Michael B. Jordan

What’s in a Name?

Jul 08, 2011 Web Exclusive Photography by Russel Baer Bookmark and Share

If you see Michael B. Jordan in the street, you can call out "Vince," the character he has played on Friday Night Lights for the last two seasons, or "Alex," the character he has played on Parenthood for the last season, or "Wallace," the character he played on The Wire 10 years ago, or "Mike"—his actual name—and Jordan will answer to any one. If you call him too early in the morning, however, he might still be sleeping and he won't answer at all. Considering Jordan has been in filming a feature in South Africa, his jet-lagged sleep schedule is understandable.

Acting since he became a teenager, 25-year-old Jordan has made an indelible impact on television with the above-mentioned roles as well as long-running characters on All My Children and The Assistants, and more recently on Lie to Me. Jordan's compelling turn in these parts has propelled him to the big screen. At the start on 2012 he will be starring in Chronicle and in Redtails alongside Cuba Gooding Jr. and Terrence Howard.

Right now, negotiating the shortcomings of his iPhone, as he struggles to adjust to West Coast time, the affable Jordan reflects on the lights going out on Friday Night Lights.

Lily Moayeri: Were you familiar with Friday Night Lights before you auditioned for the role of "Vince?"

Michael B. Jordan: Vaguely. I heard about it here and there. I saw the movie for sure, but I wasn't too familiar with the show. When I got the audition, I immediately went back and watched the first three seasons to get caught up on characters, relationships, to find out the headspace, everything like that. Honestly, I was a little anxious because I knew there would be a lot of high expectations put on us, filling shoes of people's favorite characters over the past three seasons. Getting new characters and caring about them is always a funky ordeal. I think it worked out pretty good.

What was the casting process like?

I went in for casting for Linda Lowry. She brought me back in to read for [executive producer] Peter Berg and some of the other producers. Peter Berg is really big on improv, adlibs and being spontaneous, being in the moment, being real. He had some scenarios to be read and he said, "I want you to act like you're on defense, get your team amped up, get your football players hyped up, give them a little pep talk." I talked and talked and talked. He was like, "Talk a little more aggressively, come at me like I'm the quarterback and you're a defensive player." I was talking, talking, talking. He was pushing me and it got to the point where there was nothing left to do so I just ran at him and I knocked him out of his chair. I was like, "Oh shit, I did not just do that." It was one of those do-or-die moments. Either I went over the top and they loved it, or Peter Berg might be a little offended right now so I don't know if I'm getting a callback.

Everything seems to have worked out.

He loved the audition. The type of spontaneity we have on set every day, spur-of-the-moment, organic chemistry, between all of us, casting has a big part to do with our show, along with the writing. Linda Lowry has a really good eye for finding actors who bring something else to the table, another layer that allows the characters to become so loveable. They're more relatable, not just to people in Texas, not just football fans, but across the board.

There has been a tendency to cast you in roles where the character is "troubled." Why do you feel that has been the case?

I'm trying to be politically correct, but there are not that many African American roles out there that are in a positive light. I don't think it's about me being typecast or only being chosen for these roles. The ones that I went out for, I got. When I get to a point where I can choose my roles more carefully, which is what I'm trying to do now, you're going to see me in a more diverse range of characters. That's the goal. The state of the industry which I work in, I'm all about breaking down molds, breaking down barriers.

Without getting too personal, have there been events in your own life that you've drawn on to so accurately and naturally portray those kinds of characters? Or have you done other preparation that has helped you play these characters so convincingly?

I'm from North New Jersey. I'm from the 'hood. I'm from a bad area. I didn't grow up in the suburbs. I grew up in a loving, very prosperous environment with both my parents as far as my home's concerned. But I have friends that were Vince, that were Wallace, that were Alex. It's all too real to me. It's easy for me to play those characters because it's things I used to see every day. I've seen many Wallaces. I've seen many Vinces. All the time. It's not hard to mimic what you grew up around. That's what acting is sometimes. You pull from your life experiences to make the role genuine as possible. That's why I feel a sense of responsibility to take these roles and show the reasons behind why these kids are the way they are, to break down the stereotypes all the way and explain them so middle America, the people that may not have grown up around or may not understand the lifestyle of someone looking like me coming from where Vince is coming from, to explain it a little bit in a creative artistic way, like hiding medicine in the food. You can't really force things. You got to give them explanations and examples so slowly they understand a little bit more and they might change their perspective in the long run. If I can do that through acting, then I'm doing more than my job, more than I set out to do.

Are there professional acting tips or methods you are learned from the critically acclaimed cast of Friday Night Lights or the veteran cast of Parenthood?

To work with Kyle Chandler one-on-one has been the highlight of my career for sure. I've learned so much from him. He's incredible. The audience loves that guy. He's a big man personally, so I think that bleeds over into Coach Taylor. Jesse Plemons is amazing to work with. He's awesome. I've had a lot of fun with him. Derek Phillips, I've had so much fun working with him as well. Unfortunately, I haven't had many scenes—or any scenes—working with Taylor Kitsch, but I know he's a phenomenal actor. Peter Krause from Parenthood, he's another one. I tend to be drawn towards lead males because that's where I want to see myself one day. They are so influential, I have so much to learn, they have so much to offer as far as work ethic is concerned. Working one-on-one, it's like a tennis match. Volleying back and forth, how long can you go, line for line. At the end of the day we're both trying to branch out and do it well. We're not trying to overshadow or overpower anybody, but we're trying to make it an intense battle on-screen in the scene. We have actors that completely take the scene to another level and it takes the chemistry and the environment to another level. Working with Cress Williams, last season he played my dad, the first scene that we had together on set was the first day that I met him. It was electric. It was insane. To this day I get goosebumps when I think about those scenes. You don't get that feeling all the time.

How is the preparation for these roles different from each other?

I like writing back-stories for characters, a 15- to 20-page back-story so you know where somebody's coming from. They give you the start position, but I want know what happened 10 years ago that made this guy who he is today that I'm starting with. It will give you a different insight, and that's where the layers come in. That's my approach. Vince, I'm trying figure out, why is he so angry, why is he so upset, what did he go through, what was his relationship like with his dad. Same thing with Alex, did some research, went to a couple of AA meetings, sat in, saw what it was like, the many reasons that people there going to these meetings had that are trying to be sober, that aren't drinking anymore, a place of honesty that they're coming from, the realness they have to have every day with everybody they come into contact with, that's something that I tried to apply a lot with Alex.

You have two films coming out at the start of 2012 where the characters you play are very different from your recent television roles.

Chronicle—Steve is a high school senior, class president, the complete opposite of all the characters I've played. He's a future Black Republican, wants to be president of the United States. That role was originally for Steve Kazinsky, a white guy. I got it and they changed it. Those are the type of colorless roles that I want, that I'm looking forward to playing. Now I'm in a place where I can do that. Before, when you're coming up and you don't have the credentials that the casting people care about, when you get to a place where I am, you can change these roles a little bit and start going after things that weren't necessarily written for you. Redtails—I play a pilot in World War II, young, eager, fresh out of flight school, out of boot camp, fresh to the world, proving that he's a man. I went to that because it's going to a great film.



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May 30th 2012

Great interview! So honest, likeable, and intelligent. He’s my future husband :)