He’s come a long way from Wallace. After critically acclaimed turns in Fruitvale Station and Chronicle—not to mention his years of well regarded work on Friday Night Lights and The Wire—it seems as though 26-year-old Michael B. Jordan is the most sought after young actor in Hollywood. He’s been rumored for every major tent-pole in pre-production, from new incarnations of The Fantastic Four and Independence Day to the most coveted—and secretive—project out there: J.J. Abrams’s Star Wars. (“I can’t say anything about that. Nothing whatsoever.”)
For now, we can only speculate on which superhero he’ll end up playing in 2016. Before he blows up too big, Michael B. Jordan talked to us about awards season, his acting heroes, and what exactly the year of the “Black movie” means to him.
You’ve been rumored for Independence Day and The Fantastic Four. Are you interested in high-profile parts, or would you prefer smaller character pieces like you’ve been doing?
I’m drawn to both. I would love to be involved in bigger films, but I’ll also always bring it back to doing what I’m doing, acting in more character driven pieces. I love them both. I would love to dabble in both worlds.
I think a lot of people are fans of yours from The Wire and Friday Night Lights. How does working in TV differ from the film roles you’ve done?
Television and film are two totally different genres, but in both you have a character you’re living in, growing with, over a period of time. For TV it’s for multiple episodes—it’s a different pace. Friday Night Lights and The Wire were characters that were memorable. I’m grateful that 10-11 years later, people still remember Wallace. I’ve been blessed to be a part of these critically acclaimed shows. More recently in film—Chronicle and Fruitvale Station—I’m just starting to get comfortable there.
Speaking of Fruitvale, there’s a lot of Oscar Buzz there, particularly for your performance. Is that a possibility you’ve even considered?
Although that’s not why I do this—that’s not why we told this story or why I wanted to be involved in it and I’m not doing it for any accolades or anything like that—to be in the conversation with so many actors I look up to, that are so talented, I’m honored. I manage my expectations, and I take things 24 hours at a time moving forward. I don’t try to get ahead of myself. But I can’t let that be my focus. I just worry about the work. The mantra of my team and me is “you build the house, and they will come.”
You mention other great actors. Who do you admire?
All those guys. Jared Leto is amazing. Forest Whitaker is a phenomenal actor. Matthew McConaughey is a phenomenal actor. Jake Gyllenhaal is another one. Bruce Dern is amazing, has been amazing, for so long. Chiwetel is a phenomenal actor, as is Michael Fassbender. The list goes on. There are so many actors that I watched when I was growing up. Take your pick. When you belong to this community of filmmakers and actors, there’s a mutual respect for what everyone does.
Two of those names, Forest Whitaker and Chiwetel Ejiofor, starred in movies that were, like Fruitvale Station, lead by a black actor and a black director.
I think it isn’t something new. I think people always want to know about other cultures, ethnicities, and communities. My director, Ryan Coogler, told me when he was at USC, It was 95 percent white Caucasian males, and their favorite show was The Wire. People are always interested in our stories. This year it’s the “year of the black film.” Then what’s 2014 going to be? Just the year of film? Because we have three or four films, it’s the year of the black actor? We just happened to have stories that were made at the same time this year. And it was a struggle to get those made. As more and more people support sophisticated material, you’ll see more black storytellers telling the stories they want to tell on the platform they want to tell it. This is a great jumping off point, and I’m honored to be a part of it.
What’s you relationship with Forest Whitaker? I know he produced Fruitvale.
He’s definitely someone I look up to. He’s a beautiful human being and a phenomenal actor who has been doing it for a long time. He’s a great writer, a great director, and a great person. He’s someone who, over the past, I’ve grown close with. I was able to be there last night when he got honored at the Gotham Awards. I’m glad to have him in my corner.
What was your relationship with your director Ryan Coogler?
He was like my brother. We came from the same generation, we speak the same language. He was a great collaborator. We’re on the same page half the time without even talking. And that’s so important when it comes to filmmaking, communication between the director and actor. I think we have that down pat—and it’s only going to continue to get stronger. Now he’s one of my best friends, and that bond is going to translate on camera.
And you guys are working together again, on the Rocky spinoff Creed.
That’s true. He’s still working on a script right now. He’ll call me up, and say I might want to do something, or he’ll talk to me about something, and I’ll be like, “Cool, let’s go do it.” I can’t talk too much about it, because I don’t know that much about it. The way Ryan is, he’ll tell me the first two acts, and then third act he’ll say, “Wait and read it.”
What director do you want to work with?
Oh man. Paul Thomas Anderson, David O. Russell I’d love to work with. I wouldn’t mind rocking out Quentin Tarantino. But you know what? I’m going to go with the best. Martin Scorsese. I want to work with Marty. He’s the guy.
The issues that Fruitvale raised certainly haven’t gone away since its release.
Well the timing of the movie couldn’t have been better, as far as telling a story that needed to be told, and as an outlet for people to deal with the issues emotionally. What happened with Trayvon Martin, and then the verdict, I think it’s something that happens all the time, and we have to start holding people accountable for their actions. We can’t be so quick to judge people that are different, who may not dress like you or talk like you or speak the same language. We have to start looking at each other as human beings. Period. Once we start valuing life a little more, we’ll see fewer incidents like these.
What was the challenge of playing a real person, Oscar Grant, in Fruitvale?
You’re playing someone, with all the people involved that are still alive—that’s the test. You want to be honest and respectful to the people that were close to him. There wasn’t any audio or video of Oscar, so there was never going to be an imitation. But getting everybody’s perspective, especially people that knew him best—his family, his mom, his girlfriend—and then blending those together along with my take to create a representation of who Oscar was. I just kept it in the back of my head, that one day, his daughter would have to watch this. I wanted to be truthful in moments to show that this was a guy who was trying, but sometimes he would fail. And that’s just being human.
Fruitvale Station comes out on DVD January 14.