'Fruitvale Station' Star on Playing Oscar Grant

As the Zimmerman trial concludes, Michael B. Jordan talks with The Root about playing another black male killed in America.

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MBJ: Being No. 1 on the call sheet is something every actor dreams of, and this was my first time [shouldering] this type of workload. The bar has been set at a certain place, so on the next project I'm just trying not to have a ceiling. 

TR: On Friday Night Lights you delivered moving work as quarterback Vince Howard. What was it like working with Kyle Chandler, who played Coach Taylor?

MBJ: It's a different pace working over a couple of seasons. The writing on that show was amazing. [Friday Night Lights head writer] Jason Katims wrote family and those characters so well, and he still gave us room to play. I learned so much from Kyle Chandler; being in a scene with him was like not working at all. We were having so much fun that we'd forget [that we were filming]. They'd yell "cut" and we'd still be going.

TR: For Fruitvale Station, were you able to talk to Oscar Grant's family and friends? What was that like?

 

MBJ: It was a little awkward at first. I was hesitant because I was thinking about what they were thinking about me. I knew that [Grant's death] is only four years old, and it's still fresh. I wouldn't be over it.

I sat down with Grant's mother, Wanda, and Sophina. I got to hear about their relationship and how they treated one another. I spoke to all of his best friends. We went to a park, ordered some BBQ, played dominoes, drank a little bit and let the stories just flow.

It helped that I was on The Wire because they were all Wire fans, so that broke the ice a bit. It was cool because then they stepped back and really trusted [Fruitvale Station director] Ryan to take care of the story.

TR: Did you pull conversations from the family and friends and bring them to Ryan as notes?

MBJ: Ryan was with me every step of the way, at the park and when we met with Sophina and Wanda. For me, I can't talk to Oscar, so I had to hear the different perspectives of Oscar, and he was different with everybody. And with Ryan's due diligence, he did a lot of the heavy lifting for us -- the story was on the page. It was up to us to connect the dots and make it make sense to us.