There’s a saying that life is a marathon, not a sprint and the same can be said when looking at actor Michael B. Jordan’s resume. Throughout his life the Newark, New Jersey-native has crafted a career that clearly states he’s in it for the long haul.
Fortunately for Jordan, who makes a breakout performance in Fruitvale Station, he has an enormous amount of talent to back the early Oscar buzz surrounding his performance as 22-year-old Oscar Grant.
Proving to be one of the most diverse actors of his generation, one can even point to the start of his career playing Susan Lucci’s adoptive son on All My Children as his point of origin. Jordan has had many moments to shine on cult television hits. From The Wire as troubled youth Wallace, to fan favorites like Friday Night Lights, and Parenthood, Jordan never succumbed to the stereotype that often plagues black actors.
That said, if an actor is lucky there’s a time that shifts from being a shining moment to a career change. For Jordan, his portrayal of the real life Oscar Grant whose life ends short on New Year’s Day 2009, is one of those moments.
It would be easy for an actor to get stuck in the labels that weaved the sum of Oscar’s parts, but for Jordan his decade-plus career gives the actor the maturity and understanding to avoid these pitfalls. Instead Michael B. Jordan does the impossible, and breaks racial barriers, while humanizing a man who could easily act as a symbol for what’s wrong with the portrayal of African-Americans in the media.
A victim of society as he is a cause, charming as he is infuriating, Jordan made sure that Grant’s legacy won’t be in his death, but by what he meant to the people who knew him best.
The Inquisitr’s Niki Cruz sat down with Michael B. Jordan to discuss Fruitvale Station, the life of Oscar Grant, and the actor’s future.
THE INQUISITR: Obviously you have to establish a relationship with Melonie Diaz, who plays Oscar’s girlfriend. How did you work out that history together?
MICHAEL B. JORDAN: We spent a lot of time together before we started filming. I cooked dinner for her. Just hanging out and doing what couples would do. We would go to basketball games. Things that best friends would do, because Oscar and Sophina were best friends. Everyone knows conflict, but we were really trying to create that organic friendship. It’s what you have to put a little more time into.
THE INQUISITR: What’s the one thing that stands out most for you about this whole process?
JORDAN: I think the tragedy itself. I don’t know if that’s too boring of an answer, but it’s the tragedy of the loss of life, and that it’ll happen again. Or maybe the fact that just thinking that if it wasn’t caught on camera, what would have happened? Would it have even been a thing?
THE INQUISITR: By tackling this role do you think it will influence the material you take on in the future?
JORDAN: I think for me it’s having this type of workload for the first time. Being first on the call sheet is what every actor dreams about, or is looking forward to at some point in their career. It’s the work ethic. The bar has been set to a certain place, so for the next one I’m going to keep trying to have the same feeling.
THE INQUISITR: You’re incredibly moving in this film, as you were in Friday Night Lights. Could you talk very briefly what that experience was like, particularly with Kyle Chandler and Jason Katims, who then brought you over into Parenthood.
JORDAN: It’s a different pace. It’s a different character development. The writing is so amazing. Jason Katims writes these shows about family so well, and he still gives you so much room to play. With Kyle Chandler, I’ve learned so much from him, because being in the same room with him is almost like not working at all. It’s like playing tennis, and going back and forth, and it’s so much fun. When they yell cut we were still going sometimes. I learned a lot from him in that brief bit of time.
THE INQUISITR: Did you get the chance to talk to the family personally?
JORDAN: Yeah. It was a little awkward at first, and I was a little hesitant. I was just thinking about what they’re thinking about you. It’s still fresh. It’s only four years ago and I wouldn’t be over it. I sat down with Wanda for a few, and then I had the chance to sit down with Sophina and hear about their relationship and how they treated one another. Being able to go to a park and order some barbecue and talk to his best friends. We talked, played dominos, and drank a little bit, and let the stories just flow. It helped that I was on The Wire [LAUGHS] because they were all fans and I got that little in, so it broke the ice. It made it a little bit more comfortable. It was cool after a while, and then they stayed back and trusted Ryan [Coogler], and knew that he was going to take care of the story. That was important.
THE INQUISITR: After you talked to the family and friends, did that help add more elements to your performance?
JORDAN: Ryan [Coogler] was with me every step of the way. As far as going to the park and hanging out, or going to Starbucks, and talking to the family, that was just the homework and the back story. For me I can’t talk to Oscar, so I had to hear the different perspectives on Oscar, because he was different with everyone. I had a different version of him. Ryan did a lot of the heavy lifting. A lot of it was already on the page so it was just up to us to connect the dots, and make it make sense for us.
THE INQUISITR: How do you feel about seeing yourself on the big screen?
JORDAN: I was annoyed the first time I saw it. I was like, “Can we cut to something else?” Just to see myself up there the whole time was weird. Then I got a little nervous too, I was like, “Okay if this goes bad, I ain’t working again!” It was a little weird for me.
THE INQUISITR: As an actor you’ve been shot before. You were shot on The Wire, and shot for this, so how is it to watch that happen on-screen?
JORDAN: It’s weird for me, but for my mom, I’m putting my mother through that. It’s unnatural to see your son die so many times, and in so many different ways. I don’t want to put her through that anymore. For me it’s also depressing because I mentally go into the mindset of losing my life. It’s very heavy. For a couple of weeks after I’m very depressed, and a little down. Acting is kind of a little off, and crazy, so it comes with it, but after that I try to check out of it and move on. I’m just trying to choose roles now where I make it through the third act [LAUGHS].
THE INQUISITR: Are you surprised by the attention it’s getting?
JORDAN: What I thought this film was going to do was to get into Sundance. I’ve never been to Sundance with a project of my own. I wanted to go. For me to get in, I said, “Great! I get to go to Park City!” And to win the Grand Jury Audience award at Sundance was mind-blowing.
THE INQUISITR: What’s one lesson that you’ve learned from the beginning of your career that you’ve tried to take with you?
JORDAN: Don’t pretend to know everything. Just being blessed to work with a lot of veterans. It’s about being a sponge, and learning. Obviously to take things from project to project, whether it’s listening to your partner. Be a giving actor. It’s working with the likes of Susan Lucci who doesn’t take days off. From every situation be able to take away a positive and be able to learn, and don’t think you know everything. That’s the main thing I took away from the early stages to now.
THE INQUISITR: Your next project is called Are We Officially Dating. Tell us about that and are you officially dating anybody?
JORDAN: [LAUGHS] Are We Officially Dating is a romantic comedy with Miles Teller, Zac Efron, and it’s based in New York, and it’s about these three best friends that make a pact to stay single for as long as they can. My character is going through a divorce and I’d like to be single and dating. I am dating someone.
THE INQUISITR: This is your breakout moment, especially with indie films getting more recognition and nominees from the Academy during awards season. How does that feel?
JORDAN: Every day is a dream I’m waiting to wake up from. You’re doing something for such a long time, and you work on your craft, and you wait for opportunities or a role like this to come around, and it’s humbling. I’m excited, I’m happy, and I’m very nervous. When you’re younger and you go on auditions and you train yourself. You think you did a good job, and you expect to get it, and you don’t, and then you’re let down, and you’re disappointed. Then you tell yourself to do the work and then disconnect from it because you have no control over the outcome. I kind of just try to look at every project like that. I give it my all and then I have to walk away. Right now having this moment and being on this journey, I’m enjoying the process. Where I’ll end up? Who knows? I’m just trying to enjoy the moment.
FRUITVALE STATION is out in limited release now.