Plan your screen time with the weekly What to Watch newsletter. Sign up today.
Almost two decades after his career-making turn as young Wallace in HBO’s The Wire, actor Michael B. Jordan has now set his sights towards a more multidisciplinary career. Having either produced or executive-produced the majority of the projects he has starred in since the establishment of his production company Outlier Society in 2016, Jordan is also set to make his directorial debut with the newest installment of the Creed franchise, due for release late next year.
With all of these successes comes the ability to parse opportunities with more intention and autonomy, which is why Jordan was eager to accept the role of First Sgt. Charles Monroe King in the upcoming A Journal For Jordan, directed by Hollywood veteran Denzel Washington. Based on the real-life story of former New York Times senior editor Dana Canedy, the film follows Dana and Charles’ relationship from its first sparks through to Charles’ deployment during the Iraq War, where he kept a journal of loving insights and advice for the couple’s soon-to-be-born son.
Ahead of the film’s Dec. 25 release, Jordan spoke with The Globe about what he learned from working with screen titan Denzel Washington, filmmaking during the pandemic, and the importance of using his resources to open up opportunities for others.
At this point in your career, you have so many opportunities coming your way – what initially drew you to the role of Charles?
It was a nice switch-up from the other projects I had going on; I was looking forward to slowing down a bit and doing something intimate and heartfelt. When this project came up five years ago, I was blown away by the advice, wisdom, and love that Charles was pouring into this journal with the hopes that his son would one day read it. The story between Charles and Dana was truly powerful and I wanted to have a chance to help tell their story. And, of course, when Denzel comes on board as a director, it’s something you take seriously.
How did working with an acting heavyweight like Denzel Washington enrich your experience as an actor, or your understanding of acting?
Watching him and having always been captivated by the roles he has taken on, I was so curious about his process – all actors have their own approach to things. Being able to see firsthand his level of preparation and thought – it’s unmatched. For him to drop so many gems and so much of the wisdom that he’s learned along the way, I learned lessons from him that I’ll take with me for the rest of my career.
You’re directing the next instalment of the Creed series – what did you take away from working with Denzel in terms of directing as you embark on your first feature as a director?
He definitely took his time with me knowing that I was directing. There were so many things I learned from him along the way: the importance of being prepared; being all right with not knowing everything; not being afraid to defer to others and ask questions; allowing the people around you to do their job to the best of their ability; and surrounding yourself with people who know more than you sometimes.
One of the things I enjoyed most about the film is the specificity of Dana’s story. How do you navigate your role as a leading man while still centering the experiences of the women in this story?
I think our experiences were one and the same. Dana is such an incredibly strong, loving, powerful and smart woman. To have her as a resource that we could call on daily and have her be our North Star for guidance and advice in regards to the very intimate and personal moments in the film – she lent herself to the film in ways that we definitely needed.
What was the most challenging aspect of working on this film?
The most challenging would definitely be shooting a movie during COVID. It’s a new process that slowed things down and sometimes made things a little less intimate than we had wished for.
You’ve been working for two decades now – even though The Wire sometimes feels like it was just yesterday. How you do feel about where you are at right now in your career?
I’ve been doing this for 20 years, but I feel like I just showed up. Being able to make decisions and move and work the way I want – to have a little more control over my destiny – is great. I’m as hungry as ever. But I do feel like I only just got off of The Wire. I want to do everything – not in the sense of spreading yourself thin – but doing everything that you truly want to do. I feel like it’s a good time.
Having that kind of autonomy in your career also allows you to leverage that privilege. You were among the first leading actors to adopt a mandatory inclusion rider. What are you looking forward to in terms of your own work and also changes in the industry at large?
I’ve been blessed. There’s a lot of hard work and sacrifice that is paying off now. I’m trying to find ways to open up doors for other talented people who haven’t had the run or opportunities that I’ve had. Taking the producing thing to another level in that sense is something that is important to me. Hopefully, soon you’ll be seeing other talented people doing their thing.
A Journal for Jordan opens in theatres Dec. 25.
Plan your screen time with the weekly What to Watch newsletter, with film, TV and streaming reviews and more. Sign up today.