It’s just before noon in early February and Michael B. Jordan is settling into a director’s chair on the other end of a Zoom connection. He’s in Mexico City, preparing for one of the biggest nights of his life — the world premiere of his directorial debut, “Creed III” — an event that happens to coincide with Jordan’s 36th birthday.
“I’ve got my first movie premiere for a movie I directed. What bigger celebration can happen?” Jordan asks, thinking ahead to the frenzied fans who will await him on the red carpet later that evening. “It’s kind of crazy. I’m very grateful. I’ve had birthday parties, I’ve done my fair share, but this is something special.”
The Mexico City stop kicked off a promotional tour that has taken Jordan all over the world. There were appearances in Paris, London — where he was joined by his co-stars Tessa Thompson, who plays Bianca, wife of Jordan’s Adonis Creed, and Jonathan Majors, the boxer’s childhood friend-turned-adversary Damian Anderson — New York, Atlanta (where the film was shot) and Los Angeles on Feb. 26, where more fans and press awaited him.
The third film in the “Creed” trilogy is dated for theatrical release on the third day of the third month of 2023, nicknamed the “Jordan year” in reference to NBA legend Michael Jordan’s number 23 jersey. One thing’s for sure: 2023 is definitely this Jordan’s year.
“It’s kind of poetic,” Jordan says of landing the March 3 release date. “It had a nice ring to it.”
Add in that Jordan is the middle of three children born to Donna and Michael A. Jordan, and with this being his 36th year (more threes), this is the kind of kismet a numerologist dreams about. “Oh man, just go ahead and throw my business out in the street,” Jordan says, laughing when I mention his age.
Though that information is readily available via Google, Jordan’s business is about to be, quite literally, in the streets, when the actor, producer and now director gets a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on March 1. It’s not a place where the California-born and Newark, N.J.-raised kid ever imagined he’d be immortalized. In fact, he’s never made a point of checking out the famous tourist destination on Hollywood Boulevard.
“I’ve obviously walked down the street before, but it was never, like, a trip,” he says. Why not? The answer’s quite simple: though he’s humbled by the recognition, accolades like these aren’t what he got into the business for.
Instead of preparing for the moment, he looks forward to being surprised by what the Walk of Fame enshrinement entails. “Hopefully I have some good real estate, some good company,” Jordan quips.
Even connecting via Zoom, Jordan is a singular presence. He’s chiseled his body into heavyweight shape for the “Creed” movies, but everything you need to know about Jordan is in his eyes. At times during the conversation, they’re brimming with anticipation and pride; others there’s maybe a hint of nerves or unease. When observing Jordan’s work — from his early days in TV with “All My Children,” “The Wire” and “Friday Night Lights” to his movie star moments including “Fruitvale Station,” “Just Mercy” and “Black Panther” — it’s obvious that Jordan’s eyes are his superpower, always hinting at something brewing under the surface. Like the heartbreaking scene from his film debut in 2001’s “Hardball” in which a baby-faced Jordan begs his baseball coach (Keanu Reeves) to let him stay on the team when it’s discovered he’s two weeks too old to play, he possesses an unexpected depth, especially for such a young performer.
Shortly before this interview, he put the finishing touches on “Creed III,” which he directed while also playing the title character, son of Rocky Balboa’s (Sylvester Stallone) infamous opponent Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers).
“The studio ripped the hard drives out of my hands,” Jordan says, kidding. “I’m content,” he continues. “Speaking to other directors, after they finished a film, they always feel like there could have been more work or things to be done.”
A major factor in making the movie work was creating an environment in which the audience would believe world-champion Adonis Creed might not be able to best Damian when the two go toe-to-toe in the ring. Even more than boxing between these two, the film explores facing one’s past.
“When is the last time you felt like an underdog?” I ask. “I still feel like an underdog,” he replies, with barely a heartbeat between the question and his answer. “I feel like I just got here, like I’ve just arrived, and I have the tools and the things around me to really be on the offensive a little bit.”
Given the context of this conversation, he acknowledges that might seem like a “weird” comment to make. Obviously, he’s aware of the résumé he’s built over 20 years, first working as a child model, then landing professional acting gigs as a pre-teen. Jordan’s breakout role came in 2002, playing Wallace, the teenage drug dealer who became an emotional center for HBO’s “The Wire.”
“I’m not ignorant of the blessings and opportunities that I’m given. At the same time, I still feel like I have something to prove. I still feel like I want to make people proud. I want to make myself proud — so I’m constantly trying to raise the bar.”
