In high school, Michael B. Jordan was a good kid. He was one of the star players on his basketball team. He made good grades even while juggling a role on "All My Children." He tried to spend his salary wisely, buying a small apartment complex in 2005 as an investment.
One of his few extravagances was a BMW 330, which he used to jet from acting jobs in
"That car gave me a lot of headaches," he recalled, sitting in an empty Los Angeles gastropub midafternoon. Because he was an African American teenager driving a nice car, Jordan said, he was pulled over and questioned by the police dozens of times. "They'd say, 'Is it stolen?' I'd tell them to check the locks. 'Please step out of the car.' [What] do I need to step out of the car for? 'Step out of the car.'"
On this June day, the 26-year-old did not have to fret over driving himself: A car had been commissioned by the
Though the actor had memorable turns in the acclaimed television programs
Spending time with Grant's kin while researching the role, talking on the promotional circuit about the questions his death raised in the Bay Area — it's all made Jordan particularly reflective about race issues. His upbringing in a stable middle-class family certainly wasn't as tumultuous as Grant's, who once did time in state prison. Still, Jordan said he feels a lot of himself in Grant — both people-pleasers, eager to be liked and be at the center of the action.
The actor's early interactions with the authorities have also stuck with him. If he has the option of driving down a street with "hard-core criminal drug dealers" or a road populated by cops, he said he'll opt for the thugs.
"Driving in L.A., if I see a cop, I will turn off the block," he said, still camera-ready from the junket in a starched shirt and preppy sweater. "I don't want to be on the same street. And all of my paperwork is legit. My license is in order. No warrants. I'm not on parole."
In Hollywood, the color of Jordan's skin still affects him more than he'd like. While
Most of the scripts Jordan reads include what he calls "stereotypes of what a black man is — comes from the hood, Mom does drugs, Dad's not around." When he meets with a writer or director about potential gigs, more often than not, he asks to take on a different character in the script than the one he's been asked to play.
"If they had me in mind for the role that is written for the black guy, I'll say, 'This is the one I'm actually interested in and curious about,'" he explained. On last year's
The director and actor have since become close, and it's been heavily rumored that Jordan will play the Human Torch — a character who was white in the Marvel comic — in Trank's upcoming reboot of "Fantastic Four."
"Michael has had a
Even during his teenage years on "The Wire," Jordan took his career seriously.
"He was so focused back then — he just wanted to win," said costar
Jordan's performance in "Fruitvale Station" has received near-unanimous praise from critics, with The Times calling it his "leap to stardom" moment and the
"It's new — spending only a day in each city, having a stylist, being on 'The View,'" he said on Thursday, the morning after flying back to L.A. to do "
Though every interviewer brings up the possibility of him being nominated for an Oscar, he still gets fidgety at the prospect. Before embarking on the press tour last month, he became superstitious just at the mere mention of the golden man.
"You're going to jinx me like that? Already? Jeez. Knock on all kinds of wood," he said, rapping his fist against the table.
When pressed, though, he does admit to being proud of the performance.
"I think it shows range," he said, grinning. "This is one of the few times I've looked at myself on screen and not seen me."