Michael B. Jordan is competitive. Which may sound like a word reserved for the other Michael Jordan, the famed basketball player, a six-time NBA champion and five-time league MVP.
Michael B. Jordan is named after his father, but Michael Jordan does still play a role in the "Fruitvale Station" actor's life. All of the taunting and teasing Jordan received as a kid because he shared names with one of the most famous men on Earth helped to inspire the 26-year-old's competitive streak. In other words: Michael B. Jordan would like to be the Michael Jordan you just might think of first some day. Or, as Michael B. Jordan puts it, "I just want to turn the tables on him just a little bit."
When I met Jordan at his Midtown Manhattan hotel he couldn't shake hands because he had just broken his right hand. So recently, in fact, that he had yet to go to the hospital (as we talked, I watched it physically swell). He didn't cancel our interview, though: Jordan suffered through, which is kind of reminiscent of, well, you know.
Jordan is receiving rave reviews for his performance in the Sundance award winner "Fruitvale Station." Jordan plays Oscar Grant in the true and quite infamous story of a young man who was killed by a Bay Area Rapid Transit police officer on New Year's Day in 2009. "Fruitvale Station" follows what happens on the last day and night of Grant's life. Here, a jovial -- despite his broken hand -- Jordan discusses his breakout year, explains why "Space Jam" has everything to do with why he uses a "B" in his name as a professional, and kinda sorta gives us the latest on those persistent rumors that he will be the new Human Torch in Josh Trank's "The Fantastic Four" reboot.
[Michael B. Jordan] I can't use my hand. It's broken.
How did you do that?
There's nothing better than doing an interview on a hot day with a broken hand.
It's not cool. And not being able to take a painkiller because I want to talk to you intelligently. That's the other messed up thing. So, mind over pain.
If you had a painkiller maybe you'd lead off with something like, "You're damned right I'm the Human Torch."
[Laughs] I don't know about that one. You're good, though.
Shouldn't your arm be in a cast?
It happened this morning. And I haven't even had time to even stop today, so I've just kind of been dealing with it. I'm going to take care of it after this.
This is quite impressive.
You know, the workload on this film has been crazy to me. Honestly, actors always want to look for that leading role or have the opportunity to play a lead role like Oscar Grant. You want to be number one on the call sheet, but then you see that schedule and you're like, "Oh my God. Every day? Every scene? I don't have a day off at all?" And then promoting the film is a whole other thing. I think actors are honestly paid to do the promotion.
Emotionally, this movie is hard to watch. Does it still hit you hard when you see it?
Last night was my fifth time seeing it. And I don't plan on seeing it again. It's weird ... in this film, I get tired looking at my face. It's like, "Can we cut to something? Can we go somewhere else?" It's a lot, man. It is a little emotional and it is a bit much.
[An icepack is brought in for Jordan's arm] Oh, man, that feels nice.
It's starting to swell.
It's strange to be here talking about this movie. In the respect that a man not too long ago lost his life.
One hundred percent. His little girl is going to have to watch this one day. You know? She doesn't have a father anymore. The women in this film are kind of left to pick up the pieces. I have a relationship with his mom and it was really weird at first. But I have to look at it from her point of view and be like, "I embody her son." Or, I do the best of my ability to try to, anyway. It's a tragedy. It's sad that this had to happen for us to be sitting here having this conversation.
With a story like this, are you more conscious of where Oscar ends and where you begin?
The first time I ever lost myself in a role was on "The Wire" playing Wallace. I've been chasing that feeling ever since -- in trying to find moments in roles where I can completely dissolve myself.
Did you get that feeling this time?
For sure. This is definitely one of those moments that I had -- I never wore my clothes. I wore his clothes every day ... you get out of Michael's routine and you get into Oscar's routine.
You're in the middle of one of those "Watch out, here comes Michael B. Jordan" kind of breakthrough moments. Are you self-aware of that or do you pay attention to that?
