Before Michael B. Jordan rose to fame with Marvel's "Black Panther," he sat down with LATF. In our #ThrowbackThursday interview series, we bring your our first interview with the (then aspiring) actor.
Originally published in LATF THE MAGAZINE: If you are not yet familiar with the name Michael B. Jordan you will be soon. You certainly know his face. Even though he's only just about to turn 25 he's pretty much been working non-stop for nearly a decade and for good reason. He always gives a terrific performance. Not a clunker in the bunch. If you were a fan of HBO's THE WIRE you got to know him as Wallace, the drug dealer with a conscience. Soap fans know him from ALL MY CHILDREN. Or maybe you caught one of his frequent guest star roles on shows like CSI, LAW AND ORDER, BONES, COLD CASE, BURN NOTICE, HOUSE, LIE TO ME and the list goes on. He's also been a regular cast member on the critically acclaimed FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS and NBC's family drama, PARENTHOOD. If you are going to the movies this month, chances are you'll see his smiling face beaming back at you from the big screen. He is starring in 2 hot February flicks, the box office smash RED TAILS about the famed Tuskegee Airmen and the soon to be released CHRONICLE, which tells the tale of 3 friends who suddenly develop super powers. The guy's been busy! Luckily the affable, charming and extremely personable actor found some time to sit down with LATF to tell us what it's like to go to the Cineplex and have a bevy of Michael B. Jordan movies to choose from.
First let me say I'm a big fan all the way back to THE WIRE.
You watched me struggling as a young actor trying to find his way. Oh my God I was horrible back then. My hair, oh my God! I caught THE WIRE last week on HBO, they were re-playing the 1st season and I was like, "They let me on TV looking like that?" It was so bad.
Well I think it's always hard for an actor to watch themselves but you must be doing something right because you have kept working almost continuously over the years.
Yes, it's been a blessing. Stepping stone to stepping stone from one project to the next I've always been working on something.
Was THE WIRE your first series?
Yes, I did a feature film before that called HARD BALL with Keanu Reeves and Diane Lane. We shot that in Chicago. That was my first huge production. Then THE WIRE was my first series.
Are you originally from L.A.?
I was born in California. Orange County. My Dad's from California and my Mom's from New Jersey. So, I was born out here, lived here for 2 years and then moved to NJ. I'm an east coast guy at heart.
When did you come back out to L.A.?
About 5 years ago. Right after I graduated High School. I left the soap opera ALL MY CHILDREN and decided to move out here and take it seriously. I had to move out here and go pedal to the metal, just grind it out and that's what I've been doing for the past 5 years.
What did you play on the soap?
I played Erica Kane's (Susan Lucci) stepson, Reggie Porter Montgomery. You know, troubled teen that whole story line. Robbing, stealing, getting caught up in the wrong place at the wrong time. I got a girlfriend. Lost our virginity together. Which was fun because that was like my first onscreen romance. Actually my first on-screen girlfriend was Amanda Seyfried. Obviously she's gone on to do bigger and better things. She's awesome right now. Yeah, it's been humble beginnings.
How did you adapt to the different styles of acting going from the gritty THE WIRE to ALL MY CHILDREN?
I don't think I changed. You can say what you want about soap acting but they get a bad rap for being over dramatic. I've always tried to keep things as real as possible in everything I do. Make it relatable to real people. It's kind of been my approach to acting for the most part.
How long were you on the show?
3 1/2 -4 years. Right from my sophomore year up until I graduated. A lot of my acting chops come from the soaps. Doing 100 plus pages a day. Working with Susan Lucci and Darnell Williams. He was my acting coach. He helped me out a lot starting to take the craft seriously. Making me aware that I have an opportunity right now to continue a career if I choose to take it seriously. Take the right steps. That was really pivotal for me. I took his advice very seriously and kept it going.
How did things go for you once you moved out here?
I came out here in 2006. The writer's strike was in 2007. That was rough but I've always been working. Episodics, I went to Canada and did a comedy series up there, I did an independent film in Atlanta. So, I've always been busy enough to sustain myself in Los Angeles. Then in 2009, I remember giving my landlord my last check. It was everything I had. My savings, everything. If it didn't work out that month then I was moving back to NJ and probably enrolling in culinary school. Then I got the call and booked RED TAILS. The rest is history. Right when you think, "This is it, it's over, the dream's up," you book something to keep you going, keep you motivated. It's like a drug. You feel addicted to it. Chasing that next job. RED TAILS was 2009 so we've been waiting for it come out for 3 years. We're getting excited about it all over again because it's finally out.
