Michael B. Jordan has never avoided taking a risk. From his first major role as the conflicted Wallace (RIP) in The Wire, to his starring turn in Fruitvale Station, and now as Erik Killmonger in Marvel's upcoming Black Panther, he is an actor who is uncomfortable with the expected.
For him, portraying Killmonger in Black Panther isn't just about flexing his supervillain muscles, but about playing a major role in the very first big comic book movie with an all-star, all-black main cast. "This is the first time you'll see a cast this diverse, and I think it's really timely," Jordan says. "I think people will really love it. I think they're thirsty for it, they really need it, they want it...I couldn't imagine a better cast and a better storyline for Marvel to tell this story. So I'm really excited to be a part of this history."
Being Killmonger, he added, also provides a chance to play a well-rounded antagonist of color on screen, something mainstream media audiences rarely get to see. "He basically wants to rule Wakanda, and he's willing to go about it by any means necessary. He's a strategist; he always thinks things through. He's always ten steps ahead of whatever opponent he has, so he's a very, very smart guy." Think about it: when was the last time you saw a non-white actor, especially a black male actor, playing an intelligent, ambitious, sympathetic villain in a movie?
Ryan Coogler (or in Jordan's words, "our fearless leader") at the helm has a lot do with this thoughtful storytelling. Black Panther is Jordan and Coogler's third film project together; the two first collaborated on Fruitvale Station, the 2013 movie based on the real-life story of Oscar Grant, who was killed by a police officer in 2009, and then on Creed, the latest entry in the Rocky Balboa franchise, in 2015. Fruitvale Station in particular was critically lauded as a daring foray into fraught sociopolitical issues of race, police brutality, and structural inequality and oppression in American society.
So how did Jordan make the jump from a crime scene in a BART stop to the techno-paradise of Wakanda? "I've always wanted to earn that respect and do projects that show my acting chops, [but] having the opportunity to do bigger projects that really play with my imagination is always fun."
Although he enjoys the escapism of superhero movies and action-packed fun, he doesn't plan to leave behind real-world settings anytime soon. "I have a lot of other projects in the works that are more grounded and definitely have that 'hide the medicine in the food' mentality of being socially aware and progressive, telling the right message and being responsible storytellers," he says. "When it's all said and done, I'd like to have a well-balanced career with things that you go to the movie theater to eat popcorn and enjoy [but] that have a lot of substance to them, and also some very gritty, grounded projects with real characters that represent the people you see around you every day."
Part of that initiative involves going behind the camera with his new production company, Outlier Society Productions. The aim of Outlier Society, Jordan says, is to create opportunities for young, multicultural actors and creatives who aren't interested in conforming to stereotypes. "I wanted to start creating opportunities for actors out there that weren't so cut-and-dried...My ultimate goal with Outlier is to give these young creatives and young creative hustlers the opportunity to leave their fingerprint on the world."
The above is a collaboration between Outlier Society and Brisk, the official drink sponsors for Black Panther, as part of the "Creators Class" campaign. It's also a brief example of what he wants to do when he's in the director's chair. "Brisk encourages the same boldness and creativity that I actually want my production company to represent," Jordan explains about his advertising partner. Like his production company, Brisk works with up-and-coming talent from diverse cultural backgrounds "that you can't necessarily put into a box."
So what risks will Jordan be taking next—and will they be in front of or behind the camera? "I think it'll be a nice balance of doing both," he says. "For me, I really enjoy telling stories and helping the younger generation, young actors to have the same opportunity I did."
What kinds of projects do you hope Jordan will tackle in the future? Tell us below!
Images: Brisk/Outlier Society Productions, Marvel
Read more about Black Panther!
- The first reactions to Black Panther are glowing.
- 8 things we learned on the Black Panther set.
- Marvel's giving away a Black Panther starter comic.