Not even 24 hours after making his appearance at the Met Gala, Michael B. Jordan walked into the room I was sitting in with a huge smile on his face, a voice that sounded like it could use a throat lozenge, and a cologne that wasn’t too overwhelming and lingered nicely after he gave me a hug. We were here to discuss his new HBO film, Fahrenheit 451, but the first thing I wanted to know was how his night was at the gala.
Jordan, Daniel Kaluuya, Lupita Nyong’o, Chadwick Boseman and Danai Gurira brought Wakanda to the Met. It was a sight to behold, and with Jordan in recovery mode and his voice raspy, I could tell he’d lived his best life that night.
“It was a rare night because the Met is always weird. You can’t bring a plus-one, and you’re by yourself. You get in there and hope you see someone you know, and you mingle. But this year, there was so many black people, and we had our own little table; it was a good time,” Jordan recalled.
Clearly, that table was the cool table. And it’s fair to say that Jordan’s rise to fame over the last several years has solidified his seat at the table.
It wasn’t that long ago when Jordan, a young kid from Newark, N.J., was playing Wallace as part of the ensemble cast of teens on David Simon’s prolific HBO series The Wire. And over the span of 17 years, we’ve literally watched this actor grow up before our eyes. But now, as a 31-year-old man whom most women refer to as Michael “Bae” Jordan, he’s spreading his wings. As executive producer of Fahrenheit 451, Jordan has teamed up with director Ramin Bahrani and fellow actors Michael Shannon and Sofia Boutella to give Ray Bradbury’s futuristic classic a new spin.
Jordan says he was apprehensive about taking on the role of Montag, a firefighter whose job is to rid the world of “graffiti,” or what we call books nowadays. The character of Montag, who is under the thumb of Shannon’s Capt. Beatty, is a change for Jordan, especially since he’s taking on the role of a rogue law enforcement figure. He says:
I was unsure about doing the project. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to play an authoritative figure, especially with what’s going on in our communities with police brutality. I wasn’t really into it. After meeting Ramin and familiarizing myself with the book, it was one of those things that I had to get a full grasp of what Montag’s journey was. And how he was a product of the system and brainwashed. And seeing him want to think and starting to challenge what he was being told is what I felt was super relevant today and what people need to see in an artful platform.
With today’s constant consumption of news, be it fake or real, and the fact that there are still books being banned across the country in school districts and prisons, Bradbury’s book, published in 1953, can be considered a scary foreshadowing. Something tells me that Bradbury wouldn’t see anything wrong with saying, “I told you so.”
“There’s no fact-checking any more,” Jordan says about present-day news. “There’s a scene where Montag questioned if Benjamin Franklin started the first fire department, and he did, but Montag was always told it was to start fires, not put them out.”
Given our current internet culture, when people are quick to disseminate information at the drop of a tweet or Facebook post and treat it as fact, Jordan says that the movie mirrors a scary reality—especially when you have people with millions of followers like Kanye West, who, over the last couple of weeks, decided to spread false information, like a fake quote that’s often attributed to Harriet Tubman.
“I think Kanye is a genius as an artist. I think it’s our fault as a people, caring about what his politics are. Because nothing on his résumé says he’s a political figure. But being an influential person and taking these positions, I don’t agree with it. You have to think about the responsibility you have to your audience to a certain degree,” Jordan says.
Even though Jordan isn’t as active on social media as Kanye, most recently he’s been the subject of quite a few fake news stories about his personal life. Earlier this year, there was talk about Jordan still living with his parents, but he quickly put that rumor to rest, even though, would it really matter if he were?
During my talk with Jordan, he explained that he recently moved his parents out to California, for quite a noble reason. “I relocated my parents. They’re getting older and the winters are rough, especially with my mother having lupus. It’s better for her to be out there with the warm weather,” Jordan said. But even though he’s West Coast now, he’s still an East Coaster for life.
“Personally, I’m an East Coast dude. I’m a personable person on the East Coast. I like to get out and see things. If I want to leave my hotel and hop in a cab, I can do that without people following me. The city feeds you, and I’m inspired when I’m in a city like New York or at home,” he said.
Another recent fake bit of “news” that spread on social media was a photo someone posted on Twitter, with Jordan sitting on board an airplane. The person who took the photo said that Jordan refused to Wakanda-salute him, and the photo showed a bit of a grumpy-faced Jordan.
“That never happened. It goes right back to fact-checking and fact news. Someone can take a screenshot of whatever they want, and because I don’t respond to it, they can say it’s true,” Jordan says. But is he tired of people asking him about the Wakanda salute? He says absolutely not.
“I’m so proud of Black Panther, anything that comes from it, I welcome it with open arms. We put our blood, sweat and tears into it. And we wanted to do something to impact our culture,” he says. So yes, Jordan will reciprocate a Wakanda salute if you ask—nicely, of course.
In the midst of the Met Gala and promoting his HBO film, Jordan was also in the process of filming the second installment of Creed in Philly. To say the man doesn’t rest would be an understatement. And not only did he get the “You need to rest” lecture from me—he also gets it from his family:
People around me are telling me that I have to rest. I really drown myself in work because I enjoy the process of making things happen and putting things together and completing tasks. I have the energy for it. I’m not always going to be 31. It’s a moment and I’ve worked up to this point, to finally have things open up the way they are right now. I don’t feel like resting, so I just don’t.
Once we ended our conversation, it would have been rude of me not to share my Michael B. Jordan experience with my co-workers back at the office who were wishing they were in my shoes. So of course I had to get a little video as a parting gift, although it was edited down because we had a couple of laughs we wanted to keep to ourselves.
You can catch Michael B. Jordan in Fahrenheit 451 when it premieres on HBO on May 19.