It's an important story to tell.
Definitely and one that took George (George Lucas) 23 years to make. He felt like he had the right crew, right cast, right director, right writers and we collaborated and made the best project possible and I think it shows.
Was George very hands on during the production?
Actually he wasn't. George is very busy. He was around. He popped up every once in a while. Rick McCallum (producer) was more hands on. He was on set most of the time, damn near every day. George was a bit more hands on during the re-shoots. It's so hard when you have so much history like you do with the Tuskegee Airmen. To cram it all into 2 hours. It becomes about what you're leaving out not what you're putting in. Finding that right balance to keep everybody happy and to portray them in the right way. To do them and their story justice was hard which is why I think it took 23 years to make it. I think with the version we have now everybody is happy.
Were any of the original Tuskegee Airmen on the set?
Oh yeah. Dr. Brown, Roscoe Brown, he's the man. He's a rock star. I'm portraying a living legend. The attitude we took to work with every day was these guys were the best and the brightest of their time, the cream of the crop, the 4.0s, the All Americans, the geniuses. These were the guys and we tried to portray that. It was awesome. They were around to keep things real. They would be like, "You know we didn't do all that slapping hands." Oh they would definitely tell you what they did and didn't do and how they feel about it. They were very verbal with that stuff.
Did you all get to see the final film together?
They loved it. It's like watching a kid in a candy store. Like they're watching a highlight reel. "Oh yeah, I remember that move. I dumped on his ass." They're very proud and we're just honored that we did them justice. When you hear one of them say, "You remind me of me back in my day," that's the biggest compliment. Crazy thing. The director, Anthony Hemingway, picked me up at the train station when I was doing THE WIRE. He was a PA (production assistant)in 2002 and now in 2009 he's the director of RED TAILS. He worked his way up the ladder to his first major motion picture directing job. You just never know who's going to be where, when. Who's journey is going to put them in which position. It was funny to see things come full circle.
Then Friday Night Lights came along.
Yeah, I joined one of the most incredible shows on television. Working with Kyle Chandler, Jurnee Smollet, Connie Britton, Jesse Plemons, Taylor Kitsch and the list goes on. I joined some really great company. I was a little nervous joining a show that's a well oiled machine that's been working for 3 seasons. You come in in season 4 and you just don't want to mess anything up. It was surprisingly liberating from an actor's perspective because they wanted you to bring more to the table. More than what was just on the page. That's why you were hired. At dinner Kyle would say, "If you don't come to work bringing something else they you're not doing your job." So, I put my all into it. As an actor you just drool over the material. I was like "OK, alright, I got to show my ass." (an expression actors use when they let down their guard, open up and really go for it) Then season 5 came along and I had no idea that my storyline was going to be as big as it was.
What was your storyline?
I played Vince Howard. A troubled kid. Mom's on drugs, a lot of stereotypes, Dad was locked up and not around. His life was going in the wrong direction and football was his savior. He had a choice. Either play football or go to jail. Coach Taylor (Chandler) was a father figure in his life trying to get him on the right track. My biggest thing is that some of the characters I play unfortunately are stereotypes and that's all people see them as. I look at the characters I play as an opportunity to hide the medicine in the food. To show choices. That there are choices behind these characters. Like, there might be a middle aged guy from Wisconsin who might have a certain opinion about African Americans from all the stereotypes he sees on TV. If I can show him the choices that kid makes, or the circumstances he's coming from then maybe it might be able to have that guy look at him in a different light. That was my thing with Vince. I wanted to show the choices. I wanted to show that just because you came from the inner city and you didn't have the luxury of both parents that you could still make the right choices. You could still do the right thing. Be a good kid. Be a good guy. Life is about the choices you make. In season 5 his Dad came back and it was a tug-o-war battle between Coach being the father figure and then his real Dad. That relationship kind of unfolded and became something beautiful.
Then you went on to do PARENTHOOD.
Yeah, I finished up season 2 and then did the first 4 or 5 episodes of season 3. That was fun. Jason Katims (Executive Producer) is an incredible writer. He's amazing. He writes these characters you can really sink your teeth into.
