Michael B. Jordan has built a career out of making grown men weep. At 15, he played Wallace on The Wire, the teen drug dealer whose murder was among the most unbearable of the series' wrenching tragedies. Then fans rooted for him as the troubled East Dillon quarterback in the final seasons of Friday Night Lights, when he stepped in as the emotional center of a show that thrived and survived on audience devotion. But it's his breakout role in Fruitvale Station (in theaters July 26) that finally got him choked up. "I first read the script three times back-to-back-to-back," says the 26-year-old Newark, New Jersey, native. "And I cried every time."
Writer-director Ryan Coogler's feature debut follows the last 24 hours in the life of Oscar Grant, the 22-year-old Bay Area man who was shot and killed, while unarmed, by a transit police officer in 2009. The film presents Grant not as a symbolic figure (his death sparked protests and a national debate about police brutality) but as a three-dimensional character—a son and young father just trying to find his way. "This person, this kid—we wanted to give him his humanity back," Jordan says.
At the film's premiere at Sundance, where it won both the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award, Jordan was focused squarely on Grant's family in Park City's MARC theater, where he was seated behind them. "During the whole screening, I'm sitting there peeking at the movie, peeking at Oscar's mother, peeking at the uncle, the sister," he says. "The tension was so high and thick in the room." During the Q&A session that followed, Grant's aunt told Jordan that sometimes she thought it was her nephew on the screen. "It shows how committed he was," says producer Octavia Spencer, who costars as Grant's mother, "to the emotional responsibility that we carry when we play real people. That weighed heavily on us."
Not that Jordan can't keep it light, too. Having a sense of humor comes with the territory when you grow up with that name. (For the record, it was handed down from his dad, Michael A. Jordan.) "You know how many pizza places have hung up on me?" he says, laughing. He keeps the jokes coming in Are We Officially Dating?, a singles-in-the-city bromance comedy. "It was something different," Jordan says. "I didn't die!"
—Details entertainment editor Nojan Aminosharei
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