Michael B. Jordan On Action, Comic Books And The Challenges Of Filming Fantastic Four

After appearing in both The Sopranos and The Wire, Michael B. Jordan rose to prominence with his role in the NBC drama Friday Night Lights as quarterback Vince Howard. Within a year he also took on a recurring role in the show Parenthood.

His diverse television career also includes appearances in CSI, Without A Trace, Cold Case, Burn Notice, Bones, Law & Order: Criminal Intent and House, where he played a blind patient.

His feature film career began with 2001’s Hardball, which starred Keanu Reeves. In 2012 Jordan appeared in the George Lucas-produced movie Red Tails and in the Josh Trank-directed phenomenon Chronicle, a tale of three teenage boys who develop superpowers.

Jordan earned critical acclaim for his starring role as Oscar Grant in Fruitvale Station, which debuted at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival and won both the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award for U.S. dramatic film. The film was also screened in the Un Certain Regard section of the Cannes Film Festival where it won the award for Best First Film.

In 2014, Jordan worked with his soon-to-be Fantastic Four colleague Miles Teller in the comedy That Awkward Moment, starring Zac Efron. Jordan will reunite with his Fruitvale Station director, Ryan Cooler for Creed, a spin-off from the Rocky film series focusing on Apollo Creed’s grandson, played by Jordan.

In the highly anticipated superhero film, FANTASTIC FOUR, from 20th Century Fox, Michael B. Jordan plays Johnny Storm. Along with Reed Richards (Miles Teller), Sue Storm (Kate Mara), and Benjamin “Ben” Grimm (Jamie Bell), Johnny undergoes physical changes after mankind’s first journey to an alternative universe.  Johnny’s transformation leaves him able to cover himself in fire that never burns him, combust the air around him, shoot fireballs, and propel himself through the air on jets of flame.. After these changes, he becomes known as the “Human Torch”.

The following interview took place in Los Angeles on April 16, 2015.

Q: Tell us about what you think we can expect from this version of the Fantastic Four. 

A: It’s the Fantastic Four! It’s fun. These are characters you may be familiar with, but you’re seeing them in a new, fresh way. It’s a different take. I think the film is grounded in real emotions – you get to know these characters and hopefully care about them. They’e learning about themselves at the same time. It’s a superhero movie, but a grounded superhero movie. It’s exciting. It’s an action packed drama.

Q: Is it fair to say it takes from a few different eras of the comic books?

Yeah, it kind of takes from all over the place, but particularly the Ultimate series. I think the elements were put together very strategically by Simon [Kinberg] and Josh Trank to support the story they wanted to tell.

Q: What are your thoughts on your character, Johnny Storm?

Well, Johnny’s Johnny, you know! Like all of them, he’s figuring out who he is. He’s charismatic. He’s fun. But he’s got to deal with stuff. That’s what this is about. It’s about when life throws curve balls at you, how you adapt. How do you deal with obstacles that you may encounter in your life?

Q: How did you approach the role?

Pretty much how I would approach any other role. You’re playing a person, a kid who is dealing with things. Obviously, I was excited to do it. I didn’t really need to research the role as I was a huge Fantastic Four and comic book fan already.

Q: Is it different though, being cast as a superhero?

Specifically for this project, I’m not cast as a superhero. I’m Johnny Storm, who’s just a regular guy who becomes something. We’re becoming the Fantastic Four that everyone else knows. It’s the journey to get there.

Q: Are you a fan of superhero movies in general? Do you have any particular favorites?

Yes, I definitely am. I’m a big Iron Man fan. I also really like The X-Men. First Class and Days of Future Past are my favorites. I’m a fan of all of it really.

Q: Is there a pressure making a superhero movie, knowing there are a lot of people out there who are very passionate about this genre and very vocal if they disapprove of anything in the movie?

Fans are very passionate about their properties and stories they grew up, so as an actor, you try to take it as seriously as you would anything else. Do the homework if you’re not familiar. I believe if you put your best effort into it you’ll do it right by the fans.

Q: Josh Trank stressed that he wanted the right actors for the roles – what did you and Josh discuss before you signed up for the role? What did Josh want? What appealed to you?

It wasn’t really that straightforward. Nothing was… that cut and dried. We’ve been friends a long time and we’d talked about it. When he said “Would you play Johnny?” Of course, I said, “Yeah! I’ll play Johnny!” That was kind of how that got started. We talked about it and developed ideas over a long period of time.