Your approach to the character is similar to FNL in that you take a role that could be a stereotype and make it something else. It becomes about redemption.
Yeah, he's a recovering alcoholic and then certain things pop up. Obstacles come up and you're tested. Alex got weak and he made a mistake. It may not have been all his fault but he got caught up. Unfortunately his relationship had to suffer as a result of that and it ran its course.
Even though the relationship in an inter-racial one it's never a black/white thing. It's his checkered past that concerns her parents. You have to really hand it the show for making it about the character traits and not the color of people's skin.
Exactly. That was key about the character. They didn't make it about black and white they made it about everything else. My history and my lifestyle. Screw the black and white it's about 2 different lives coming from 2 different worlds.
And now CHRONICLE.
Yes CHRONICLE. It opens on February 3rd and I am pumped. I am so excited. I had a lot of fun making this movie. We shot it in Cape Town, South Africa. I'm playing a character that is the complete opposite of any character I've played before. He's Student Class President, comes from a very wealthy family, he's Mr. Likeable, everybody gets along with him. Being a comic book fan personally it was just a dream come true to be able to play a character that has super powers. Having telekinesis and being able to move stuff and fly. It was crazy. An amazing experience.
The movie takes place in Portland but you shot in South Africa?
Sometimes I guess it's cheaper to shoot someplace else. It was actually a number of different reasons why they decided to go there. The special effects company was there. We were there for 2 1/2 months.
Was that your first shoot out of the country.
Second. Previously we shot RED TAILS in the Czech Republic and Croatia. We were there for 3 1/2 months. That was a long time and my first shooting abroad. Cape Town was fun for me because I always wanted to go to Africa. To go on somebody else's dime was excellent. It was a little culture shock for sure but I learned a lot. Their history, my history. Just being there as an African American was one of the highlights of my life.
Did you get to do any safaris?
No safaris but if you drive north you see baboons , ostrich farms. They had ostrich riding which was pretty cool. Some of the people went shark cage diving. It was the winter, I wasn't getting in the water and shark cages and me, I don't know, they really don't go hand-in-hand. It was just beautiful and we enjoyed the local traditions. Unfortunately, because of the schedule, I didn't get to see as much as I would have liked but it definitely gave me that itch to go back.
What was the experience in the Czech Republic like?
We had our moments. It was 2009/2010 at the time and there are a lot of ignorant people out there. The Czech Republic has a lot of older people stuck in their ways and we definitely felt that being an all Black cast in Prague. We had our moments out there were it was a little rough but we just used it for fuel shooting out movie. We were fighting the racism while we were shooting it and we were filming the racism while we were shooting it. Prague is its own thing. There were some cool people there and then you have some people who will walk off the sidewalk when you're walking down the street. They use racial slurs. It was National Nazi Day. It was just random shit things like that they we experienced in Prague. In South Africa it was more of a Class thing. Being "Colored," being "Black," being "mixed" it was just a whole different education I got being out there with the Class system of Africa. "Black" and "Colored" are 2 different things and I didn't know that. I took being called "Colored" very personally but out there it's not a slur. It's not racial at all. It's just what they prefer to be called. I learned a lot. I definitely got educated on both my trips.
So, back to the movie. It's you and 2 friends who go off into the woods, get exposed to a mysterious substance and come back with super powers.
Something like that. I don't know how much I'm supposed to give away. We stumble on this thing, this whatever, and it gives us these gifts. We find out later that we have these abilities. We start exploring them and having fun with it but with great power comes great responsibility. It effects each of us differently. One of us goes a little crazy and we have to try and reel him in. It's hard for me to talk about it without really talking about it. I don't want to give too much away. I just encourage people to go check it out because I think they will be pleasantly surprised.
Did everyone get along while you were making the movie?
Yeah. I wish I could give some more drama stories, give you some juicy shit but everything was great. The director was awesome. Josh Trank is young. It was my first time working with a younger director that was somebody closer in age to myself so that was cool. Dane DeHaan is an excellent actor and I had a lot of fun working with him. Alex Russell is another f*cking star. I had a lot of fun working with him. I think we all complement each other.
Did you guys hang out?
