Tony Bellew on Rocky, Sylvester Stallone and life as an actor
You're an Everton-loving boxer who idolised the fictional fighter Rocky Balboa as a child. After watching your team play at Goodison Park, the phone rings.
"Hello, I'm from Sylvester Stallone's management and we'd like to speak to you about playing a role in the latest Rocky film."
Prank call, surely? That's what Tony Bellew thought.
"Everton had just lost to Chelsea 6-3, and this guy phoned me saying Stallone wanted to speak to me," says Bellew. "I said, 'mate, my team have just been thrashed 6-3, I'm not in the mood,' and I put the phone down."
Bellew has a close relationship with Everton, who allow him to train at their Finch Farm facility. But even when the Toxteth fighter discovered it was Ross Barkley - the Everton and England midfielder has more glamorous friends than you might think - who put him on to Hollywood, he still had his doubts.
"I know what the Everton lads are like and I was thinking, 'has Ozzy [Leon Osman] put Ross up to something?' But before I knew it, there were guys from MGM Studios and Warner Brothers flying in to meet me. That's when it got real."
|Tony Bellew factfile|
|Born: 30 November 1982 in Liverpool|
|Height: 189cm (6ft 2in)|
|Weight (last fight): 14st 3lb (90.26kg)|
|Career record: 29 fights, 26 wins|
|Bellew is the European cruiserweight champion|
Two years after that knockout call, at the London premiere of Creed - the latest in the long-running Rocky franchise, Bellew is surrounded by flashing cameras and microphones on the red carpet, talking about his role as the vicious 'Pretty' Ricky Conlan.
"It wasn't until I met the director Ryan Coogler when I thought I could really do it because he was the one who wanted me for the film and believed in me," says Bellew, the European cruiserweight champion and former light-heavyweight world title challenger.
"He told me I could do it. I gave him the best I could offer and I hope it comes across well. To me, it looks amazing. And working with the iconic Sylvester Stallone and a great young actor in Michael B Jordan [who plays the eponymous Adonis Creed] has provided me with memories that will last forever."
Creed is a spin-off from the original six Rocky films and focuses on the son of Rocky Balboa's opponent from the first film, which was released 40 years ago.
"It was weird at first because I grew up idolising Rocky Balboa," says Bellew, 33. "Then all of a sudden I was talking to him, as if we'd been friends for years. He's just got that charm about him and I was just so happy to be there and to be given the opportunity to work with him.
"It was unbelievable that Rocky Balboa was speaking to a normal kid from Liverpool like me. I still couldn't believe that me and my family were having dinner with him before the premiere."
While the Hollywood hobnobbing and posh dinners felt unfamiliar, Bellew felt right at home when it came to rehearsing and shooting the fight scenes. There's no real need for boxing coaches when you've got a former British champion playing one of the leads.
"I worked long and hard to get the fight scenes right after spending many months in Philadelphia," he says. "It was a lot easier than getting hit in the face for real, we got it straight away.
"Myself and Michael B Jordan trained, ate and slept in Philadelphia for three months and we got every scene perfect. We were a solid unit, a great team and that's why the fight scenes look so real."
In Creed, the traditional centrepiece fight scene is at Goodison Park. Bellew is hoping life can imitate art.
"I've always said the dream for me isn't Las Vegas like most fighters. The dream has always been to fight at Goodison Park," he says.
"I believe I'm the most lucrative fighter in the cruiserweight division now with the movie coming out. I've fought at Goodison Park once where I was a world champion, but that was make-believe.
"Now it's time to do it for real."