Michael B. Jordan On His "Revolutionary" 'Black Panther' Villain [Set Visit Interview]

Marvel's veil of secrecy is notorious by now to anyone who even casually follows their productions. Still, it's not every day you see that veil take physical form.

When we gathered to interview Michael B. Jordan on the set of Black Panther last year, he brought with him a paper outlining exactly what he was and wasn't allowed to discuss with us. As it turns out, there was quite a lot he couldn't say. He couldn't say what Killmonger wanted, for instance, or even how much of his backstory we'd get to see.

What he could tell us was that his Killmonger is a "selfless" sort, less a hero or a villain than a "revolutionary." Whether T'Challa sees it that way – well, that's for us to find out when Black Panther opens on February 16.

Note: This was a group interview conducted in a press conference format with assembled journalists.

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A lot of the roles you've played in the past have kind of been characterized as the underdogs – even if they're not fully in that mode, they're guys you really root for. Obviously, this is on the opposite end of that. What was it like getting to switch into that kind of character?

I think it's a different muscle for me. I wanted to step outside of my comfort zone and try something different, especially with Ryan [Coogler, director], working with him again. I jumped at the chance to get a chance to work with him again. I think one of the challenges for us, if we do our jobs the right ways, is hopefully, Killmonger is somebody you guys can root for, too. I think that's something hard to accomplish, but if we all do what we're supposed to do, I think that will be a really hard decision to make, to figure out who you want to root for. I think that brings out the best in villains.

Based on that, what does Killmonger want?

Uh, I think Killmonger wants ... He has interests in Wakanda, as does the rest of the world. It's something that they don't really know that much about, and ... he wants to find out more? I'm sorry, guys, this is tough!

You've got this big group of Wakandans and then you've got you as one of the antagonists. Is there an isolation to that? How does that work as far as developing your relationships with the cast versus the characters developing their relationships?

It's interesting, because I'm not really associated with any of the Wakandans. I guess I'm the best representation of America? So when it comes to getting into the characters from the offset, I'm kind of late in the game. This is the first project between me and Ryan where I wasn't there from the very beginning. So coming into the middle of shooting, not really being there from pre-production and getting the chance to spend a lot of time with the cast and stuff like that, actually works in my favor. Because there isn't really any real connection there onscreen, in the script, so I think that separation helps me out a lot. But you know, it's one of those things where you tell everybody before we start, "I love you! We love you! Yeah, I love you too! Ah! But in this one I'm not really gonna be smiling too much, you know?" I think people know me by now, I'm pretty warm and approachable and stuff like that, but on this one, I'm taking a slightly different approach and kind of staying to myself.

One thing that people really responded to with Creed was Ryan's style of filming the boxing scenes. Can you speak to how he's approaching action in this movie?

As realistic as he can. I think one of Ryan's strengths is that he always finds the real moments, even in the sci-fi or larger-than-life atmosphere and environment, so when it comes to the boxing, he wanted real hits. He wanted it to look like if it was a brawl, it was gonna be a brawl, you know? We really took our time with each punch. Each punch represented a different line. So in a sense, we're having a scene and dialogue within the fight. So that was something that I found very interesting, with that attention to detail. So for this one, [it's] a different approach because we're using a lot of weapons and we're also using a lot of hand-to-hand combat and stuff like that, so there's a lot more action, so to speak. Just trying to find the realness in the larger-than-life Marvel universe, I think that's something he's definitely striving for.

Killmonger, he's an expert fighter and you're no stranger to intense physical training. So, can you compare your experience with training in Creed with your training with this character now?

When I trained for Creed, I had about a year in advance to know what I was doing before. So I lived like a fighter, you know? I went through the workout routine, the diet, training with real boxers, training with real trainers, did the whole thing. Which helped me out a little bit in the process of getting ready for this one. Discipline, you know, same type of approach, but instead of just using my arms and my hands in boxing, this one is more more martial arts, using a lot of your legs, so I'm picking up different fighting styles.

Also a lot of guns, too. The weapons training is a totally different muscle. So being able to train in LA for a couple months before coming here and doing all this. And you know, I like to do as much as I can myself. I respect stunt guys and what they do, of course – if I'm jumping out five story buildings, you got it! Anything on the ground, anything that I feel like I can you, I really like to be able to do that stuff myself and be able to give the director options for long takes and not being able to cut away and stuff like that. As much as I can learn, I just wanted to be a sponge. He'd drop me off at weapons training, martial arts training, pick back up on boxing, and just try to combine it all.

