Interview: Michael B. Jordan on Fruitvale Station


If you’re not already familiar with rapidly rising star Michael B. Jordan, it’s a good bet that you will be soon. Following memorable television series roles on shows like “The Wire” and “Friday Night Lights,” Jordan has successfully transitioned to the big screen, starring in projects like Anthony Hemingway’s Red Tails and Josh Trank’s Chronicle. This Friday, Jordan takes on full leading man status in writer-director Ryan Coogler’s Fruitvale Station, a true, harrowing examination of the death of 22-year-old Oakland resident Oscar Grant.

The winner of both the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Fruitvale Station examines Grant’s life in his final hours, painting a picture of a man who, despite his faults, is desperate to pull his life together and to become a better father and son.

Jordan sat down recently with to discuss his intensely dramatic performance and the delicate care required in bringing to the screen such a recent tragedy. He also discusses his thoughts on where he’d like to see his career go in the future, including a rumored turn as Johnny Storm in Trank’s upcoming Fantastic Four.

CS: When you’re making a film like this that carries such an intense emotional weight to the story, is that something that you feel on set every day?
Michael B. Jordan:
Yeah, I felt it. It’s so hard to tell. There’s also this huge workload. I’ve inherited that number one on the call sheet workload that I’d always seen but never really knew what it was like. It was really heavy. Really heavy and a lot of work. A lot of long days. The subject matter doesn’t make it any easier. I think it was the most work that I’ve done to date, especially with the time that I put in with homework to really kind of get this guy down as best I could. It was really, really heavy.

CS: Where did that homework begin for you?
It began the moment I talked to Ryan. We had that first conversation and I immediately said, “Yeah, I’m gonna do it.” I started growing out my hair. I can’t really grow a beard, so what you saw was probably the most I can ever get. It took me about two months to grow it. Honestly, I just couldn’t wait to get to the day so I went out there a month early. I wanted to spend as much time there as possible. To soak up what the Bay is and that environment. To spend time with his mom, his daughter and his girlfriend. All his best friends and the people that knew him the best. There’s no audio or video on him. There’s nothing to go on. That, I think, actually worked out in my favor. A real turning point in my approach was realizing that you can’t imitate Oscar. You have to represent him for what he is, who he was and what he represents. That really changed my outlook and I realized that it was more about trusting instincts. You learn as much as you can and then, in the moment, you make the decisions that you feel your character would make. It was something that kind of definitely helped me out.

CS: As far as heading to San Francisco, how much do you feel that this is a uniquely Bay area story?
It’s Oakland, really. I say that it’s a Bay area story only in regards to the dialect. It’s the way they talk. Other than that, this story could take place anywhere around the world in any situation whether you’re white, black, hispanic, French, Puerto Rican, Cuban or anything. Whatever you want to be, it’s the same situation. One of the things that I was worried about was that people would look at the film and see a majority of black characters and think that this was a “black film” or that this was a story that is only going to effect that community. He does happen to be a resident of the Bay, but it’s about the humanity part. It’s about being human. Being flawed. About making mistakes and being able to right them and correct them. Unfortunately, Oscar didn’t live long enough to fix those mistakes.

CS: Was this a story that you specifically sought out? How did it start for you?
Well, I wanted to do an indie. Indies remain something that I really want to do. It just so happened to be the perfect time because Ryan was gearing up to begin production on the project. For “Fruitvale Station.” I didn’t know it at the time, but he later told me that he wrote this for me. He wrote it with me in mind and wanted me to play the role from day one. What I wanted for my career and my life at that time was already in the works and I didn’t even know it.

CS: Can you talk about meeting Ryan for the first time and what made you trust him as a director?
He blew my mind. When you meet him, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about, but he’s incredible. After the first five minutes, it was a no-brainer. I said, “Okay, cool. Let’s go do it. Let’s go make this film.” He’s a natural-born leader. He was born to inspire other people. He’s so gifted as a writer and a storyteller and he knows exactly what he wants. He’s the perfect coach. I can’t say enough. Whenever I start talking about Ryan it’s like, “Where to begin?” He’s an incredible filmmaker and has become a really, really good friend of mine.

CS: So what’s next for you? What is the direction you ultimately want to see your career take?
I want to do more films. I’m not saying no to anything, at least as far as reading scripts. I don’t care if it’s television or films but, personally, I would say I’d like to establish myself more in film. Right now I’m just reading a lot and trying to make good decisions with more in the vein of what I’ve been doing. Work that I can hang my hat on proudly.

CS: I’m sure that, by now, you’ve shown the film to people that knew Oscar. What has their reaction been?
When we premiered at Sundance, I was sitting right behind his mom and his family. His aunt and his uncle and his sister. Afterwards, at the Q&A, his aunt stood up and said that there were points where she couldn’t tell the difference between her nephew and myself and I was just blown away. Just floored. I didn’t know what to say other than “thank you.” It was very emotional. Those were the only opinions that really mattered, the family that knew him the best. To have them give me the thumbs up and say they liked it, that really meant a lot.

CS: As far as upcoming projects go, your name has been linked to Josh Trank’s “Fantastic Four” reboot. Is there any chance you’ll be playing Johnny Storm?
I have no idea, man. I really don’t know. If it becomes real… I’m a comic book fan. I grew up in that world. I would love to, but who knows? We’ll see.

Fruitvale Station opens in a limited release this Friday, July 12.