It was almost impossible not to see Michael B. Jordan’s name on a “best of” list in the past 12 months. The 27-year-old actor wowed critics and fans alike in the gripping Fruitvale Station, and he most recently he nabbed a role in the Fantastic Four reboot. In the new role, he’ll play Johnny Storm (a.k.a. The Human Torch), and considering that the original Marvel Comics character isn’t Black, it was major move. (His sister will be played by Kate Mara, a White actress.)
It’s colorblind casting at its best, and Jordan (as well as countless others in Hollywood, we’re sure) is encouraged by the casting. But before he steps into that role—and before the action figures and fast food chain cross promotions come with it—he’s got another lined up that he’s just as excited about.
Jordan has teamed with Sprite to be their 2014 Sprite Films ambassador, which has him serving as a mentor to students who want to become filmmakers. There are six finalists—public online viewing and voting of the short films is live at Sprite.com/films through May 15—and each of the kids had a chance to sit down one-on-one with Jordan at the recent CinemaCon in Las Vegas. EBONY.com chats with the actor.
EBONY: You’re in such a great moment right now in your career, yet it’s important for you to be a mentor in this project. What was your motivation behind getting involved?
Michael B. Jordan: I was shocked that Sprite even reached out. Like, really? They want to talk to me? And then it was like, “Oh, okay, cool. That makes sense.” But the program itself, it just speaks to things that I care about. Honestly, I’m a firm believer in the next generation of filmmakers. It’s very important to keep things fresh, new, current. They have a pulse on what’s important today. And me personally, I’ve worked with a lot of first-time film directors, and they helped make my career. Somebody had to take a chance on me at one point.
EBONY: What’s your catchall advice to budding filmmakers who want to be where you are or want to work with someone like you in the future?
MBJ: Be collaborative. I’ve had some of my best experiences with directors who were able to sit down and have a conversation and ask me what I thought. As an actor, you never want to feel like a tool. You never want to feel like, “Hey, just come here, say this, stop here, look this way,” and that’s it. You want to have a little input.
Working with these directors, sometimes they’re working with smaller budgets, a lot of roadblocks. There’s a lot of obstacles that might get in the way of seeing their vision all the way through. I just try to tell them to try to be as collaborative in the beginning, communicate as much as possible with their crew, and be ambitious. I feel like you can’t settle in this industry, and you have to be overly prepared. Do as much homework as you can. Learn everybody’s job and don’t just settle. That’s something that I’ve kind of preached to them over and over again, and they definitely could relate to it.
EBONY: Is it challenging to stay humble and stay the course in this industry, when you have so many people in your ear right now?
MBJ: I think it starts at home with my parents. They keep me very grounded. They’re my motivation. I come from Newark, New Jersey, I don’t come from a lot. So I work hard for everything. And with all the accolades, that’s not why I do it, I’m not in Hollywood to be on the A list. [All of this is] the byproducts of doing what I love to do. But I’m extremely blessed. There’s a lot of people trying to exactly what I’m doing, but I’m a part of that 9.1 percent that’s actually having their dream come true. I just don’t take that for granted.
EBONY: Fruitvale Station was such a big moment for your career. You’ll next be in the Fantastic Four reboot, which could be huge for you. How are you choosing projects moving forward?
MBJ: I have to care about it. I feel like I have to have some stake in it personally to really make me have to live with this character and this project for the next like year and a half, two years of my life. That’s a big commitment. For me, colorblind casting is so important in these roles. I want to look at my audience and see all walks of life. I want to do something for everybody.
So, me and my team, they all understand my vision and my goals, my manager and my agents and my publicist and my attorney—everybody—they’re all on the same page when it comes to projects. With Fantastic Four, it speaks to so many different levels to me. I always dreamed about truly playing a superhero, and a Marvel character at that. I’ve been in love with [the franchise] since I first opened up Fantastic Four comic books back when I was younger. I did the smaller films, and now I really want to step up and do something a little bit bigger, a little bit more mainstream. Something that will take me around the world [and] make it easier for me to do the films that I really want to do later on down the line. I think this film knocks on all cylinders.
EBONY: Is everything that you’re doing now strategic, or did some things kind of catch you off guard and surprise you, take you in a different direction?
MBJ: My life is so random. Certain things I can’t even explain. There’s a thing about being lucky and… I feel like certain things are just, like, in your cards. I’m just walking the path that’s already set. Honestly, I just try to stay out my own way most of the time. People that I might meet or a project that may come about… sometimes it just falls into place, and I can’t explain it. But that can only take me so far. Now I have to be a little more strategic and plot out my movements and make great choices. The last year or so has been having a plan, having a goal, me and my manager sitting down and figuring out exactly what I want to do and then going to get it.
EBONY: There’s so much talk about the need for a Black presence behind the camera. Are you interested in doing that?
MBJ: As I grow and get older, mature a bit, and work on my big boy voice a little bit, I definitely want to direct. I will do that later on down the line. For my first one, I really want to have a really, really strong, one-sided opinion on something, and be connected to it and tell that story. Until I find that thing or that topic or whatever it is, I don’t want to direct. I’m going to continue to act, I’m going to continue doing what got me here, what I love to do. But as far as getting behind the camera, I’m not going to shy away from that as far as something I definitely want to do, but I’m not in any rush to do it.