Whether it’s an underdog boxer with a chip on his shoulder, a football player with a point to prove, or a superhero trying to save the world, Michael B. Jordan has often played positive, heroic roles in his career. In Ryan Coogler‘s Black Panther, however, Jordan will take on the mantle of Erik Killmonger, a traditionally antagonistic character in the pages of Marvel Comics. But Jordan’s hoping that his charisma and familiarity is going to pull people to Killmonger’s side, so don’t be surprised if you find yourself rooting for the outsider.
During a visit to the Atlanta-based set of Black Panther about this time last year, our group of journalists were able to talk to Jordan about his own take on Killmonger and how his collaborations with Coogler helped to shape the character and his arc. If you’ve seen any of the film’s marketing that’s been in steady supply ahead of the February 16th release date, you know that Killmonger is in conflict with the title character and his rule in Wakanda. But to hear Jordan explain it, Killmonger is not a villain, but someone else entirely.
A lot of the roles you’ve played in the past have kind of been underdogs, guys you really root for. Obviously this is on the opposite end of that. What was it like getting to switch into that kind of character?
Michael B. Jordan: I think it’s a different muscle for me. I wanted to step outside of my comfort zone and try something different, especially with [Director] Ryan [Coogler], working with him again. I jumped at the chance to get a chance to work with him again. I think one of the challenges for us, if we do our jobs the right ways, hopefully Killmonger is somebody you guys can root for, too. I think that’s something hard to accomplish, but if we all do what we’re supposed to do, I think that will be a really hard decision to make, to figure out who you want to root for. I think that brings out the best in villains.
Based on that, what does Erik Killmonger want?
Jordan: He has interests in Wakanda, as [does] the rest of the world. It’s something that they don’t really know that much about, and… he wants to find out more? I’m sorry guys, this is tough! [laughs]
The fact that you’re on the other side of things from here compared to most of the cast, who are grouped together as Wakandans … is there an isolation in that? How does that work as far as developing your relationships with the cast versus the characters developing their relationships?
Jordan: It’s interesting because I’m not really associated with any of the Wakandans. I guess I’m the best representation of America? So, when it comes to getting into the characters from the offset, I’m kind of late in the game. This is the first project between me and Ryan where I wasn’t there from the very beginning, so coming into the middle of shooting, not really being there from pre-production and getting the chance to spend a lot of time with the cast and stuff like that, actually works in my favor. Because there isn’t really any real connection there on screen, in the script, so I think that separation helps me out a lot. But it’s one of those things where you tell everybody before they start, “I love you! I love you, too! Ah! But in this one I’m not really gonna be smiling too much, you know?” I think people know me by now, I’m pretty warm and approachable and stuff like that, but on this one, I’m taking a slightly different approach and kind of staying to myself.
One thing that people really responded to with Creed was Ryan’s style of filming the boxing scenes. Can you speak to how he’s approaching action in this movie?
Jordan: As realistic as he can. I think one of Ryan’s strengths is that he always finds the real moments, even in the sci-fi or larger-than-life atmosphere and environment, so to apply when it comes to boxing, he wanted real hits. He wanted it to look like if it was a brawl, it was gonna be a brawl, you know? We really took our time with each punch; each punch represented a different line. So in a sense, we’re having a scene and dialogue within the fight. That was something that I found very interesting with that attention to detail. So for this one, [it’s a] different approach cuz there are a lot of weapons and you’re also using a lot of hand-to-hand combat and stuff like that, so there’s a lot more action, so to speak. Just trying to find the realness in the larger-than-life Marvel universe. I think that’s something he’s definitely striving for.