Aside from being leading roles in critically acclaimed films, the characters share another commonality: They’re both written for black actors.
Adonis Creed is the son of Apollo Creed, a character in Sylvester Stallone’s “Rocky” franchise that was inspired by Muhammad Ali. Killmonger, “Black Panther’s” main antagonist, has roots in Wakanda, a fictional sub-Saharan African nation.
Despite these high-profile roles, for several years Jordan has also made it a point to audition for roles written for white actors.
Joining Issa Rae of HBO’s “Insecure” for Variety’s “Actor on Actor” interview series, Jordan explained why he told his agents he wanted to stop auditioning for roles created for African Americans.
“I said, ‘I don’t want it. I want to go for any white males. That’s it. That’s all I want to do,’” Jordan recalled during the interview, which was published Tuesday. “Me playing that role is going to make it what it is.”
The decision came after he had just starred in Ryan Coogler’s 2013 biographical drama “Fruitvale Station,” in which he played Oscar Grant, an African American man.
His agents were all for it.
“They believed in me as much as I believed in myself,” Jordan said. “I got no pushback whatsoever, everybody kind of pushed for it.”
The reason for making the shift, he said, was that he no longer wanted to play characters that had any “pre-bias” attached to them.
“Sometimes writers write what they know, what their encounters of us would be,” he said, gesturing to himself and Rae. “That’s a slight bias into the character.”
Jordan said a big turning point in his career was landing a major role in “Chronicle,” a 2012 science-fiction film directed by Josh Trank. Jordan played Steve Montgomery, a character who was originally named Steve Kaczynski, a white teenager.
Since “Chronicle,” Jordan has played multiple characters who are considered traditionally white. In 2015, he was cast in the remake of “Fantastic Four” as Johnny Storm, or the Human Torch, much to the dismay of some of the comic’s die-hard fans. In the Marvel comics, Johnny Storm is blond and blue-eyed. When the film first came out in 2005, Chris Evans played the flaming superhero. Likewise, in his latest film, “Fahrenheit 451,” adapted from Ray Bradbury’s popular dystopian novel of the same name, Jordan plays the white protagonist, Guy Montag.
“I wanted to go out for those roles because it was just playing people,” Jordan said. “It didn’t have to be the specific, ‘You’re playing the black guy in this.’”
The actor also commented on the limited availability of roles written for black actors.
“You have every young black actor from the age of 17 to 40 going out for it,” he said. “It was like, How do you reverse-engineer that problem, that kind of pitted competition between each other, and just put more opportunities out there for people to eat and be successful at what they want to do?”
The barrier Jordan is attempting to break isn’t new. For decades, black actors have appeared in roles meant for their white counterparts.
More than 20 years ago, R&B musician Brandy Norwood danced and sang her way into people’s hearts as Cinderella. The film, praised for its diverse cast, also featured the talents of Whitney Houston, playing the fairy godmother, and Whoopi Goldberg, who was Queen Constantina.
A decade later, Richard Matheson’s 1954 novel “I Am Legend,” was adapted for screen again and cast Will Smith as virologist Robert Neville. In 2012, British actress Naomie Harris became the first black Miss Moneypenny in the history of the James Bond franchise.
While Jordan only recently revealed his audition strategy, the actor has long championed diversity in Hollywood. In March, he announced that all his projects would have inclusion riders, a condition that the cast and crew of a film would reflect real demographics and include a proportional number of women, minorities, LGBT individuals and people with disabilities.
“I think my ideas for the type of career I want moving forward is I want to play roles that impact people, that make people feel and think,” he said during the Variety interview. “I don’t ever want to get caught in the machine of making movies just for the sake of making movies. I’d much rather create, produce projects that mean something for other people.”
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