.
GROSS: Was that part of the goal - to get to see you run? I mean, were you a very good runner when you were a football player?
WEATHERS: It wasn't so much that. I think since I did some of the "Rockys," though, and particularly the scene that we were running on the beach, a lot of the kind of male and particularly women - women love to see this body and this flesh moving around. Isn't it terrible - I mean, this group of humanity who wants to see this man's body running down the beach or running on a sidewalk or running down the street? So I said, come on. I make movies for people. I make movies for people who like movies and who want to go see movies. Give them what they want. Run, Carl, run. See Carl run. Carl can run fast.
GROSS: OK, so we got the scene where you're running at the same speed that the taxicab is being driven - special effects there?
WEATHERS: No, it was real. That was all very real.
GROSS: Another real athletic moment for you - there's a huge, big guy...
WEATHERS: He's huge and big. Yes, he is - all in one.
GROSS: He's huge and big. He's guarding the door. He's unbudgeable (ph).
GROSS: You punch him in the face. You punch him in the chest. All it does is hurt your knuckles.
GROSS: And then you basically ram him as if you were doing a tackle...
WEATHERS: Through the doorway.
GROSS: ...In a football move, and you ram him right through the doorway.
GROSS: And that struck me as a real football kind of maneuver.
WEATHERS: What do you want from me? That's where I come from, you know? It's kind of like...
GROSS: (Laughter) So is that - was that written for you? Like, let's...
WEATHERS: Yes, it was.
GROSS: ...Give him a real football kind of thing to do.
WEATHERS: Well, it wasn't - I don't think it was specified as football, but, you know, men are strange animals. It's kind of like an elephant, you know? You run at it. You knock it down. You mow it down. And then you get up and say, hey; I did it. And that's pretty much the way that whole thing was designed. We had to show you different aspects of Jackson, and also do it with tongue in cheek and a sense of humor.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ACTION JACKSON")
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) May I help you?
WEATHERS: (As Jericho Jackson) Yeah, I'd like to speak to Miss Ash.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) I don't recommend that course of action.
WEATHERS: (As Jericho Jackson) I do.
(SOUNDBITE OF THUDDING)
WEATHERS: (As Jericho Jackson) You're one big fella. How much do you weigh?
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Two hundred and seventy pounds.
WEATHERS: (As Jericho Jackson) That's pretty big.
(SOUNDBITE OF THUDDING)
WEATHERS: (As Jericho Jackson) I bet you make a good living at this, don't you?
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Good enough. It helps pay my way through medical school.
WEATHERS: (As Jericho Jackson) And if I was to hit you again, you'd probably slam my little body right through that wall back there, now, wouldn't you?
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) I was thinking about it, but it goes against all my Muslim beliefs.
WEATHERS: (As Jericho Jackson) Ah, good.
(SOUNDBITE OF GLASS SHATTERING)
GROSS: Let me do one of your lines. Your police captain calls you in and says, Jackson, you tore that kid's arm off, and you say...
WEATHERS: So? He had a spare.
GROSS: (Laughter) Right.
WEATHERS: I loved it.
GROSS: I love that line.
WEATHERS: Yeah. A lot of people have liked that line. That's one of the - for me, that's one of the best lines in the whole movie, you know? And Bill Duke, the guy who plays my captain, is - he was in "Predator" also, so we've worked together before. He's a good friend, and he's a wonderful director besides.
GROSS: Now, you got started as an athlete, football player. Were you interested in acting when you were playing football?
WEATHERS: Well, in actuality, it really - I got started as an actor when I was in fifth or sixth grade. It's the first play that I ever did. And I went through years of junior high school and high school, and finally in the college when I got a scholarship as a football player at San Diego State U, I majored in theater, you know, in drama and got a degree in dramatic arts. And I was just very fortunate that I got a chance to do both things. At one particular point in my life, I was a football player and essentially earning my living that way and having a lot of fun doing that. And at another point, you know, I get to do what I've always wanted to do since I was a kid, which was be a professional actor.
GROSS: I think people first really noticed you in your role as Apollo Creed in "Rocky." And how were you cast on that? Did you know much about boxing?
WEATHERS: I knew nothing about boxing. I had never boxed. I had never had gloves on. I'd never been in the ring. I'd never been to a boxing match. And I knew about the script. I mean, there was this wonderful script circulating. And they'd - the producers and the director, John Avildsen, apparently had seen just about everybody in the country. So at this particular point, you know, they were, I guess, at a loss for someone - lost for someone to play this role. And I at the same time wanted desperately to get in to interview for this role. Finally they got me in to read, and I went, and it was very late one afternoon about 6, 6:30. And I went in, and they introduced me to the director, and I met Bob and Irwin, the producers.
And finally they introduced me - called a man in, and he was the writer, and they introduced me to him. And I said, how are you doing and all that sort of stuff. And he sat down in a desk, and I read with the writer, and the writer was reading, and I was reading, and the writer was reading, and I was reading. And he didn't get very excited about the reading. So finally, at the end of it all, when everyone was very quiet in the room and they were sort of looking at each other and maybe mumbling to each other, and I'm very nervous that maybe I've blown the interview, you know, because it's very important - you want to get it. You're just anxious. And I turned to them and just blurted out, you know, if you get me a real actor, I could do a much better job.
WEATHERS: Well, I didn't know that the writer and the star of the movie were one and the same. They didn't say this is Sylvester Stallone. He's going to star in the movie. Right, you laugh. That's the way I felt. I felt like an idiot. I felt like a moron after I realized this guy was starring in the movie also. But needless to say, apparently ignorance truly is bliss. I got the role ultimately.
GROSS: You get a knockout punch in "Rocky IV" that kills the character.
WEATHERS: Yes, kills him off. He's long gone.
GROSS: Apollo Creed is dead in the ring. Did you want to be written out of the series?
WEATHERS: No. Are you kidding? No. I mean, not in a million years would I have wanted to be written out. But once it was done, you know, as much as I resisted in the beginning, I realized that there was a great opportunity because, first of all, the character is immortalized in the ring, you know, in the movie. And then by that character dying, finally, you know, Carl Weathers has a chance to go on and live in other roles because once the character is dead, then it's very obvious that Carl Weathers is an actor. And, you know, if you got to die, what a wonderful afterlife that is.
GROSS: Carl Weathers, thanks a lot for talking with us.
WEATHERS: Thank you. Pleasure.
BIANCULLI: Carl Weathers speaking to Terry Gross in 1988. The actor, featured in the early "Rocky" movies and more recently in the Star Wars TV series "The Mandalorian," died last week at age 76. Coming up, film critic Justin Chang reviews "The Taste Of Things," the award-winning new French film starring Juliette Binoche. This is FRESH AIR.
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