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In the space of about 18 months, Steven Caple Jr. went from an indie director with barely two episodes of Grown-ish under his belt to the director of Creed II, the sequel to a major franchise—starring Michael B. Jordan, Tessa Thompson, and Rocky Balboa himself, Sylvester Stallone. From now until 2019, Caple will be promoting the movie all over the world: South Africa, Italy, Spain, England, Brazil. One might think that his franchise-friendly co-stars, who could do all-consuming press tours in their sleep (and probably have), would have offered him a few pointers on how to navigate being shoved into the spotlight.

“They gave me no tips!” Caple said, laughing, in a recent interview before conceding that Thompson did tell him to “dress fly.”

Caple’s journey to Creed II began with his days as a film student at the University of Southern California, where he struck up a friendship with a departing senior named Ryan Coogler. The pair stayed on good terms as Coogler went on to direct Fruitvale Station, Creed, and Black Panther. Production on the latter kept Coogler too tied up for the Creed sequel—so Coogler suggested to MGM that Caple take his place.

When Coogler himself tackled Creed, he had only one indie feature under his belt: the achingly wrought Fruitvale. Caple, too, had just one full-length indie on his résumé before Creed II: a skating drama called The Land, set in his hometown of Cleveland, Ohio. He had no idea he was even up for the job until his agent got a call from Jonathan Glickman and Adam Rosenberg, MGM’s president and co-president of production, respectively. “I called him [Coogler] up immediately afterward like, ‘Dude, you didn’t even tell me!’” he said.

As Caple remembers it, the call came in the morning; by the afternoon, Glickman and Rosenberg were on the set of Grown-ish, where he was directing one of his two episodes. No one on the set knew about the potential Creed II offer except series creator Kenya Barris, who had also gotten a call from MGM asking him about Caple’s potential and working style. Barris’s approval “helped push the initiation,” Caple said, and also helped set up the meeting—guiding Caple’s path to franchiseland.

“Caple is a fucking star,” Barris tells Vanity Fair via email. “Period. Like a legitimate once in a lifetime kind of talent that you realize within minutes of working with him. He’s different. He’s one of those guys with a lot of opinions but somehow they’re all usually right.”

Still, Caple didn’t say yes to the film right away—even though Coogler was staying on as an executive producer. He needed to know if this project would allow him to make his own mark, or whether he would simply be a cog in a pre-determined machine. And he needed to meet with Stallone. So he was ushered to the action star’s mansion for coffee. Caple was floored by the giant Rocky statue—just like the one in Philadelphia—that Stallone had in his living room. At first, Caple said their conversation was formal; he and Stallone sat on two separate couches, talking shop. A few hours later, said Caple, they’d warmed to one another: they were perched on the same couch, Stallone sitting cross-legged, and chatting animatedly about story ideas.

“It turned into two fans of the same series figuring out how to make this thing fresh,” Caple recalled. “At a certain point, he turned on YouTube videos on his projector and started playing all these fight clips. I was amped up. We started talking about fight sequences. He started imitating moves, walking around the room getting all excited, talking about choreography. He was so passionate . . . I was like, wow, man, he has this big, huge house and this projector because of this one movie. At the same time, here we are 40-plus years later, and people still love this one movie and this character.”

Once Caple signed on, Stallone whisked him to one of his home offices—“his house is huge,” said Caple, still impressed—and showed him videos of Florian Munteanu, a real-life boxer he thought would be perfect for the film. “That’s when I first got introduced to Viktor Drago,” Caple said.

In this iteration of the Rocky spin-off, Adonis Creed (Jordan) is a thriving world champion. His partner, Bianca (Thompson), is working on her music, though her encroaching hearing loss seems to be getting worse. They’re still happily together—until Rocky IV antagonist Ivan Drago and his brick wall of a son, Viktor (Munteanu), challenge Creed to a fight that could destroy his life.

Thematically, the movie is rife with father-son drama. Rocky is dealing with his guilt as an absentee father to Robert (Milo Ventimiglia). Adonis is struggling to face the ghost of Apollo Creed. Viktor is bottling up the anger and lovelessness of Ivan, who is seeking redemption and glory through his son’s success. When Coogler made the first Creed, he spoke regularly about how the film was inspired by his father’s love of the Rocky franchise, and his battle with a neuro-muscular condition that whittled away at his strength. Caple saw his own father-son parallels in Creed II. The Ivan-Viktor relationship resonated: his father was a basketball player who wanted his son to follow in his footsteps. Caple did until he didn’t. It triggered a deep rift.

