How Michael B. Jordan and Jonathan Majors Fought Harmoniously

One’s a big name, and one’s about to be. But to get along on ‘Creed III,’ they had to let go of ego and trust each other to pull no punches.
Sunday - 05/03/2023 06:26 Author: Editors Desk
Gioncarlo Valentine for The New York Times
Gioncarlo Valentine for The New York Times

“Creed III” offers two well-matched face-offs — one onscreen, one off.

In this corner of the big screen is our hero boxer, Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan), who’s outgrown his old trainer, Rocky Balboa, and achieved so many professional goals that he’s looking to retire in his mid-30s, a contented father and husband to his wife, Bianca (Tessa Thompson). But who’s that walking into the arena? It’s Creed’s childhood friend Damian Anderson (Jonathan Majors), a former boxing prodigy who has just been released from prison and is ready to take what he feels he’s owed, even if that payment must be extracted in the ring from Creed himself.

Behind the scenes, the matchup of Jordan and Majors proved every bit as dynamic. Jordan, 36, has been working in Hollywood since he was a teenager and is a bona fide movie star off the back of the “Creed” franchise and two “Black Panther” films in which he played the charismatic villain Erik Killmonger. On a recent Saturday morning in the courtyard of a Beverly Hills restaurant, Jordan spoke with the precision of someone who has spent years in the public eye and who, like his character, had met so many professional goals that he became restless for a new challenge. He found it by moving behind the camera to make his directorial debut on “Creed III,” though as he put the film together, Jordan knew he’d only be as good as the man he chose to play his foil.

Enter Majors, 33, who rolled up to the interview carrying a packet of dried mango slices and a portable speaker softly playing Kanye West’s “Real Friends.” After appearing in “The Last Black Man in San Francisco” (2019), an impressive breakout role that led to a starring stint on HBO’s “Lovecraft Country,” the red-hot Majors is poised for a banner 2023: “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” presented him as Kang, the crafty villain who’ll continue battling Marvel’s Avengers in a variety of movies and shows, while the buzzy Sundance title “Magazine Dreams,” likely to be released in the next awards season, cast Majors as a troubled bodybuilder and serves as an Oscar-ready showcase for his custom don’t-you-dare-look-away intensity.

Would the established A-lister and the ambitious up-and-comer get along, or would each man jostle to be top dog? Even as he signed on to “Creed III,” Majors had his doubts: “There was nothing historically that said an actor was going to look after another Black actor,” he said. But Jordan was willing to be honest and vulnerable in a way that made Majors respond in turn, and their chemistry proved so potent that both men are eager for a rematch.

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