For ‘Black Panther’ star Michael B. Jordan, Killmonger isn’t just another villain

Michael B. Jordan as Killmonger in his official portrait for Black Panther

Acting is an exercise in transforming oneself into a character. For his role as complex villain Erik Killmonger in Black Panther, Michael B. Jordan decided to transform himself into a weapon.

Killmonger is an embattled villain with fighting chops that rival those of the film’s protagonist, T’Challa (aka Black Panther). To become Killmonger, it was vital to get into peak physical shape in order to make his martial arts fighting style look believable. Jordan had no problem doing that after chiseling his body into that of a world-class boxer to play Adonis Johnson in the 2015 film Creed, also helmed by Black Panther director Ryan Coogler. After holding his own in the lauded pantheon of Rocky pugilists, Jordan told us he’s already getting into shape for the follow-up to Creed, so there could be a bit of Killmonger influence in the ring when Creed II comes out.

In an interview with Digital Trends, Jordan explained how involved Kendrick Lamar was in Black Panther while creating the soundtrack, his bond with Coogler on their third film together, and how Heath Ledger’s seminal role as The Joker from The Dark Knight inspired his recent turn to the dark side.

Digital Trends: How did you get the part in Black Panther? Was it something you were excited about from the get-go?

When your friend calls and asks if you want to go do something and have some fun, there’s no other answer but yes.

Michael B. Jordan: We were promoting Creed, and Coogler called me and said, ‘You wanna go do this?’ And I immediately said yes. When your friend calls and asks if you want to go do something and have some fun, there’s no other answer but yes. This is our third film together. So to be able to team up with him again was a no-brainer. Also, being able to work with Chadwick [Boseman] appealed to me, as I hadn’t had the opportunity to do that yet. And this was the perfect platform for us to do that. And of course, being part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe had a lot to do with it.

The film has premiered in a number of places already. How was it seeing the final version? How closely was it to what you had in your head before you saw it?

Oh, man. Seeing it all come to life on the big screen was pretty incredible. I definitely need to see it a few more times in order to process it correctly. Ryan is a genius, and I can’t wait for everyone to see his vision come to life.

Without revealing too much, was there a piece of dialogue or scene in the script that made you want to commit to being part of this film?

It was all Coogler. Getting to work with him again. And the opportunity to play a villian. That’s what really drew me to it.

Ever since your breakout performance in the Coogler-directed Fruitvale Station, you’ve been a popular leading man, at times playing the underdog. Is Killmonger the first role in which you play a villain?

This is the first time I’ve played a “villain,” but I think Killmonger is different than your average villain. He’s layered. He has a reason for acting the way he does, and the moment when he meets up with T’Challa, he explains himself and what he says is pretty real.

Images courtesy of Marvel Studios and Nike

I’ve heard that actors go through “superhero boot camp” consisting of strenuous workouts before they do these sort of films. You also played someone with superpowers in the Fantastic Four film. How do the workouts compare? How about with Creed?

With Creed, I had to transform into a believable boxer, so my workouts and diet were super strict. For Killmonger, I just wanted to look like a weapon. More muscle, less cut. So I just put on a ton of muscle for that. Killmonger also is really skilled in martial arts and weapon training, so I did a lot of that as well. I’m back to training for Creed 2, so back to strict diets and fight training.

Preparing for your role as Killmonger, did you go into full method actor mode, with it spilling into your regular life?

I wouldn’t say I went full method, but I did spend a lot of time to myself, away from the group. I also watched a lot of Ledger’s work as The Joker and [Michael] ‎Fassbender as Magneto.

Kendrick Lamar executive produced the Black Panther soundtrack and you’re a professed fan, so that had to be exciting. Do you have a favorite song or album of his?

I am a huge fan of Kendrick. It’s tough to choose a favorite track of his, but if I had to choose, one of my favorites would be A.D.H.D. His work on the album for Black Panther is so clean, though.

The Black Panther soundtrack might become one of the most popular albums of the year. Do you know if Kendrick saw the film early or was on the set during filming to get inspired?

No, he wasn’t on set, but Coogler reached out to him to get him involved with the music for the film.

Is there a piece of technology from Black Panther that could have a real-world ‎application in today’s society? Any one thing you wish you could have in real life?

Wakanda is so technologically advanced that it’s hard to say, but I’d probably choose the beaded bracelets.

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