You may know Tessa Thompson from her critically acclaimed work in Dear White People and Selma (both movies were the talk of awards season last year). In new movie Creed, Thompson plays a passionate musician named Bianca, girlfriend to Michael B. Jordan‘s Adonis Creed character. Thompson is impressive to watch alongside on-screen heavyweights Jordan and Sylvester Stallone, holding her own in frequent scenes that leave the audience wanting more.

We spoke with Thompson during the film’s press run in Philadelphia about her role, working with Michael B. Jordan and much more.

How did you prepare for the role? Was a Rocky movie marathon involved? 

“It was involved, yeah for sure. Mostly trying to decide what Bianca would know about Rocky. I’ve seen the movies but there were ones I hadn’t seen yet, and also watching them in sequence was interesting and cool and watching how the film evolved too. I play a singer in the movie, so early preparation was actually writing the music with our brilliant composer Ludwig Göransson. We spent two weeks in Los Angeles in a studio basically writing from morning until night. It was cool and also gave me insight on her musical abilities, which is something I dabbled in. Bianca is a person who spends most of her time held up in her apartment making music, so I really got a sense of what that begins to feels like. I think that many of her early interactions with Adonis were plagued by the fact she hadn’t been speaking to anyone for 16 hours and he arrives at her door and she wasn’t ready. I really got a sense of what that feels like by working on the music.”

Did you model your character on Talia Shire’s character “Adrian” from the original? The two play a similar role in these parallel films.

“I didn’t model my character off her at all. When we were making this movie, I thought of it as the next Ryan Coogler movie, and not the next Rocky movie. Obviously the characters are borrowed and the universe is shared in some ways [but] it is a new movie. The Philadelphia portrayed in this movie is really not the Philadelphia seen in the previous Rocky movies, so the creation of Bianca was really like the movie wanting to be its own fresh entity.”

How much do you relate to the character?

“There are a lot of things about her I didn’t understand. I never stepped foot in Philly before I flew here to make the movie, and I spent about two months before shooting just getting integrated and learning the dialect and hanging out in the musical scene. Also her as a person there are things I definitely can relate to: having a dream that seems very much impossible at various moments, and working really hard to be the best you can be at something and hoping to make your mark at it and not having a blueprint on success. I definitely relate to that in my own career personally, but there were many things. I wanted to create someone that was very separate from myself and hopefully that helps explain it.”

I know you’ve just finished your debut album with your band Caught a Ghost (with Jesse Nolan). Being a real artist and playing an artist must’ve blurred some lines with reality and film?

“Not necessarily, because I sang in Caught a Ghost for about two years really as a hobby. I was really lucky to be asked as a friend to come and travel and sing in that band, but that really wasn’t my original music—except one song we (me and Jesse Nolan) wrote for the Dear White People soundtrack, but it’s really a separate thing. Bianca has two band mates that she sort of writes music with but even they serve a small part in her musical voice and influence. She really is an army of one in the way she makes music, so that was really different.

“I really like the idea of focusing on doing something very well, so music isn’t something I’ve been able to dedicate my time to. I stopped singing because of that, so it was nice to revisit music and make the kind of music I had been longing to make and have it live in something that hopefully a lot of people are going to see.”

How was working with Ryan Coogler? He brings a very visceral angle to his films. 

“Working with Ryan was amazing. I actually heard about him as a filmmaker before I even saw Fruitvale Station, on the strength of the short films he made at USC. It was a dream to work with him, especially since he’s very collaborative and really unique [as a director for a sports movie]. Him wanting a female character to be as compelling as the male character, that can be really fleshed out and have her own unique identity to challenge not only the movie but also the protagonist in the form of Mike’s character, was really exciting.”

How was working with the other cast and crew, including a legend in Sylvester Stallone and Michael B. Jordan? 

“It was great. It was really fantastic to be in Philly. Sylvester Stallone is someone that’s been in the business obviously for forever and had great success as this character Rocky, so it was really incredible to watch him pass the torch and do it with such grace and humility. It was just so nice to be taken under his wing. I’m just so proud of the three of them and really proud to have worked alongside them.”

What have you got coming up next?

“I have a film called War On Everyone, directed by John Michael McDonagh. He’s a really fantastic British-Irish filmmaker. I also have a film called Cavalry with Alexander Skarsgard and Mike Peña. I’m really excited about that film. It’s a fun heist movie, different from Creed and anything else I’ve done. I’m also working on a show called West World for HBO. I’m not sure when it’s set to premiere but it’s a really exciting cast, working alongside Anthony Hopkins and reuniting with Thandie Newton. It’s just an interesting cast with a lot of actors I really admire, so I’m sort of always pinching myself at work.”

The film hits theaters on Nov. 25.