Michael B. Jordan on Directing ‘Creed 3’ and Feeling Like He Still Has ‘Something to Prove’ in Hollywood
Michael B. Jordan is slipping into a director’s chair on the other end of a Zoom connection just before noon in early February. He’s in Mexico City, ready for one of the most important nights of his life: the international premiere of his directorial debut, “Creed III,” which also happens to be Jordan’s 36th birthday.
“I’m having my first film premiere for a film I directed. What could be a more joyous occasion?” Jordan inquires, anticipating the frantic supporters that will greet him on the red carpet later that evening. “It’s a little crazy. I’m quite appreciative. I’ve had my fair share of birthday parties, but this is something unique.”
Jordan’s commercial trip began in Mexico City and has carried him all over the world. There were stops in Paris, London (where he was joined by 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. 27, where more fans and press awaited him.
The third installment of the “Creed” trilogy will hit theatres on the third day of the third month of 2023, dubbed the “Jordan year” after NBA legend Michael Jordan’s number 23 jersey. One thing is certain: 2023 will be Jordan’s year.
“It’s almost poetic,” Jordan says of the March 3 publication date. “That had a pleasant ring to it.”
Throw in the fact that Jordan is the middle child of Donna and Michael A. Jordan, and that he is in his 36th year (more than three), and this is the kind of kismet a numerologist dreams of. “Aw man, just throw my business out on the street,” Jordan laughs when I announce his age.
Despite that information is easily accessible via Google, Jordan’s business is set to go viral when the actor, producer, and now director receives a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on March 1. It’s hardly a place where the California-born, Newark, N.J.-raised child is expected to be immortalized. In fact, he’s never made a point of visiting the well-known tourist attraction on Hollywood Boulevard.
“Of course, I’ve gone down the street before, but it was never like a journey,” he adds. So why not? The explanation is simple: while he is humbled by the acclaim, honors like these aren’t why he got into the profession in the first place.
Instead of anticipating the event, he anticipates being shocked by what the Walk of Fame enshrinement implies. “Hopefully I’ve got some decent real estate and some good company,” Jordan jokes.
Jordan has a one-of-a-kind presence even while communicating over Zoom. Jordan has honed his body into a heavyweight shape for the “Creed” films, but all you need to know about him is in his eyes. They’re excited and proud at times during the talk, but there’s also a tinge of nervousness or anxiety. When you look at Jordan’s work — from his early days in TV with “All My Children,” “The Wire,” and “Friday Night Lights” to his movie star moments like “Fruitvale Station,” “Just Mercy,” and “Black Panther” — it’s clear that his eyes are his superpower, always hinting at something brewing beneath the surface. He possesses an unexpected depth, especially for such a young performer, as evidenced by 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 after it’s discovered he’s two weeks too old to play.
Soon before this conversation, he finished “Creed III,” which he directed while also portraying the titular character, Apollo Creed, son of Rocky Balboa’s (Sylvester Stallone) iconic opponent (Carl Weathers).
“The studio took the hard drives from my hands,” Jordan jokes. “I’m satisfied,” he says. “When I talk to other directors, they usually feel like there should have been more work or things to accomplish when they finish a picture.”
A big part of making the film work was convincing the audience that world champion Adonis Creed might not be able to beat Damian when the two faced up in the ring. The film is about addressing one’s history more than it is about boxing between these two.
“When was the last time you felt like you were the underdog?” I ask. “I still feel like an underdog,” he says, without pausing between the inquiry and his response. “I feel like I’ve just arrived, and I have the tools and the things around me to go on the offense a little bit.”
Given the setting of this chat, he admits that may appear to be a “strange” comment to make. Apparently, he’s aware of the résumé he’s compiled over the last two decades, beginning as a child model and progressing to professional acting roles as a pre-teen. Jordan had his breakthrough in 2002 as Wallace, a young drug dealer who became an emotional center for HBO’s “The Wire.”
“I am aware of the blessings and possibilities bestowed upon me. At the same time, I continue to feel as if I have something to prove. I still want to make people proud of me. I want to be proud of myself, so I’m always trying to lift the standard.”
Following “The Wire,” Jordan appeared in two more critically praised television dramas in the 2000s, portraying 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 Sundance premiere of “Fruitvale Station” in January 2013. The film, written and directed by Ryan Coogler, follows the final hours of Oscar Grant III, a real-life 22-year-old Black man who was slain by BART police in Oakland in 2009. Jordan’s heartbreakingly genuine portrayal of Grant captivated anyone who wasn’t previously aware of his enormous talent. The film also launched a creative partnership between the two men, which includes Marvel’s “Black Panther” and the “Creed” films, which Coogler produces.