Often times opponents are kind of studying each other, like it's a chess game. What would you say Killmonger is studying and learning from the Black Panther to up his game and take over?

That was a good one! I think there's ... wait, hold up one second, I'm not even joking. [Stares at notes] I feel like it's more like resentment. I feel like there's more of a jealousy aspect. It's always interesting to train for an enemy you've never met before, so it's a lot of studying him from afar, and I feel like he's very patient. He's a thinker. He's really good at chess, and he was waiting for his perfect time to pop up.

Was it easy for you to get in his head and get behind his motivations? Did you understand him right away?

100 percent. Without a doubt. And I think that's the part of it that hopefully a lot of people, when they see the film, they're able to connect with. Same part that I connected with. And without going into detail, 'cause I can't – yeah, I could. There's two sides to every coin and true villains, I think the really good ones and the interesting ones, the watchable ones, they truly believe what they're doing is the right thing. And if you can somehow blur that line for the people who we're supposed to not like them, like maybe I'm not supposed to be on board with this – if you can kind of get them to see that other point of view, I think that battle's won.

Black Panther

You said you were brought in later in the game on this than usual. Can you talk about what those initial discussions were and whether there was any hesitation at all to do another comic book movie?

Zero hesitation to do another comic book movie. I guess I got brought in later in the game because that was the natural process. Me and Ryan still talk everyday, we still in an unofficial capacity, had always been part of it. No hesitation, really, to do another comic book film. I'm a geek. I love this world. I love being able to play in that fantastic kind of space. I looked at it as another shot to get it right, to do it again. And especially teaming up with Rachel [Morrison, director of photography] again and Ryan, it's a very, very comfortable space with me. It was the perfect space for me to take another risk like this, so it was no hesitation on my part.

Can you talk a little about the female characters and Killmonger's interaction with them? We've got Angela [Bassett], Lupita [Nyong'o], Danai [Gurira], and Letitia [Wright] now. Can you talk to how he's going to interact with these ladies?

He doesn't really get a chance to have elaborate interactions with a lot of women, a lot of the female characters.

Just from the events of Age of Ultron and Civil War, we do know that there are elements of his story that change from the comics. Because in the comics his history with T'Challa and Wakanda goes back to when he was a kid and being kicked out of the country. Are we going to get the scope of history and where he's been?

Great question. I wish I could answer that.

Are there any characteristics or traits of your character that you think you personally possess?

Yeah. I think being strategic, thinking before you act, thinking before you speak, being really thought out, five or six steps ahead – he's very passionate about what he believes in. Yeah, I feel like he always has a plan, that's something I can pull from my own personal life, I always feel like I had a plan for something. Yeah, I think that's something we have in common.

Going back to the female characters, one of the really cool things that's been noted about your collaborations with Ryan and even in your work in Friday Night Lights and things like that, the women tend to be so much more than just these cliched "strong women characters." Even if they are physically strong, they're really complex people. I'm curious in this case, especially with Lupita's character, was that something you noted going in, that even though she's a warrior, she seems, at least from what we've gotten to know so far, more complex.

I feel like Ryan's portrayal of women – he's always very conscious of that, and we want to be as realistic as possible, a reflection of the time, of today. And I feel like Lupita's character definitely exudes strength and brains and brawn. Yeah, I think you get a chance to see all layers of a woman, all different sides, all different shapes and colors. I feel like you get a full 360 view of what a woman can do, very very much so. I think that answers your question.

Andy [Serkis] told us that Klaue's motivations are unabashedly selfish. He's there for himself. Is that similar for Killmonger? Is it a selfish thing or is it for something bigger?

I feel like Killmonger is very selfless. I feel like he's looking at the bigger picture. I think he's always looking at the bigger picture, since he was really young, which is why he's a great thinker and a great strategist, 'cause he's had time to look at the big picture and try to figure it out. And to the best of his ability, I feel like he figured out. It makes sense to him.

If he had to describe himself – is he a leader? Is he a hero?

Can I give a one-word answer? Can I ask if this is cool before I say it? [Whispers to production team member, who approves] Alright. He's a revolutionary.