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Michael B. Jordan has certainly kept busy over the years. He had The Wire back in 2002, then it was on to All My Children for nearly four years after which he moved over to The Assistants and then hit Friday Night Lights and Parenthood. When did this guy have time to make two movies? Jordan had a part in the January 20th release Red Tails and now he’s returning to the big screen yet again in Josh Trank’s Chronicle.
Jordan stars as Steve Montgomery, the quintessential big man on campus. He’s a star athlete, running for class president and is a favorite amongst the ladies. However, one night, Steve winds up adding another skill to his resume – superpowers. When Steve and Matt (Alex Russell) stumble upon a bizarrely deep hole in the woods during a party, they recruit Matt’s cousin Andrew (Dane DeHaan) to bring his camera and film what happens when they go inside – but the bigger deal is what they end up filming after.
As a self-proclaimed comic book nerd, playing a super powered teen is a dream come true for Jordan. Sure it wasn’t easy working within the found footage realm, which required him to be on his toes for particularly long takes, but having the ability to fly and move cars with his mind-- or at least seem like he could-- made it worth it.
In advance of Chronicle’s February 3rd debut, Jordan took the time to run through the whole procedure from landing the role and working with a rising young cast and crew to manning up for his stunts. Check it all out in the interview below.
You’ve done a few films, but your resume is packed with TV work. How did Chronicle sneak in there? Was it just the right time when the script came along?
Yeah, I think it was just the timing and everything worked out for it. When I read the script, it was like I was picking up a comic book for the first time; I was super excited about it. It was a really good read. As soon as I picked it up, I didn’t put it down. I read it twice, back to back. I called my team and I was like, ‘Look, I’ve gotta get on this project. This is it. This is the one I wanna do,’ and it just worked out. I was finished with Parenthood and had the opportunity to go and shoot for a couple of months and I took it and I went.
A little bit. You have your stereotypical superhero films and you have your typical found footage films. I guess if you had to put us in a box, it’d be a found footage movie, but it’s so much more than that. It’s not about what happens next or shaky camera angles and this monster or this building, whatever it may be; it’s about these characters that you find yourself with at the beginning of the movie. And it’s a new take on superheroes. It’s a fresh take on an old idea. There’s no tights, no spandex, no masks, none of that stuff; it’s real kids and what they would do if they had powers. That’s one of the things that drew me to it because it was such a grounded film.
Are these the kind of things you’d do if you had superpowers?
Yeah, I think along those lines. I think you’d start off small scale, me figuring out what it was, what I could do, my limits and then the mischievous stuff with the girls and all that stuff, however it could benefit me and then I’m pretty sure I would do something that was completely out of line and got completely out of hand and I would probably get in trouble and have to reel it back in and then make an apology and then hopefully everything would be fine. [Laughs]
I’m thinking just the flying would help. Anything to keep me off the subway.
Oh, yeah! That’d be awesome to be able to travel. I love traveling. You would go wherever you wanted to go, no TSA. No TSA, how awesome would that be?
So, once you got the part, what’d you do next? Is there any personal preparation you like to do after landing a role?
Not really. This is actually one of those fun roles where it’s like I’m a comic geek. I grew up watching cartoons and Marvel comics, X-Men and all of that stuff, so when I finally had the chance to play a superhero and use my imagination, it was just like a dream come true. It was just fun. There wasn’t a lot of prep I had to do besides knowing things for all the high wire stuff, the flying rigs and really getting my core strong. That was kind of the only real prep that we did as far as shooting’s concerned. I was in the best shape of my life a couple of months ago! [Laughs]
No, not even a little bit. Steve and Vince are two completely different characters and I think that was another reason why I was drawn to this character. Steven Montgomery was originally Steven Kaczynski. He used to be written for a white Jewish guy, which was cool because there’s no stereotype for a black guy playing a Jewish guy, so I went in there and I kind of had a completely fresh new take that he’s well off, he wants to go into politics, Steve is running for senior class president. Yeah, he’s a jock. He just so happens to be playing football, Vince played football, so that’s the only similarity between the two characters.
