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Drug dealer, football player, alcoholic, shooting victim. In his first decade of acting, Michael B. Jordan has found ways to humanize characters that, on the page, may seem stereotypically what he dubs “the black guy.” In The Wire, a young and very sheltered Jordan asked fellow actors to help him understand how to simulate a cocaine high onscreen, and through that surreal experience discovered his unfettered love of acting. In Friday Night Lights, Jordan started journaling as an acting exercise, and amassed a detailed back story for quarterback Vince Howard that made the character seem shockingly real.
With Fruitvale Station, Jordan dug even deeper. Playing a real person for the first time, he inserted himself deep into the family of the slain Oscar Grant, who was killed by a police officer on a train platform in Oakland in 2009. Jordan spent time with Oscar’s former girlfriend, mother, daughter, and all of his friends. The result was an intensely real portrayal of an innocent young man in a film that exposes our ongoing race problem in this country, and Jordan’s performance was nuanced, understated, and masterful.
Perhaps his ability to play characters with the odds stacked against him comes from his own desire not to fall into that lifestyle. Jordan started working very young, doing modeling and acting in commercials, and saw an acting career as a way out of the tough urban environment of Newark, New Jersey. In his words, he saw “plenty of Wallaces, Bodies, and Avon Barksdales,” and was determined to make a better life for himself.
Not only does Jordan not want to just “play the black guy,” he also doesn’t want to compare himself too closely to actors that came before. He says he doesn’t want to be the next Will Smith, or the next Tom Cruise–he just wants to be himself. When you are around Jordan, his optimism and ambition are infectious and endearing. He doesn’t just want to star in films – he wants to produce them. He doesn’t want to just be on television, he wants his own channel. And he doesn’t just want to be the face of a studio, he wants to run a studio. At Off Camera, we wouldn’t bet against him doing anything he sets his mind to.