Dude, dinner after work. We would venture out and eat African cuisine. A lot of curry, Thai, Indian influence. After a while we would search for the most American place. We'd be like, "I need a cheeseburger!" We found this place that had these delicious Jack Daniels honeycomb milkshakes and burgers. It was so good. We would go out there and hang out. We'd play video games, go work out. We really bonded a lot. We spent a lot of our down time together. We went out to the clubs. Dane had his fiancé out there so they sometimes did their thing and me and Alex and Ashley (actress Ashley Hinshaw) would hang out. A lot of drinking went on. We drank a lot. There was a lot of drunken nights for sure but we enjoyed ourselves.
I'm coming from a place where you work to work and now it about making the right choices to get more work. It's the first time I have 2 movies out. I want to see how that goes. The buzz is growing. I'm starting to feel more comfortable in Hollywood, in this town, in this city with the people I'm working with. I don't want to close any doors before they are opened. I want options.
Do you see your future more in movies or on TV?
I think it's more about the work. It's not like it was 10 years ago where if you did TV you couldn't do movies or if you did movies you didn't really do TV. Now the lines are blurred so much that I just want to continue to do great work. Just moving forward I want to do work, whether it's on TV or in film, that people will like and I can feel proud of. It's kind of like Ryan Gosling. I haven't seen this guy do a bad film yet. I can't wait to work with him one day.
Are there any other actors you look up to or whose careers you want to emulate?
Ryan's the guy right now. I enjoy watching Giovanni Ribisi. Paul Giamatti is someone I look up to. Without going to the usual suspects like Denzel and Will Smith. Those guys are extremely talented. Sidney Poitier, Don Cheadle of course. For a young career, Ryan Gosling is the guy for me. He does great work. He can do a romantic comedy and then he can come back and do DRIVE where he has 3 lines in the 1st 15 minutes but you can't stop watching him. That's the kind of work I want to do. Where people just can't stop watching you.
Anything in the pipeline right now?
I'm always super proactive. I've got a couple of books I've bought the rights to that I want to turn into scripts. Just trying to figure out what's going on. Pilot season is just starting. I'm kind of curious to see what's out there. See what movies are coming up.
What do you do for fun?
Fun? I'm a cook. I love cooking. I'm a big "foodie." I have a list of restaurants in L.A. I've been checking off for the past few months. Pick one randomly each week. I like all kinds of food. I really like Indian food especially after being to Africa. Love all the curries. I've been eating a lot of sushi since I moved here. I never really got in it before but being it's the thing to do here I got swept up in it. Haven't moved up to sashimi yet. The taste buds haven't gone there. I have texture problems.
So I guess you won't be having a nice slimy giant clam any time soon.
No,no. I won't be sucking down any clams or oysters. Fried oysters, yes. Raw, no. When I cook I make a lot of seafood. My Dad doesn't eat meat. A cook different things, comfort food for sure. I'm really big with homemade mash potatoes, pan fried salmon, lasagna, Italian, risotto. My risotto is pretty insane.
And when you're not cooking?
Video games. I read a lot. Comic books. Japanese animation. I'm all over the place. I'm really big into sports. Basketball is like one of my hobbies because I play every week.
You also are active in some charities.
Yes. Mom has Lupus, so Lupus L.A. ( www.lupusla.org ) is definitely one of the charities I want to be more involved in. Raising awareness for a disease there is no cure for that affects me personally. My Mom has had it for 24 years. Falling Whistles ( www.fallingwhistles.com ) which helps the kids in the war torn Republic of Congo who are kidnapped from their homes and forced to join militias. If they are too small to carry guns they are given whistles to blow to draw enemy fire and basically sacrifice themselves. Their motto is "Be a whistle blower for peace." So many people just turn their heads and don't say anything. They could speak up and stop what's going on but they don't. I think it's the perfect charity to be a part of because more people need to speak up and speak out.
Anyone special in your life?
Valentine's Day sucks! I've been single for I don't know how long. No, nobody special but my Mom. My Mom's my woman! And my publicist.
You're just saying that because she's sitting right there. You're a real brown-noser.
Only by default. It was born brown.
RED TAILS and CHRONICLE are in theaters now. If you have never seen FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS you should check it out. It's a great show. You can catch it on cable, Netflix and DVD. As for Michael, I'm sure we'll be seeing a lot from him in the future.
By John Moschitta Jr.