I try not to. I try not to read it. I mean, people, they say certain things. They say it's a "coming out party" or stuff like that. But, I try not to pay attention to that stuff, man. I'm just glad people respect the work. Honestly, the biggest thing to me is the respect of my peers in the entertainment industry that I'm in -- because I look up to them as well. And to get respect, honestly, it's a big deal. I don't pay attention to the hoopla of all that other stuff. I'll let you guys do that.
But, come on, you've had a nice year.
It's been amazing, dude. You work so hard -- I've been doing this thing for like 13 years, you know? In anything that you do, you want to be successful and you want to have a certain level of accomplishment ... I don't take that for granted whatsoever.
You mentioned "The Wire." But I feel that, movie-wise, "Chronicle" had a lot to do with this -- that movie did a lot better than it was supposed to do.
Was that when you noticed things were changing?
Yeah, especially because that role wasn't written for me. The character's name was Steve Kosinski -- it was a Jewish kid at first. So, for me personally, I've always wanted to break down barriers, you know? And the lack there of of quality roles for African-American actors, I look for stuff like that. I want the script that Ben Affleck or Leonardo DiCaprio couldn't do because of scheduling. I want that one. I want those types of roles. And "Chronicle" for me personally was a high for me because they took a chance and they changed it -- it could have been anybody.
I know that you were named after your father.
The fact you use your middle initial -- is that a SAG rule? Does Michael Jordan the basketball star have a SAG card from "Space Jam"?
Exactly. That's exactly what it is. And it shouldn't count! OK? [Laughs] Nah, I'm just joking. My middle name is Bakari ... and I was going to change it to Michael Bakari at one point, but I was like, "No, I'm just going to leave it the way it is. My dad is Michael A., I'll be Michael B."
When was the first time that you realized there was a very famous man with your name that was not your father?
I mean, the first time I turned on the television and watched the Bulls.
I hope it wasn't "Space Jam."
[Laughs] No, no, it wasn't "Space Jam." But, no, I think it was the first time I turned on the television and watched Michael Jordan play. How could you not know MJ? And I played basketball a lot growing up, too, and that's why I think I developed a little chip on my shoulder for awhile -- and why I became so competitive.
Kids are brutal. They do not hold punches at all. "Oh, you're Michael Jordan?" Oh, man, I heard it all. It's crazy because people think they're the first person to say a Michael Jordan joke. It's like, "Oh, Michael Jordan, ha ha." No, sorry, I've heard that a million times already. Come up with something original! When somebody comes up with an original Michael Jordan joke, I don't know what I would do. I would give them a handshake.
But, some day, people might be going to him making jokes about being an actor with an Oscar nomination.
Well, not that last part. But, a definite motivation of mine is getting people to think of me and my career instead of that guy. I just want to turn the tables on him just a little bit.
I know everything is secretive about if you're going to be the Human Torch in the new Fantastic Four. At Cannes you gave an off the record "shhhh"...
Which is bullshit. I don't know how there's an off the record, "Shhhh." It's an oxymoron. It doesn't make sense!
OK, but it makes too much sense. You're friends with Josh Trank. And it's not like we have to feel bad for Chris Evans, he's not struggling for work these days.
You at least want this to happen, right?
[Jordan gives a sarcastic "death stare" and chews on a straw. His publicist, who is in the room, asks me if Jordan is rolling his eyes.] I didn't say anything! Look, it's no secret that me and Josh are really good friends.
That's why I am pushing this. There are too many stars aligned here.
I mean, if it were to happen, would I shy away from the moment? Of course not. It would be really cool. I grew up reading comic books, being a big Marvel and DC fan, if I had the opportunity to play a role like that, of course I would. Like, who wouldn't? I don't care if I was Asian or blue or brown or green or red. It doesn't matter.
I don't think that does matter. I think people just like you.
That's pretty cool. Thanks.
But I do have to ask you, when I transcribe this, how do I accurately describe that death stare you gave me a few seconds ago?
[Laughs] However you want, man. "Death stare" is cool.
Mike Ryan is senior writer for Huffington Post Entertainment. You can contact him directly on Twitter.