How Michael B Jordan is taking the world by storm
There was a moment, not long before filming wrapped on the last fight scene for Creed 2, when it looked like Michael Jordan might not make it. “It’s always the last two-three days of fighting that are the toughest,” says the man himself, who spent upwards of four hours a day on boxing technique, in-ring choreography and in the gym in prep for the role.
“You give yourself a mental finish line and you’re trying to make it, and your mind is pushing your body beyond its limit. You’re past your threshold of pain - the only thing you’re running on is your will to make it to the end, and for me to go the last couple of days…my body almost quit on me. Right after we finished shooting, I had a lot of fluid in my knee - it was swollen, it was hard for me to move, I couldn’t bend down, I couldn’t move around the ring, it was pretty bad. I had to end up getting it drained. It’s amazing what your body can do when you put your mind to it.”
It probably helps, of course, to have a mind that’s used to the grind. Jordan has been hard at it since he was 12, when small parts in The Sopranos and Cosby led on to a recurring role in All My Children…and a series of stolen scenes in The Wire, with his tragic character Wallace providing some of the most heart-wrenching moments of the show’s first season.
For Fruitvale Station, his first collaboration with director Ryan Coogler – who he’s now worked with on Black Panther and the first Creed – he moved to Oakland for a month, retracing the steps of his real-life character to do justice to the role. Fast-forward a few years and he’s a blockbusting leading man and an outside bet for an Oscar – his team think that Black Panther’s Killmonger is in with a shot – but the hard work doesn’t stop.
Jordan is already set for roles in bio-drama Just Mercy, where he plays an attorney (“I lost about twenty pounds to get in lawyer-shape,”) and his fourth film with Coogler, Wrong Answer, but that’s just what he’s doing in front of the camera.
Outside of acting, he’s building a brand that includes multi-million-dollar endorsement deals, his own production company and a new marketing-and-consulting startup co-founded with two of his childhood friends. He’s producing and starring in a Netflix sci-fi series and getting set to make his directorial debut with an adaptation of young adult novel The Stars Beneath Our Feet, but he’s also planning on making marketing contracts with his company part of any film deal he cuts with a studio.
He’s talked to Jay-Z and LeBron’s team about how their wider operations work, and he’s pledged that his production company, Outlier Society, will meet diversity benchmarks for its upcoming projects. He wants to become the CEO of his own business, not just an actor bouncing from part to part – making money and building influence that goes far beyond anything he can do on-screen. It’s a lot of work.
“Every day’s a busy day,” says Jordan. “I definitely want to evolve, direct, produce, learn and grow. I want to impact the world and the industry from all angles.” How’s he going to find the time? He laughs at the question. “I have an amazing PR team that helps me out when it comes to scheduling, but finding the time…honestly man, you’ve just gotta do it. For me, it just happens, from going to meetings to taking phone calls to emails to creating and nurturing ideas, I sacrifice a lot of my own personal time just to dedicate to work, to the craft, to building these things – it’s just about having a certain amount of time and using it wisely. I think it’s something that I’ve always had a good handle on.”
He makes time for prayer and meditation every day, he explains, and when he needs to refocus he goes for a drive in one of his enviable collection of cars. “I try to get some alone time. It’s always so busy being around other people - when you get time to be alone with your thoughts, that’s the time.” Over the last five years, he says, he’s “Been a little more selfish…I think that’s helped to improve my own mental sanity on certain things.” But mostly, it helps that he loves it. All of it.
“Everybody has their own appetites and tastes,” he says. “For me, I’ve always enjoy filmmaking, the entire process, so I fell in love with every step, that’s why I enjoy changing lanes.” What about spending days on end swinging kettlebells and taking punches, as he did for Creed 2? “I love it. You know, as an actor, to wear different hats, to pick up different professions and become different people, learn different crafts and trades, that’s one of the blessings of being an actor. To transform my body and my mind to become a boxer, that’s one of the reasons that I became an actor. It was a really fun experience for me.”
‘Fun’ might be an interesting definition of an experience that included sledgehammer sessions in desert heat and day-long sessions of fight choreography, but that’s all part of the process. “There was definitely a feeling of ‘How do we raise the bar?’ across the field,” says Jordan. “How do I become more skilled, how do we challenge ourselves to improve those training montages, make everything more dangerous and thrilling, bigger and better. Between [director] Steven and I and Danny our fight coordinator, I think we found a nice way to show that.”
What did he learn from the real-life boxers who co-star in the film, like undefeated super middleweight Andre Ward and Romanian heavyweight Florian Munteanu, who plays Ivan Drago’s son Viktor? “I learned that I’m an actor and they’re real boxers,” he laughs. “They’re so talented - they’re smart, strong, really nice guys. They don’t want to hit you - you expect them to be these tenacious, fierce guys, but they want to learn as much as me, they want to learn about how to tackle the acting side, we’re learning from each other and working together to achieve this thing. Andre Ward and Tony Bellew and Florian, those are some really good guys.”
For Jordan, this feels like the time to thread the needle: riding high off the success of Black Panther’s $1.3 billion at the box office and set to continue an iconic franchise with Creed, there’s a lot to juggle. Does he feel the pressure? “Being big, being a movie star, whatever you call it, it definitely gives me certain opportunities, that gives you access that you might not have had without that success,” he says.
“This is the moment I’ve been working my entire career for and now everything’s happening at once, I have all these opportunities for me to achieve the things I really want. So yeah, this is the time for me to lock down and work. That’s what I’m doing, man, I’m taking advantage.”
The evidence is visible on-screen and off - from Jordan’s outrageous pec definition to his 7.6m Instagram followers and raft of upcoming collaborations with big names. Like any real-life boxer, he’s ready to capitalise on his window of opportunity, and he’s working hard to make the most of it. And his advice to anyone who wants to do the same is simple: “I think it’s about working on the things you need to work on. Everyone knows what they are, deep down, but sacrifice is something not a lot of people are comfortable with.” Sometimes, after all, you’ve got to get in the ring when you can barely even stand.
The Changing Shape Of Michael B Jordan
The Creed star’s come a long way since Wallace from The Wire. Here’s how he’s built his best-ever body over the years.
The Human Torch: Feeling The Burn
To play Johnny Storm in Fantastic Four, Jordan stayed (relatively) lean with bodyweight exercises and regular, small meals focusing on protein and veggies. Try his round-the-clock pressups – do 12, circle as if you’re moving on a clockface and do 11…all the way down to 1.
Adonis Creed: Ring-Ready
For his first turn as Apollo Creed’s son, Jordan went up a weight class by mixing intense boxing workouts with a three-day weightlifting split, putting on around 24 pounds. He upped the protein, but also added bagwork and mitts to his heaviest workouts, blasting out boxing drills between sets on the leg press.
Killmonger: Size Matters
To take on Black Panther, Jordan packed on mass, focusing on big compound movements like the bench press and deadlift, alongside six meals a day. Build an anti-hero back with the T-bar row, which works half a dozen muscles at once – pile plates on one end of a bar, wedge the other in a corner, and use a T-attachment to pull the bar to your chest.
Creed (again): Championship-Class
For his first title defence in the Rocky franchise, Jordan’s in his best shape ever – he’s kept Killmonger’s size but used skipping, kettlebell and boxing intervals to strip away fat and show off his hard-earned muscle. Try a circuit of swings, skipping and squats to shred without eating away muscle – you might not get in world-beating shape, but every little helps.