“Me and my father stopped talking for a while,” he said. “He didn’t show up to my wedding. We had this huge gap.”

That aspect echoed the Rocky-Robert story, which gets some screen time in Creed II. “I didn’t understand what my dad was going through,” Caple said. “My dad, he was absent most of my life. I would blame him, I would get angry.” He didn’t realize until later—much later, when his film made its New York premiere—that his dad felt too ashamed to heal their rift after all he had missed in his son’s life, just like Rocky.

But all these years later, they’re working through their issues. When Caple brought the film to Cleveland, he invited his father. “He doesn’t come out so much, [but] he saw the film and it was just emotional afterward. He hung out with me for the rest of the press tour,” he said.

“We’re trying to still get this relationship right. I think I’ve come to more of an understanding after this project,” the director continued. “Now he’s calling me every day. It just feels good to see where this goes. I feel like I’m at peace.”

This article has been updated to include remarks from Kenya Barris.

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Full ScreenPhotos:10 Enchanting Movies and TV Shows About Witches
Still from "I Married a Witch"

I Married a Witch

This overlooked 1942 gem stars Veronica Lake, she of the perfect side part, as a colonial Salem-era witch who gets burned at the stake, then reawakened hundreds of years later, determined to get revenge on a descendant of the family who tried to kill her. I Married a Witch is more rom-com than horror, a love story with a healthy serving of cauldrons and broomsticks. It’s easy to fall under its spell. (On Filmstruck.)

Photo: From Everett Collection.

Still from "Double, Double, Toil and Trouble"

Double, Double, Toil and Trouble

If you’re of a certain age and looking for a deep-cut nostalgia trip, Hulu has you covered with a Mary Kate and Ashley joint—one that’s well worth revisiting if you’re both a 90s kid and a fan of Cloris Leachman, who played the evil witch grandmother at the film’s center. As with most old media, some parts of the film have aged better than others—but the Olsen magic remains eternal. (On Hulu.)

Photo: From Everett Collection.

Still from "The Blair Witch Project"

The Blair Witch Project (1999)

Ah, yes, the classic cautionary tale about what happens when three college students venture into the woods to investigate local legends. Although this might not count as a witch movie in the typical sense, it would feel wrong to leave Blair Witch out of our selections—especially given its terrifying ending, which makes all the run-up worth it. (On Hulu.)

Photo: From ©Artisan Entertainment/Everett Collection.

Still from "Charmed"

Charmed

One of the many network enchantments cast by Aaron Spelling is Charmed, a San Francisco-set drama about three sisters—originally played by Shannon Doherty, Alyssa Milano, and Holly Marie Combs—whose combined abilities make them the most powerful witches of all time. Before all you kids out there tuck into the CW’s woke reboot, take a trip back to 1998 to see where it all began. (On Netflix.)

Photo: From ©Viacom/Everett Collection.

Still from Sabrina: The Teenage Witch.

Sabrina: The Teenage Witch

Netflix might have its own Sabrina adaptation on the way, but for now, Melissa Joan Hart still reigns supreme. Besides, even with the new Sabrina coming, this one will always have a place in our hearts; did you hear that the cat won’t even talk in the new version? (On Hulu.)

Photo: ©Viacom/Courtesy Everett Collection

Still from "Practical Magic"

Practical Magic

In this crunchy New England fall leaf of a film, Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock play a pair of witchy sisters battling against a family curse that dooms any man they fall in love with to an early death. There are perfect autumnal Massachusetts vibes, plus Stockard Channing and Dianne Wiest as a pair of aunties who love to cackle over midnight margaritas. (On HBOGo.)

Photo: From Everett Collection.

Photo compilation of "Bell Book and Candle", "The Wizard of Oz", "Hocus Pocus"

Honorable Mentions

If you’ve found yourself with enough money to pony up for a couple other rentals, here are some of our favorites that, alas, cannot be streamed for free: Kiki’s Delivery Service, The Craft, Eve’s Bayou, The Wizard of Oz, Hocus Pocus, and Bell Book and Candle.

Photo: Clockwise from right; From Everett Collection, from Everett Collection, from ©Buena Vista/Everett Collection.

