If there’s ever a chance to cast a perfect lead who just happens to be a good friend of yours, it’s hard to pass up that sort of opportunity. As he serves as a lead actor, as well as a producer on his most recent film, Just Mercy, Michael B. Jordan learned that truth through firsthand experience, as in the years he’s been developing the film, he could think of no one other than friend/Academy Award winner Jamie Foxx to play the pivotal role of Walter McMillian, a man wrongfully convicted of a heinous murder.
With years of friendship under their caps, it’s kind of surprising to realize that Just Mercy is actually the first time both Jordan and Foxx have worked on a film together. So when I had the chance to speak with the two actors on behalf of CinemaBlend, it felt like a good time to ask how their mutual admiration as colleagues enriched their work together.
And that enrichment began with the following pledged, as told to me by Michael B. Jordan himself:
I’m not sure [when] exactly in the process. I’ve been dealing with [Just Mercy] and developing it for like 4-5 years. I think the casting process is usually one of the last things to kind of come together, once we’ve refined the script, and get it to a good place, schedules are lined up, we start thinking about cast. But in my mind, I’ve always kind of had Jamie in the forefront. I couldn’t think of anybody else to play [Walter McMillian.] I was just hoping that he was available, and that he was gonna do it.
It’s easy for friends in show business to say they’ve always wanted to work together, as well as for them to say that “the right project” will be the way to make that dream come true. Jordan noted that when he discussed the want for Jamie Foxx to come on board and play Walter McMillian, one of the central clients of his character, lawyer Bryan Stevenson, in Just Mercy’s cinematic incarnation. And as anyone who knows Foxx can tell you, the man has quite an eye for casting himself.
Determination won out though, as Michael B. Jordan’s hopes of Jamie Foxx joining the film’s cast ultimately delivered the ultimate win for Just Mercy. As the film tells the story of Walter’s uneasy acceptance of Bryan’s friendship and legal counsel, it helped to an immeasurable extent that both actors would have a pre-existing camaraderie in real life.
Telling the story of Bryan Stevenson’s crusade to overturn the erroneous conviction of Walter McMillian benefits from Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx’s chemistry as friends. The eventual real-life friendship between the two figures at the heart of Just Mercy’s dramatized narrative melds exceedingly well with the performances from both men.
Stretching back to Michael B. Jordan's time on All My Children, the long friendship between him and Jamie Foxx planted the idea that they should eventually work together in both of their minds. But, of course, with those age old concerns of scheduling and availability rearing their heads, pairing up for just any project is easier said than done.
Which means the fact that Michael B. Jordan has been a continual force of personality and hard work throughout his career is all the more rewarding, as it lead to Just Mercy landing both himself and his friend in roles that feel tailor-made for them to play. And that’s no accident either.
Michael B. Jordan continued remarking on this phenomenon, as he revealed what he feels was the key to their friendship informing their performances:
When we actually go to doing the work, showing up on set every day, I think our friendship allowed us to take risks and to go further with things. Because we knew the friendship was there. Some times with your friends, you can say wild and reckless things to one another, because that’s your best friend. That’s your boy. You know it’s not going to be taken the wrong way. The same kind of thing works when it comes to performances. There’s no boundaries, there’s no line to cross. You can just do whatever you need to do, because you’re doing what’s best for the scene.
When telling a story like Just Mercy, it’s important to balance both the reality of the case being portrayed, as well as the cinematic nature that’s inherent in the tale being told. It’s a concern that the real Bryan Stevenson definitely had when he was approached to tell his story in the cinematic medium. And as you'll see in the discussion below with Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx, that concern was a part of the recipe that eventually paired these acting talents off for the first time.
Eventually, Bryan Stevenson was convinced that co-writer/director Destin Daniel Cretton, as well as producer/star Michael B. Jordan, were the right fit to bring Just Mercy to the big screen. Working on getting the film off the ground for roughly half a decade paid off, as Jordan and Jamie Foxx’s performances are eloquent renditions of the men they play respectively.
As such, Just Mercy is being released into theaters not only as a tale of redemption and justice that feels like a perfect holiday offering, but also an awards season contender. So the team of Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx is obviously a prospect for a Best Actor/Best Supporting Actor pair that could help propel the film into nominations for other categories, including Best Picture.
None of this talk would have been possible if it wasn’t for the fact that Michael B. Jordan had Jamie Foxx in mind for his co-star from frame one of Just Mercy’s production. With a clear vision of how to make Bryan Stevenson’s true story a theatrical event that doesn’t lose sight of its actual basis in reality, that determination to bring a friend along for the ride only proves that the film eventually landed the perfect leads for the job.
Just Mercy opens in limited release on Christmas Day, with a wide theatrical rollout on January 10. So stay tuned to CinemaBlend for more coverage on this compelling true life narrative as we draw closer to its release.
And if you’re curious what other awards hopefuls are expanding into wide release in the new year, head over to our 2020 release schedule to see what January holds in its cards.