Making his memorable film debut in Warner Bros. Pictures’ action-drama “Creed II” is real-life amateur fighter Florian “Big Nasty” Munteanu as Viktor Drago, the son of Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), the Russian boxer who killed Apollo Creed in the ring three decades earlier.
When the “Creed II” filmmakers were looking for the actor who could play Viktor Drago, they needed someone who physically resembled the tall, imposing character and could also act and box. After months of reviewing hundreds of photos, videos, and audition tapes, producer, screenwriter and castmember Sylvester Stallone found the 235-pound, 6-foot-4 boxer from Germany named Florian “Big Nasty” Munteanu.
“I had a feeling about Florian,” Stallone says. “It’s very hard to get the whole package when you’re casting a role like this. We could find big guys who could fight but couldn’t act. Or guys who looked great but couldn’t fight. Florian is unique.” Munteanu, an amateur heavyweight with a 68-10 (with six draws) record, was told by his fight manager that the producers of “Creed II” had seen his photos and videos and wanted to know if he was interested in auditioning. Soon thereafter, the twenty-seven-year-old Romanian-German boxer — who grew up watching the Rocky films with his father, an avid boxer — was told “Sylvester Stallone wants to Skype with you.”
“It was absolutely surreal, doing a Skype audition with Stallone, who was a childhood hero of mine,” says Munteanu. “Especially as a boxer, growing up with all the Rocky movies that I watched over and over again. I couldn’t really describe the feeling I had when that computer screen opened, and I saw Stallone in front of me and realized it was actually happening.” When the positive feedback from that session was followed up by a meeting with Caple and more good feedback, the good news came in a very cinematic way, Munteanu recalls. “I had my last audition in Los Angeles just before Christmas, and then I went home to Munich,” says Munteanu. “I got call from my manager the night of December 23, but my parents were already sleeping. So, the next day, I had a nice Christmas dinner present for my parents — that I had gotten the part. You couldn’t write a script like that.”
Stallone says the months-long casting and audition process to find Viktor Drago was very similar to the nine-month search he undertook more than thirty years ago when he was looking for an actor to play Ivan Drago. “Finding someone to play Ivan took nine months, and we went through thousands of photos, tapes, and auditions before we found Dolph Lundgren,” remembers Stallone. “Dolph was unique. He was great looking, tall, blonde, and he could fight! He had been a world champion in karate for many years in Sweden and across Europe, so he understood what it took. Florian is the same way. He actually knows how to fight for real. Plus, he’s incredibly large and muscular. When I met him, I thought, ‘Wow.’ And then we saw he could act.”
Lundgren was also struck by the many parallels between himself and Munteanu. “There are many similarities,” Lundgren says. “He’s the same age I was when I played Ivan. I’m from Europe; he’s from Europe. We both started at age ten working out and fighting. I was involved in karate and he was involved in K-1 kickboxing and boxing. I think Michael and Stallone are about the same size, and Florian is my height, so the physical contrast is similar.”
Michael B. Jordan, who spent months training and learning fight choreography with Munteanu, was also impressed with his boxing and acting skills. “Florian is super humble, eager to work and learn, and we picked up chemistry really fast in the ring with the boxing choreography,” says Jordan. “He brings a lot of emotion and range to the role. It’s a very layered performance by him.” Munteanu says the opportunity to work with Jordan and his “mentors” Lundgren and Stallone made him “a better actor and a better person.” “You only get better if you surround yourself with people you can learn from, people who are better than you or more experienced than you,” he says.
“Michael and I are almost exactly the same age, and we’re also pretty much on the same side when it comes to the values we appreciate,” adds Munteanu. “He’s a family guy who appreciates loyal people and honest people around him. We immediately clicked, and after a few weeks we became good friends. It was a great thing for me because besides the fact that I was the new guy on set, I also had no family or friends with me while filming. Michael said if there’s anything I needed, I can come to him, and I really valued that.”
In Philippine cinemas November 28, “Creed II” is distributed worldwide by Warner Bros. Pictures, a WarnerMedia Company.