Following “The Wire,” Jordan starred in two more of the 2000’s most critically acclaimed television dramas, playing star quarterback Vince Howard on NBC’s “Friday Night Lights” and Alex, the eldest Braverman daughter’s boyfriend, on NBC’s “Parenthood.” Then came movie stardom with the January 2013 debut of “Fruitvale Station” at Sundance. Written and directed by Ryan Coogler, the film chronicles the final hours in the life of Oscar Grant III, the real-life 22-year-old Black man who was killed in 2009 by BART police in Oakland. Jordan’s heart-wrenchingly human portrayal of Grant captured the attention of anyone who wasn’t already aware of his immense talent. The film also set in motion a creative collaboration between the two men that includes Marvel’s “Black Panther” and the “Creed” movies, which Coogler produces.
In his interview for Variety’s 10 Actors to Watch report later that year, Jordan said he’s always “trying to find moments that I can make memorable” in his work. Asked what that idea means to him, 10 years later, Jordan replies, “Every opportunity I have to be present and give my full attention and self to a particular room, or a conversation, or a piece of content that will live forever, and throughout the world, I’m just trying to make those things count.”
As for what he’s most proud of about his career so far, Jordan has an answer at the ready. “That I didn’t give up and I didn’t let other people dictate my path,” he says. There’s not a specific moment or hardship he’s pointing to; it’s his attitude in general. Considering his filmography, though, Jordan draws easy connections between many of his characters.
“I’ve been blessed to have so many characters that aren’t stereotypes, that have layers to them,” he says. “There’s a lot of parallels some of my characters have that I find interesting, and I think it taps into humanity at the core.”
Among his favorites is Erik Killmonger, from “Black Panther,” the antagonist of Coogler’s culture-shifting blockbuster, whom he describes as “complex, complicated and layered.” (“We’ve barely scratched the surface on the complexities of Killmonger,” Jordan says.) Playing a mercenary out for revenge against the Wakandans who abandoned him — and who, in his estimation, have abandoned their oppressed Black brethren all over the world by not sharing their technology, Jordan notes that the character was a necessary balance to the late Chadwick Boseman’s King T’Challa, the superhero also known as the Black Panther.
“Killmonger represents a part of a conversation that needed to be had between him and T’Challa,” he explains. “You know, they both wanted the same things, but had two totally different approaches going after it and getting it done. …There was no right and wrong. It was a lot of gray area.”
That gray area is also where “Creed III” lives. “Damian isn’t a bad guy,” Jordan adds. “Coming from where he came from, the experiences that he had dealing with the prison system, being incarcerated, getting out, literally fighting for his life. There’s an understanding to why he is the way he is — as sharp as he is, as tenacious and aggressive as he is. But does it make him a bad person? One mistake doesn’t define him.”
In Adonis’ case, it’s the uneasy feeling of attaining unimaginable success that he must battle against. “He had to move on and move forward the way he needed to. And that guilt, that weight that he carried with him all this time, caught up with him to the point where he had to look inward and face his past in order to become the man that he knows he can be.”
Filming caused Jordan to face down some of his own insecurities. “This was my therapy session,” he shares. “We’ve all dealt with childhood trauma in one way, shape or form,” Jordan explains. “As a man, you know, sometimes we’re taught that we can’t talk about those things and speak about our feelings as much. I want it to show a representation of what that looks like.”
That’s why Jordan felt it was important to show a Black man “willing to do whatever it takes to face those demons” and his family supporting him. “Those moments don’t make you any less of a man; it doesn’t make you any less of a person to talk about how you feel and let that out. That’s something that — especially within our community — there’s not a lot of.”
During the Critics Choice Celebration of Black Cinema and Television in December, where he was honored with the Melvin Van Peebles Trailblazer Award, Jordan gave a speech outlining the factors that have motivated him to keep pushing each day. His “why,” he explained, came down to a few things: he had something to prove to himself and to his family, and he wanted to say something with his work. He also quoted a statistic, noting that just 6% of writers, directors and producers in America are Black. These behind-the-camera numbers are also part of his “why,” he said. “That’s why I’m going to continue showing up day in and day out and represent my community and my culture and make it as universal as possible.”
Jordan has also developed pathways for others to follow including his Outlier Society production company, founded in 2016; the Invesco QQQ Legacy Classic, a basketball showcase for HBCUs; and a partnership with the Georgia Film Academy, which enabled ten student interns to get hired to work on “Creed III.”
What impact does he hope to leave on the industry? “A positive disruption of old things,” he says. “A fresh set of eyes is something that I’ve learned can be very helpful when you have tunnel vision.”
It’s all about instigating positive change and leaving “something that continues to evolve long after you’re gone,” he says. “That ties into legacy, and that’s something that I think about often.”
So, what’s next for the superstar? “I don’t know yet,” Jordan says. He’s not being evasive. Says the budding filmmaker: “I’m still kind of wrapping up this chapter right now, which has been a transformative experience for me — as a man, as a director, as an actor, as a son, as a brother.”