Q: How much did you know about the FF before you got involved with the film?

I grew up loving comic books so I was a big fan. And so it’s great to get to play a character like this. It’s a big deal to me.

Q: This new Fantastic Four feels almost like a science fiction movie. Would that be fair to say?

I think we prided ourselves on taking the science part of it very seriously. We had some of the smartest guys there for authenticity to make sure that the science we were referencing was as true to life as possible.

Q: There’s been quite a lot of media talk of late about ‘diverse casting’ and having more black actors on TV and in films – Star Wars and Spider-Man just two examples of late. Your casting as Johnny Storm is another.  Do you have any thoughts on this ‘issue’?

No! I… no.

Q: What would you say are the main themes the film explores?

Family, self-discovery, coming of age, action, suspense  drama, light notes of comedy. A little bit of everything. A perfect mixture of all.

Q: Can you tell me a bit about Johnny’s dynamic with the other three main characters?

The Fantastic Four that people remember were already established as a group, but here, that group is not established yet. We have to find that. That journey has to happen to get us to the place that people know. This is an origin story. These characters meet each other, mostly for the first time. So we become those characters over the course of the film. Ben and Reed are best friends, but Johnny doesn’t necessarily agree with what Ben’s doing and then Victor’s there and it kind of becomes this sort of jousting for attention. Over the course of the film the chemistry comes together, that family dynamic that everyone is familiar with.

Q: How did you find your co-stars? Presumably, playing a family of sorts, you needed to develop a certain chemistry?

Well, I’d known Miles for a while – we’d talked about this project, and we’d worked together, so there was a mutual respect already established. I knew Kate a bit; we had some mutual friends, and I’d been dying to work with her. Jamie, I’d respected for a long time. His talent, his work ethic. So that worked out well. And Toby… I really respected too! I mean, we just had a great cast. And we all wanted to make something special.

Q: You always thought Miles would be a good fit for Reed Richards. Why was that?

He’s an incredible actor for starters. I honestly haven’t seen a role he approached that he wasn’t believable in. I knew he would take the time and attention to really become the character. He’s the best person for the job.

Q: What are the benefits of working with a director you’ve worked with before?

The chemistry is definitely stronger. It allows the communication to be that much better. You know one another’s tendencies, what they like and don’t like. Communication is most important on set, so when you have that with a director the second and third time around it’s just that much stronger.

Q: How has Josh Trank changed since you last worked with him?

I think he stopped smoking cigarettes and lost some weight. The guy looks great! He’s more focused. From project to project you hope to get better and be more understanding of what you do and other people’s jobs and I think he has progressed in all those areas.

Q: What does it feel like when you see yourself on screen with superpowers? Do you get a kick out of it?

It’s really cool. All your imagination and fantasies as a comic book fan growing up come to life. You know when you’re a kid and you’re playing and figuring out what super power you would want to have? Well, actually getting to visualize it and have it not just in your head is awesome!

Q: Can you explain a little about your powers in the film? 

Johnny storm has the ability to produce flames so he can engulf his entire body into them. He can also control and absorb other fires as well as fly.

Q: Did you have to do any special training?

I just worked out. I was getting ready to shoot CREED right after, so I was starting to get into boxing shape. You definitely see Johnny in shape.

Q: You and Kate Mara play brother and sister. What is your dynamic like on and off screen? 

Like a big brother. She’s like a little sister who plays mom sometimes too. She’s great on and off set. She tells a lot of jokes too. She can definitely be my wingman any day.

Q: Looking back over the shoot, what has been the biggest challenge?

I guess one thing was with the costumes; the spacesuits and containment suits could be a little distracting when concentrating on the performance. And the green screen too. That was a challenge. You really had to use your imagination for a universe that wasn’t there; imagining what you are looking at and how you are reacting to what you’re ‘seeing’. Judging your reaction to it was a challenge.

Q: Why do you think comic book movies, and TV shows, are now so prevalent?

I think people like to escape. I think that’s timeless and these stories are colorful and dramatic and fun. You can explore ideas and engage people on a big scale. As an actor, that’s a great thing to be able to do.

Q: On a scale from the light almost kids movie vibe of the last FF films to, say, the dark, angsty recent Batmans, where would you say this film sits?

On the darker side of the scale, smart, grounded but not too dark… maybe a 7!

FANTASTIC FOUR is released on DVD and Blu-Ray from 14th December 2015.