Later that year, in an interview for Variety’s 10 Actors to Watch report, Jordan stated that he is always “trying to identify moments that I can make unforgettable” in his work. Jordan responds, “Any opportunity I have to be present and offer my full attention and self to a certain space, or a discussion, or a piece of material that will live forever, and throughout the world, I’m just trying to make those things count.”
Jordan has an answer ready for what he’s most proud of in his career thus far. “That I didn’t give up and that I didn’t let others define my path,” he says. He’s not referring to a specific incident or difficulty; rather, he’s referring to his overall mindset. Nonetheless, when considering his filmography, Jordan draws obvious parallels between several of his characters.
“I’ve been fortunate to have so many characters who aren’t caricatures and have nuances to them,” he says. “Some of my characters have a lot of connections that I find interesting, and I think it gets into humanity at its heart.”
Erik Killmonger from “Black Panther,” the antagonist of Coogler’s culture-shifting blockbuster, is one of his faves, whom he described as “complex, intricate, and multifaceted.” (“We’ve only touched the surface of Killmonger’s intricacies,” Jordan explains.) Jordan notes that the character, who plays a mercenary out for vengeance against the Wakandans who abandoned him — and who, in his opinion, have abandoned their oppressed Black brethren all over the world by not sharing their technology — was a necessary balance to the late Chadwick Boseman’s King T’Challa, the superhero also known as the Black Panther.
“Killmonger signifies a necessary conversation between him and T’Challa,” he explains. “You know, they both wanted the same things, but they went about it in two completely different ways.” There was no such thing as right and wrong. There was a lot of room for interpretation.”
“Creed III” is likewise set in this grey area. “Damian isn’t a bad man,” Jordan continues. “From where he came, the difficulties he had dealing with the jail system, being detained, getting out, basically battling for his life. There’s a reason he’s the way he is – as sharp as he is, tenacious and aggressive as he is. Is he, nevertheless, a bad person as a result of this? One blunder does not define him.”
In Adonis’ instance, he must contend with the unpleasant sense of achieving inconceivable success. “He had to go on and forward in the way that he needed to. And that shame, that weight he’d carried with him all this time, finally caught up with him, forcing him to dig deep and confront his past in order to become the man he knows he can be.”
Jordan had to confront some of his own fears while filming. “It was my therapeutic session,” he explains. “We’ve all lived with childhood trauma in some way or another,” Jordan says. “As men, we’re sometimes taught that we can’t talk about such things or express our sentiments as much. I’d like to see an illustration of what that looks like.”
That’s why Jordan felt it was necessary to depict a Black man “ready to do whatever it takes to face those demons” with the backing of his family. “Those times 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 it out. That’s something we don’t have a lot of, especially in our neighborhood.”
Jordan delivered a statement at the Critics Choice Celebration of Black Film and Television in December, when he was awarded with the Melvin Van Peebles Trailblazer Award, highlighting the things that have driven him to keep pushing every day. His “why” was simple: he wanted to prove something to himself and his family, and he wanted to say something with his art. He also cited a statistic stating that only 6% of American writers, directors, and producers are Black. These behind-the-scenes figures are also part of his “why,” he explained. “That’s why I’ll keep turning up day after day to represent my neighborhood and culture and make it as universal as possible.”
Jordan has also paved the door for others to follow, including his 2016 production business, Outlier Society; the Invesco QQQ Legacy Classic, a basketball showcase for HBCUs; and a collaboration with the Georgia Film Academy, which enabled ten student interns to be employed to work on “Creed III.”
What kind of mark does he want to leave in the industry? “It’s a good disturbance of old things,” he says. “I’ve discovered that a fresh set of eyes may be really beneficial when you have tunnel vision.”
It ultimately comes down to effecting positive change and leaving “something that continues to evolve long after you’re gone,” he says. “It connects into legacy, which is something I worry about frequently.”
So, what’s next for the celebrity? “I’m not sure yet,” Jordan says. He’s not trying to be evasive. “I’m still kind of winding up this chapter right now,” says the aspiring filmmaker, “which has been a changing experience for me — as a man, as a director, as an actor, as a son, as a brother.”