Michael B. Jordan On the Pressures of Playing Oscar Grant in 'Fruitvale Station' (JJ Interview)
Check out our new interview with the talented Michael B. Jordan!
The 26-year-old actor gives an Oscar-worthy performance in his latest film Fruitvale Station, also starring Octavia Spencer and Melonie Diaz, which is based on the true and tragic events of Oscar Grant’s 2009 death in California’s Bay Area.
JJ caught up with Michael in NYC where he opened up about emotionally preparing for the role, working with director Ryan Coogler, and the haunting experience of filming in the very location the actual events took place.
Click inside to read our interview with Michael B. Jordan…
JustJared.com Interview – Michael B. Jordan
JustJared: First of all, we loved the film. We read that Ryan had you in mind for the lead all along. Can you talk a little bit about your first meeting with him?
Michael B. Jordan: The first five minutes of me talking to him I knew I was going to do it. I really wanted to do it before I met him, but then after meeting him and actually talking with him the first five minutes, in the back of my head I was like, “Oh I’m definitely going to do it.” We clicked and bonded so much, literally we talked for 3 hours. At the end of it, it was kind of just like, “Let’s do it.” So from there out, I started growing my hair out and really started to prep. I wanted to ask when was the earliest I could move to Oakland and start living up there and he was like, “As soon as you want.” So a couple of weeks later I got my stuff together and moved up there. It was a no brainer for me.
JJ: How much did you know about Oscar’s story before joining the project?
MBJ: I knew as much as everybody else. I remember exactly when it happened. I was on my computer on Facebook and somebody posted on my wall and I remember just watching it over and over and over again, just trying to find a reasoning to the whole thing and I just couldn’t find one. You know, feeling upset and pissed off and frustrated and helpless and wanted to do something about it. Like, I’m an actor, what can I do? Get on my soapbox and start protesting? I just felt like I couldn’t do anything that really mattered, you know? And then four years later, I get this opportunity to shoot this project and play Oscar. It was just like, I’m down. I can express myself through my work. Let’s do it.” And it worked out.
JJ: It must be a lot more pressure getting a role like this, based on a real person and event, wanting to make sure you do it right. Is that true?
MBJ: I think it started setting in later once I moved up to Oakland. It started to really set in like, “Oh man, his daughter is going to watch this one day, his mom.” It was definitely a lot of pressure because the people who knew him the best, they’re still around. It’s so new, so fresh, it’s only been four years, you know? Yeah, all that stuff started to come to play.”
JJ: How much research did you have to do prior to filming?
MBJ: Ryan did honestly most of the heavy lifting. He did his due diligence as far as his research is concerned. He made the family feel so comfortable in opening up to me and Melonie and Octavia. I had to get to know him through the people who knew him best. I had to really spend time with his mom and his daughter. A little bit of time with his daughter, not a lot because she was so young at the time. She doesn’t have a dad, that’s the reality. The women in his life had to pick up the pieces and move on and that’s the hard part. People don’t understand like, life is a life, there are people that really matter. He mattered to a lot of people. People loved him so much and they’re the victims as well. It’s unfortunate.
JJ: What was it like to work with a director like Ryan who is your age and obviously very talented?
MBJ: I feel like I was making a movie with one of my best friends. It was the best thing ever. Even shooting a movie with Josh Trent, you know for Chronicle, he’s relatively young as well. There’s not an age requirement. It’s like it was very generational. Everybody on the set was very young. All the producers went to film school with Ryan. So it was one of those things where it was a very young, talented group of people – creative, like-minded people who want to go ahead and do something really positive and do something special. And everybody matters, no egos at all. And Ryan he has no ego, he’s collaborative, he’s very smart, very prepared. He’ll cringe at all these compliments I’m giving him because he hates it, but he’s so humble. It was so easy to work with him, very easy.
JJ: What was it like watching the movie back? You’ve been doing this for a long time. Does it get easier to watch yourself on screen, especially in a very heavy role?
MBJ: I can watch it, you know, I can sit there and watch it. But I don’t like to. Once picture wraps, I’m like, “Cool, it’s not for me anymore. Now it’s out of my hands.” That’s the only thing I have control over, after that it’s for everybody else to kind of do whatever they want with it. Yeah, I’m on the screen 98 percent of the time and I was like, “This is annoying, can we cut to something else?” The first time I watched it, I was like, “I’m just tired of seeing my face, I’m just tired of seeing my face up ther” (laughs). It was just so weird.
JJ: So how long did it take to film the shooting scene?
MBJ: Three nights, four hours a night. We only had one camera.
JJ: One camera?
JJ: We’re guessing that was the one moment you especially wanted to get right.
MBJ: Definitely. 100 percent.
JJ: Was that the hardest scene for you?
MBJ: Emotionally, yes. That was a very stressful scene, but for a number of reasons – the time crunch, trying to get to a place mentally and emotionally within that time restriction, tot getting very many takes. That platform is very eerie, it’s weird because you can feel the presence.
JJ: You filmed in the same exact location it actually took place?
MBJ: Yeah, reenacting everything, kind of going through the motions is pretty intense.
JJ: That’s a very big scene with a lot of people on the train and everything. Were there a lot of people on set those days?
MBJ: Yeah, a couple 100 extras. You got crew and cast and everybody has to do whatever to get the job done, to do whatever to get the shoot done. We powered through. We had a moment of silence before each day. Everybody was just like, “Game face on, let’s get it on.” So it was one of the more intense scenes. I think the hardest legit thing for me was laying down on the operating table for hours. I’m talking about people poking and proding. That was torture (laughs). That was pretty bad, that’s a hard scene.
JJ: They can’t use a double?
MBJ: No, no. And then being in the morgue, laying on that metal slab in the morgue. It was a real morgue, there were real bodies, the cadavers were in there. I mean, I opened them up to see. Yeah I’m that guy. I wanna check it out. That was pretty creepy. It was like, “Damn I’m gonna be here one day.”
JJ: What was it like working with Octavia? She was amazing as always. Did you know her prior to filming?
MBJ: I didn’t know her before hand. I, of course, knew of her and stuff like that, but I heard nothing but great things about her. She reached out before we actually met. We were talking for a little bit – sweet, sweet, sweet southern woman. She’s one of the most giving actresses I know. She gives a lot and I think she’s a firm believer of – in the scene, your partner in the scene is very important and you need to give your partner whatever he or she needs to get to a place mentally and emotionally. And in return you’re gonna get what you need, but a lot of actors are more selfish like, “I’m gonna take my time, go through my process.” But they don’t get it that if you give others what they need, you’re gonna get what you need in return automatically. That’s kind of how it works. I think really, really phenomenal actors make other actors look really good and she’s one of those actresses.
Fruitvale Station is now in theaters!