Carl Weathers will be forever associated by many with the iconic role of Rocky opponent turned confidant Apollo Creed in Stallone’s fabled movie series, but he’s also had a long and industrious career in both the film and TV industries.
His latest high-profile appearance in the latter is via a substantial part in US TV drama über-producer Dick (Law & Order) Wolf’s latest effort, Chicago Justice. We spoke to him recently about some of his prior work, this new role and the challenges that came with it.
Carl Weathers: Yes, it is. One of the series producers had written a script which I thought was really well crafted and the character himself interested me – what he did for a living and how he invested himself in that role.
Also, at the end of the day, it’s Dick Wolf and that’s a pretty strong brand. Generally his shows are on the air for a while [laughs]. If you’re going to commit to someone’s project, you want that someone to be a winner.
Your character also cropped up in Wolf’s Chicago Fire last year. Is that what led to you to being a permanent fixture in Justice?
No, not really. We initially did what’s called a ‘backdoor pilot’ which revolved around another of Dick’s shows, Chicago P.D. There was a crime committed in the third season which was prosecuted through the State’s Attorney’s Office, and that’s really how our show was introduced.
As a result of that, the network head decided to commission a series and we were off and running within a month or two after that initial introduction aired. ABC has been very happy because we’re doing press here in the UK and the rest of the world. The show has gotten really good numbers and received tremendous feedback in the US.
I’m very grateful and fortunate that we have such a strong creative team, and the inspiration we get from what the writers do just seems to work.
That’s a pretty quick turnaround for a show. Did you get the chance to do some research, or was it more a case of having to hit the ground running?
Time was definitely a luxury but we were lucky in that we had a real District Attorney and an Assistant State’s Attorney as consultants on the show. We got the opportunity to talk to them and gained some insight into what they do, which was extremely helpful.
But also, what you do as an actor is to pretend and play make believe. You try to do the kind of job where it appears that’s what you actually do and that’s who you are, and I’ve been doing that for nearly fifty years now. We’re also blessed in this case with good writing, which is very helpful. You don’t necessarily have to do a lot – as the old saying goes, say the words and don’t bump into the furniture.
Given your long career, is there still a dream role you’d like to take on? As a former professional football player, would the part of a seasoned coach, for example, appeal to you?
That’s a good question. It depends on the person, not about the job they do. What makes a great role is the person inside the job. It’s the complexity and diversity in human beings that’s of interest to me. There’s so many intricate ways a character can exist internally, it’s not about the profession.
If I can take you back briefly – Creed was a huge success last year and now The Predator is in production. What is it about those past films which makes them just as popular with an audience some 30/40 years later?
I think it’s very simple. If the directors and actors involved didn’t do a great job, then the films today wouldn’t be piggybacking on what we did. It’s really a testament to all those involved in the original movies that they still live in the hearts and minds of fans.
I don’t know that anybody has the formula for why that works, because if they did, then people would be doing it all the time. Successful movies work because of a number of factors – good fortune, timing, talented figures in front and behind the camera, and ultimately, audiences. It’s the kind of zeitgeist at work during that particular moment. As actors, we’re just fortunate to be in the right place at the right time, and with the right material.
Another popular TV property you were involved with a couple of decades back was Vietnam series Tour of Duty. It had a real cult fanbase over here in the UK during the early nineties. Could you share some memories of working on that?
Oh, I had a wonderful time on there. The producer of that show was a guy named Zev Braun and he asked me to be a part of that. Originally I was supposed to do three episodes and it wound up being around nine.
[The series makers] were very open to ideas and one of the things I loved was, although war is war, my character Colonel Brewster was a person who had ethics in the way he wanted to go about prosecuting the war. His attitude reflected the challenges and difficulties of the Vietnam War and it spoke to the human part because his love interest was a Vietnamese woman and they had a child together.
All the actors on the show, a number of whom went on to have big careers, were also really great to be around. I have very fond memories of Tour of Duty and quite honestly, would love to do something like that again.
Chicago Justice airs Thursday at 9pm only on Universal Channel