<em>I Married a Witch</em>

I Married a Witch

This overlooked 1942 gem stars Veronica Lake, she of the perfect side part, as a colonial Salem-era witch who gets burned at the stake, then reawakened hundreds of years later, determined to get revenge on a descendant of the family who tried to kill her. I Married a Witch is more rom-com than horror, a love story with a healthy serving of cauldrons and broomsticks. It’s easy to fall under its spell. (On Filmstruck.)
From Everett Collection.
<em>Double, Double, Toil and Trouble</em>

Double, Double, Toil and Trouble

If you’re of a certain age and looking for a deep-cut nostalgia trip, Hulu has you covered with a Mary Kate and Ashley joint—one that’s well worth revisiting if you’re both a 90s kid and a fan of Cloris Leachman, who played the evil witch grandmother at the film’s center. As with most old media, some parts of the film have aged better than others—but the Olsen magic remains eternal. (On Hulu.)
From Everett Collection.
<em>The Blair Witch Project</em> (1999)

The Blair Witch Project (1999)

Ah, yes, the classic cautionary tale about what happens when three college students venture into the woods to investigate local legends. Although this might not count as a witch movie in the typical sense, it would feel wrong to leave Blair Witch out of our selections—especially given its terrifying ending, which makes all the run-up worth it. (On Hulu.)
From ©Artisan Entertainment/Everett Collection.
<em>Charmed</em>

Charmed

One of the many network enchantments cast by Aaron Spelling is Charmed, a San Francisco-set drama about three sisters—originally played by Shannon Doherty, Alyssa Milano, and Holly Marie Combs—whose combined abilities make them the most powerful witches of all time. Before all you kids out there tuck into the CW’s woke reboot, take a trip back to 1998 to see where it all began. (On Netflix.)
From ©Viacom/Everett Collection.
<em>The Love Witch</em>

The Love Witch

Written, directed, and produced by Anna Biller in 2016, this thriller is a painstaking ode to 1960s Technicolor filmmaking, from the era-appropriate cinematography to the mod wardrobe. The film stars Samantha Robinson as Elaine, a witch who heads to northern California in search of a new life—and a new lover—after the death of her husband. Biller cleverly plays with gender norms in The Love Witch, crafting a horror story with a welcome feminist message. (On Amazon Prime.)
From ©Oscilloscope/Everett Collection.
<em>The Covenant</em>

The Covenant

This might be the thirstiest warlock film ever made—and if it’s not, it’s close. While it does not have much in the way of plot, this supernatural thriller offers plenty of eye candy to make up for its aimlessness: a young(er) Sebastian Stan and Taylor Kitsch, as well as Chace Crawford, just ahead of his Gossip Girl debut. Come for the heated swimming matches; stay for the dated special effects and wooden dialogue. (On Netflix.)
From ©Screen Gems/Everett Collection.
<em>The Witch</em>

The Witch

Robert Eggers’ grim, methodical debut feature about a terrified Puritan family in 1630s New England was the prestige horror movie of 2015, a carefully wrought blockbuster shepherded to the masses by nu-auteur nifflers A24. The film also served as a breakout for current reigning scream queen Anya Taylor-Joy, who played Thomasin, a teen girl who may or may not be the reason her family is cursed. (On Netflix.)
From ©A24/Everett Collection.
<em>Blair Witch</em> (2016)

Blair Witch (2016)

If you never saw the 2016 follow-up to the original 99 Blair Witch, there’s no time like the present. Although the sequel never quite matches the soaring, scare-filled heights of its predecessor, it has some memorable jump scares and body horror—and sometimes, that’s all you really need. (On Hulu.)
©Lions Gate/Courtesy Everett Collection
<em>Sabrina: The Teenage Witch</em>

Sabrina: The Teenage Witch

Netflix might have its own Sabrina adaptation on the way, but for now, Melissa Joan Hart still reigns supreme. Besides, even with the new Sabrina coming, this one will always have a place in our hearts; did you hear that the cat won’t even talk in the new version? (On Hulu.)
©Viacom/Courtesy Everett Collection
<em>Practical Magic</em>

Practical Magic

In this crunchy New England fall leaf of a film, Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock play a pair of witchy sisters battling against a family curse that dooms any man they fall in love with to an early death. There are perfect autumnal Massachusetts vibes, plus Stockard Channing and Dianne Wiest as a pair of aunties who love to cackle over midnight margaritas. (On HBOGo.)
From Everett Collection.
Honorable Mentions

Honorable Mentions

If you’ve found yourself with enough money to pony up for a couple other rentals, here are some of our favorites that, alas, cannot be streamed for free: Kiki’s Delivery Service, The Craft, Eve’s Bayou, The Wizard of Oz, Hocus Pocus, and Bell Book and Candle.
Clockwise from right; From Everett Collection, from Everett Collection, from ©Buena Vista/Everett Collection.
Yohana DestaYohana Desta is a Hollywood writer for VanityFair.com.

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