Pretty Boy Bellew acts the part
Tony Bellew wasn’t having the best of days when Hollywood came calling.
The 32-year-old cruiserweight contender had just spent an August evening watching his beloved Everton Football Club suffer a 6-3 home defeat at the hands of Chelsea.
Licking his wounds, and with an important training camp on the horizon, Bellew wanted his palette to saviour one last sumptuous takeaway before the challenges of healthy eating started to take its toll.
Before journeying home to enjoy a night with his wife, the last thing Bellew needed was someone playing a prank on him about starring in a boxing movie called ‘Creed’ alongside Sylvester Stallone and Michael B. Jordan.
“I remember it so vividly,” Bellew told Boxing Monthly from his home on Merseyside. “I’d just signed to the [Nathan] Cleverly fight [a rematch from their 2011 duel]. I was on my way home. I’d got into the Indian takeaway and a fella on the phone pops up.”
‘I’m calling on behalf of Sylvester Stallone from MGM studios regarding a movie,’ said the mysterious caller.
Bellew’s retort was a little less polite.
‘Oh, for fuck’s sake mate, I’m not in the mood. I’ve just seen my team get thumped 6-3 by Chelsea. Leave it be,’ the fighter replied.
‘I’m dead serious.’
‘Just leave me alone.’
With the conversation over, the Bellews had hoped to sit down and enjoy their meal together in front of the television, but Mr X wouldn’t give up.
After three calls, Bellew was informed that his number had been given to him by England midfielder Ross Barkley; he like other Everton players having formed a friendship with the fighter thanks to his loyalty to the club and occasional trips to their training facilities. With impractical joker alarm bells ringing, Bellew decided to call the 21-year-old starlet to find out if he was at the heart of the gag.
“I phoned Ross Barkley straight away and said, ‘Listen fuck-face, if you’re on the wind-up I promise you I’ll burst every tyre in your car. And your car’s far more expensive than mine.’
“He was laughing his head off.”
Banter over, with no-one’s tyres coming to any harm, Bellew now knew he was dealing with Kevin King Templeton, a renowned Hollywood producer and right hand man to Sylvester Stallone.
Despite discussing terms and doing a screen test, Bellew’s mind was knee deep in preparation for the Cleverly rematch; the most pivotal fight of his career to date.
‘Creed’ director Ryan Coogler would stop at nothing to get the Liverpudlian to play ‘Pretty’ Ricky Conlan in the spin-off from the legendary Rocky franchise.
“They came back and it was 12 weeks before the Cleverly fight and then the negotiation period started,” he recalled.
“Ten weeks before the Cleverly fight, I rejected the offer. Got to eight weeks before the Cleverly fight. I rejected the offer. It got to six weeks before the Cleverly fight and I accepted the offer. I accepted the offer because I couldn’t reject it financially.”
Bellew, however, had one condition. He did not want to sign the contract until after the Cleverly fight - win or lose.
“I didn’t want to hear about the movie till after the fight,” he explained. “They were desperate for my signature before the fight. I said no. I didn’t want to commit to something and be embarrassed if I lost the fight.”
With revenge, at cruiserweight, secured against his bitter Welsh rival, Bellew now found himself following in the footsteps of former world light-heavyweight champion Antonio Tarver who had played Mason ‘The Line’ Dixon in the sixth instalment of the Rocky story, ‘Rocky Balboa’ which was released in 2006.
Bellew was the last to put pen to paper for the November 2015 release (UK date TBC) and, with production now wrapped, BM asked him how he reflects on the whole experience.
“Do you know what? It’s still kind of a bit raw,” he answered.
“The first thing that comes to me - was it worth it? I spent nine weeks away from my family and, when I came home, I said to the missus I’m never going to do that again.
“A training camp is different - that’s my full-time job, that’s my work. When I left for the movie, it was a different feeling. It was something that I don’t really do. When it comes out, I’ll know if it was worth it or not.
“This year I’ve been away from my kids more than I’ve been with them. It’s hard from that side but when I’ve seen the trailer, when I’ve seen little snippets from the movie, I’m like ‘You know what, it was worth it’.
“This is going to be a brilliant move and Ryan Coogler is one of the most brilliant and most sought after directors in the world. I know he’ll make an absolute masterpiece of the movie.”
Coogler, a 29-year-old filmmaker from Oakland, shot to fame after directing Michael B. Jordan in the widely acclaimed Fruitvale Station, his first feature-length film.
Creed tells the story of Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan), the son of Apollo Creed, once a rival and friend to Rocky Balboa. Balboa acts as a mentor and trainer to Johnson as he tries to emulate his father in his quest to become a world boxing champion.
‘Pretty’ Ricky Conlan, played by Bellew, is the brash and confident world champion who Johnson eventually locks horns with. Bellew told BM that playing Conlan wasn’t that difficult because both character and actor aren’t a million miles apart.
“I play a fighter, without giving the storyline away, who has a bit of a dark and troubled past,” Bellew revealed. “A guy who hasn’t forgot where he’s from. Basically, someone similar to me in real life. A guy who’s hot-headed, who can lose it at any moment. I’m sure you’ll see parts of me in Ricky Conlan! It makes for a great story.
“I’m the champion of the world in the movie. I’m undefeated, undisputed champion of the world, I’m pound-for-pound best fighter in the world. It’ll be interesting once the movie’s out, how it’s seen and how it’s perceived by people in the movie industry. I think it’ll be a great movie but only time will tell.”
Bellew, the fighter, and the movie fan, has fond memories of working with the iconic Stallone, who wrote and directed the first Rocky movie, during their time together.
“When I met Sly it was crazy, I remember like it was yesterday,” he told BM. “At first, I watched him doing a screen test doing different things, saying stuff… he reads poetry so that was crazy watching him do that.
“I finally got to meet him and he was great. He was really, really nice. He took me to dinner on a couple of occasions. We had laughs, had jokes and he’s very knowledgeable when it comes to boxing. He’s managed some fighters in the past, the likes of Aaron Pryor and people like that, he’s looked after quite a few boxers over the years.
“He loves boxing first and foremost. He’s just so educated and admires boxers so much.”
Having worked day in and day out with Jordan, Bellew described one of Hollywood’s most sought after actors as a ‘fantastic, humble and grounded person’ who Bellew believes wouldn’t be out of place in a boxing ring should the 28-year-old ever fancy a few amateur fights.
“I don’t think he’s going to want to mess with his pretty face,” Bellew joked.
Working 12, 16 and sometimes 18-hour days during filming didn’t come as a major shock to Bellew and he quickly adapted to the rigours and demands that actors go through. As for the basics of remembering lines, Bellew was taught a method that brought out the Bellew in Bellew.
“It’s called substitution in acting. Sometimes if you’ve got to be angry and you don’t like someone then the substitution I would take is someone’s face that I don’t like - and I can only name on one hand people that I really don’t like. I take their face and put it on someone else’s body. If they asked me certain questions and wanted different reactions to different people, I would use substitution to do it.”
The transformation from professional prizefighter to actor wasn’t as difficult for Bellew as some might have imagined.
“It’s not like they were asking me to be a doctor. They were asking me to be me. I suppose that’s why I got the part.”
That response and the thoughts behind it has prompted Bellew to think twice should another acting offer come in. Coogler believes that Bellew has a future in acting but the cruiserweight isn’t so sure.
“If it makes business sense then it makes sense, that’s the best way of putting it. If it makes money, it makes sense.
“Looking back on it, I had some great laughs, some things I’ll never forget and remember for the rest of my life. Ultimately is it for me going forward? I really don’t know. For now my life is boxing and my family and that’s about it.”