And how about working on the project with Josh? What kind of direction and advice did he have for you?
Josh is great. He had this project mapped out in his head. He knew exactly what he wanted and being a first time film director at 27, I’m in my early 20s, Dane’s in his 20s, Alex’s in his 20s, Max Landis, the writer, is in his 20s, it was like a new fresh wave, a new energy, just the next generation. Josh was great with letting up collab. What we thought was relevant. We spoke the same language. And it was the first time I was working with a director that was so close in age to myself so I felt like I could do that a little bit more on this project. A lot of growing was done on this film.
What was the environment like on set? A group of guys in their 20s, I’d like to bet you had a good time.
Yeah, for the most part. Well, it was long days. We were all in a position of like, ‘Oh my god, we can’t fuck this up. Don’t fuck this up!’ That was everyday, we’d just go to work and give it 110% all day, every day because we know what’s at stake. I think when you have everybody from the PA to the writer to the director to the producers to the actors, everybody doing the best job they can do to make a great movie, that translates to the film and I think that’s what we got and that’s what we did.
And what was the set like in terms of equipment? Did you actually shoot any of it on a smaller camera?
No. I think we shot on an Alexa. We shot on a big camera. They had a prop small digital camera, but everything was done with the big boy, so we shot with all the regular equipment that a full-sized production would have shot on. We didn’t hold back anything. If anything, we used new technology on this film.
Yeah, it was a lot of off screen lines. The greatest thing about the film is usually how a conventional film is shot, I’ll shoot your coverage, you shoot my coverage, you do a wide establishing shot, etc. With this film, there’s only one take. There is no edits, there’s no cuts. Each scene would be somebody turning on and off a camera, so we’d start off in a wide shot and then it could turn into a single and then turn into another single and everybody’s on all the time. There is no saving your performance for the next take or saving your performance until it’s your close-up. Everybody was on all the time. And that was something to get used to. That was a muscle I hadn’t used in a long time. It kind of reminded me of theater. As we continued to shoot and the weeks went on, I got more and more comfortable with this single camera style of shooting.
You’ve got the single camera and are doing really long takes, but how many takes are you doing? Did you have enough shooting time to do each shot a few times?
Yeah, we got some takes in. If you mess up, you start over. [Laughs] We have these scenes, it’s like a minute and a half, two-minute, three-minute scenes and for an actor to be on beat emotionally or wherever you need to be and make sure you’re where you need to be with the blocking. Everything was precise. Rehearsal and preparation was very key to shooting this film and if we got it wrong or some timing was off, you start over from the beginning and do it again.
How do the stunts factor in? I imagine there was a lot of green screen here.
We did most of our own stunts for the most part. We did a lot of them. There were certain things that obviously we couldn’t pull off like smashing the cars, but the scene where I dive into the lake, that was all me. With stunts it was pretty extensive. A lot of our gags were practical, like the car, but also a lot of special effects were added in after. We could actually see the practical rigs and everything. The green screen stuff was more of less with the flying. Everything else that you see us doing was more or less practical.
I actually hit Alex in the face with the baseball the first couple times. [Laughs] And then another few times, there was nothing there at all. Everybody’s just trying to be on the same page, everybody have the same eye line, stuff like that.
Red Tails just hit theaters a few weeks ago and now you’ve got this, but do you have anything else on your plate right now?
I’ve got House coming out later on this month. I shot that a few weeks ago and that was a lot of fun, House on FOX, and I play Will Westwood, he’s a blind character. He’s been blind since birth, which is a very interesting role. It’s a fun episode, so you guys are gonna really enjoy that. And then after that it’s just literally trying to figure out what I’m doing next. I’m enjoying myself. I’ve been enjoying this time. I know it’s very rare when you get two movies in two weeks. To shoot two movies a year, that’s a big deal, so for me I’m just kind of enjoying this ride right now because I know it doesn’t happen often.