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Carl Weathers of 'Rocky' still a hit with fans

Carl Weathers of 'Rocky' still a hit with fans
Carl Weathers will join in a discussion after screenings of "Predator" and "Action Jackson" at the Egyptian Theatre. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Carl Weathers' iconic performance as the brash heavyweight boxing champ Apollo Creed in the 1976 Oscar winner "Rocky" transformed the former pro football player into an overnight sensation.

But Weathers wasn't prepared for the onslaught of attention for his role as the nemesis of Sylvester Stallone's Rocky Balboa, the endearingly sweet underdog Creed chooses as his next opponent in the ring.

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"We were in New York promoting the movie before it opened," said Weathers, who reprised his role as Creed in three "Rocky" sequels, eventually becoming Rocky's good friend and mentor. "I was walking down the streets of Manhattan on a Friday just like anybody else, no problem, anonymous. Nobody knew who I was. Nobody cared."

The day after the film opened, it was a completely different experience.

"Saturday morning, I was out for a walk in Manhattan, and street vendors are yelling, 'Yo, Apollo!' That is scary. You are not prepared for that."

Being part of a phenomenon, he said, "is a heady experience. You actually think you know something," Weathers said. "If you buy into it, it takes so long to dig yourself out. I never ever get too up or too down about anything."

At 66, Weathers isn't too far away from being in Apollo shape. Though he joked about his various aches and pains, the personable actor still looks like he could take on all comers in the boxing ring.

These days, Weathers noted, he gets recognized as much by fans for his comedic turn as Chubbs Peterson ("It's all in the hips"), a golf pro whose hand was bitten off by an alligator in the Adam Sandler 1996 comedy "Happy Gilmore," as well as for playing a cheapskate version of himself in the TV series "Arrested Development."

"I've cut a broad swath," he said, laughing.

On Friday, Weathers will be appearing at the American Cinematheque's Egyptian Theatre for a double bill of the 1987 sci-fi classic "Predator," in which he flexes his muscles with Arnold Schwarzenegger, and 1988's "Action Jackson," an underrated police thriller that cast Weathers as a debonair, two-fisted Detroit police sergeant. Duvien Ho, who has a comic book and action movie blog site called Dammaged Goods, will be conducting the question-and-answer session.

Weathers recalled that there was a lot of good-natured competition on the Puerto Vallarta set of "Predator."

"There is no way any one of those guys would walk on screen and not try his damnedest to make sure that he looked better than anybody," Weathers said. "We trained constantly."

Weathers and "Predator" producer Joel Silver became fast friends on set and during one of their many conversations — usually about their love for 1970s blaxploitation films — "Action Jackson" was born.

"One day when I was talking, I said maybe I should just come up with an idea for something we could do together," Weathers said. "He said, 'Why don't we do that?' I was scribbling out this idea, and one of the crew I was talking to one day, one of the Aussies, said something like, 'I'm in like Action Jackson.' I said, 'That's my title.'"

Though Weathers was a high school and college football star, his real passion in school was acting. "It was all inspired by seeing Sidney Poitier on screen," said Weathers, who has also been a director for 20 years. "The first time I saw him, I think, was 'Lilies of the Field,' and what probably closed the deal for me was when I saw him and Tony Curtis in 'The Defiant Ones.'"

(He starred with the late Robert Urich in the 1986 TV remake of "The Defiant Ones.")

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Weathers attended San Diego State on a football scholarship and graduated with a degree in theater. And when he retired from pro football in 1974 after playing with the Oakland Raiders and the BC Lions of the Canadian Football League, Weathers began to get small roles in film and TV, including the 1975 blaxploitation thriller "Friday Foster" and "Bucktown," both starring Pam Grier.

"Rocky" was no knockout for the young actor. His agents thought he'd be perfect for the role and sent him Stallone's script. "Clearly you could have knocked me over with a feather," Weathers said. "I said, 'This is the role for me.'"

But the producers didn't see it that way. "They didn't know who I was," he said. "They wanted an athlete who was a name."

When the producers had casting difficulties, Weathers finally got an audition. "I was kind of the eleventh-hour guy," he said.

Weathers quickly bonded with Burgess Meredith, who earned an Oscar nomination as Rocky's elderly trainer, Mickey.

"I spent so much time with Buzzy," said Weathers, his voice tinged with affection, referring to Meredith by his nickname. "He was one of the most generous, sweetest people I have ever known. He loved women, he loved wine and he loved having a good time."

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'Predator'/'Action Jackson'

Where: American Cinematheque's Egyptian Theatre, 6712 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday

Admission: $7 to $11

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