Stars, they’re just like us. Or at least they try to be.
Michael B. Jordan can no longer walk out the door without getting recognised, with his chiselled physique plastered across billboards and bus ads for Creed II (which opened on Thursday) and his scene-stealing turn as Black Panther villain Erik Killmonger still fresh in people’s minds.
“There are certain places I can’t go anymore and certain things I can’t do,” Jordan, 31, says with a sigh. “I still try to find things that, at least in my head, make me feel regular, like going to the grocery store. Sometimes I want to pick out the apple that I want to eat, rather than the one somebody gives me.”
These are the concerns that occupy his mind as he steps into his place on the Hollywood A-list, having proved himself a bankable leading man in the Rocky franchise spin-off Creed in 2015.
The sequel picks up not long after the events of the first film, with dogged boxer Adonis Creed (Jordan) a newly crowned world champion and engaged to his musician girlfriend, Bianca (Tessa Thompson).
But a rift forms between him and his grizzled mentor, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), when Adonis accepts a challenge to fight hulking Ukrainian boxer Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu), whose father Ivan (Dolph Lundgren) killed Adonis’ dad Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) in 1985’s Rocky IV.
Adonis “is still very hurt by his father’s death, and having the Dragos reintroduced in this brought up a lot of bad history and memories”, Jordan says. “The taste of revenge is in his mouth”, and as a result, “he’s a little immature. He’s emotional and gets humbled in a real way. Things he experiences in this movie allow him to reassess what’s important to him and what’s his ‘why’ for fighting”.
Having already bulked up for Black Panther, Jordan says it was easy to fall back into his Creed workout routine, which involved intense cardio and boxing training and a stricter, leaner diet (save for the occasional Philly cheesesteak on cheat days).
Jordan and his Black Panther co-stars are in the midst of a serious awards push for Marvel’s historic superhero juggernaut, which has amassed $1.3 billion worldwide since its release in February and shattered the common Hollywood myth that films with predominantly black casts don’t sell tickets overseas.
The phenomenon around it is “honestly still so hard to wrap my brain around”, Jordan says, marvelling over the countless memes and kids’ Halloween costumes inspired by his character.
With Ryan Coogler already hard at work on a sequel, Panther is looking to crash awards season in the meantime.
On GoldDerby.com, awards pundits near-unanimously predict the blockbuster will earn a best-picture Oscar nomination, with a handful of others expecting Jordan to land a supporting actor nod as well.
If so, his performance would be the first from a superhero film to earn Academy recognition since Heath Ledger’s similarly memorable (and Oscar-winning) turn as the Joker in 2008’s The Dark Knight.
“That would mean a lot, man. I’d be a part of history, and it’d be part of my legacy,” Jordan says.
Growing up in Newark, New Jersey, the son of a caterer and high school guidance counsellor, he wasn’t the kid who practised Oscar speeches in his bathroom mirror.
“I never even dreamed about it. I wasn’t one of those kids who always knew I wanted to be an actor,” he says.
After working as a child model, he landed the pivotal role of the ill-fated Wallace in HBO’s The Wire at age 14. Years of steady TV work on All My Children and Friday Night Lights followed, leading to his breakthrough performance in Coogler’s Fruitvale Station in 2013, playing real-life police-shooting victim Oscar Grant.
He now hopes to follow a similar career trajectory to his idols, Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Cruise and Denzel Washington. He started a production company, Outlier Society Productions, which produced his upcoming drama Just Mercy and Netflix series Raising Dion, and aims to create more opportunities for people of colour.
The charismatic young heartthrob is also taking a page from the Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson book of megastar popularity, recently telling his Instagram followers he plans to be more “personal” and share more of his life with them.
“I’m a quiet dude. But you’re in this new age where fans want to feel a little bit closer to you,” Jordan says. “So instead of people making their own assumptions about me, let’s help them out a bit and give them more of myself, so they don’t have to fill in as many blanks.”
Creed II is now showing.
WITH BRYAN ALEXANDER