Watching Michael B. Jordan in a loving marriage and then exacting revenge for his wife’s murder in a franchise-ready action thriller almost makes you forget this isn’t a normal occurrence in Hollywood.
It’s not often we see Black leads in big-budget films not centered on Black trauma, let alone playing roles based on white characters.
In Amazon Prime’s “Without Remorse,” (streaming Friday) a film based on Tom Clancy’s book of the same name, Jordan takes on the role of former Navy SEAL John Kelly, who’s described in the book as an Irish American Catholic. The movie is the origin story for Kelly and is “hopefully, the beginning of a rich and entertaining franchise,” Jordan, 34, says.
It doesn’t end there.
Jodie Turner-Smith plays Karen Greer, a Black woman lieutenant commander of the Navy SEALs. Turner-Smith’s character is poignant in that her role was written for a man and as of today, there haven’t been any women SEALs (though one woman made it through training in 2019), let alone a Black commanding officer.
“I think that’s just the times that we’re trying to usher ourselves out of and create a new norm,” Jordan says of normalizing Black lead actors in action movies and films about regular life. “Hopefully, with representation and examples of success in these areas, it will start to dissolve the hesitation and create more opportunities and more vehicles for other talented actors to be able to take on roles like this.”
In 2018, Jordan, who also serves as a producer on “Without Remorse,” announced he’d be adopting an inclusion rider for his production company, inspiring other industry big names to do the same. But the casting choices like Turner-Smith’s for his latest film were intentional and not done to fulfill an inclusion rider, Jordan says. It’s a regular aspect “that just comes with me and my production company, wherever I go.”
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Turner-Smith thought it was “forward-thinking” for her to take on the role. Due to the lack of women SEALs, the “Queen & Slim” star said she based her character off all the women serving in the armed forces and tapping into the “feminine energy” of the male SEALs she met.
“It’s almost like they know how (expletive) tough they are because of what they do so there’s no need to pretend to be tough,” Turner-Smith says. “They’re so sensitive and emotional. And I thought it was really beautiful and amazing.”
Casting wasn’t the only place Jordan and director Stefano Sollima took creative liberty with Clancy’s 1993 novel “Without Remorse.” In the film, Russian operatives break into Kelly’s home and murder his pregnant wife (Lauren London) after his involvement in a secret military plan against them. Kelly sets out on a revenge mission with the help of Greer and the CIA and ends up discovering an internal conspiracy to turn the U.S. and Russia against each other.
“What (Clancy, who died in 2013) did so well was write espionage thrillers and novels that mirrored situations that’s either happened before or could potentially happen again. History repeats itself,” Jordan says. “We wanted it to feel like it’s something that could happen, and maybe has happened.”
London’s screen time is minimal, but she remains a prominent figure throughout the film (her character’s death is what drives Kelly to expose the government’s corruption). Jordan says working with London, who he refers to as a good friend of his, was one of his favorite times on set.
The actress lost her long-time partner and father of her youngest child, Nipsey Hussle when he was fatally shot in Los Angeles in 2019. “Without Remorse” began filming later that same year. Jordan was also close with Hussle and was one of the friends who wrote a tribute to the late rapper in books passed out during his memorial.
“To be able to see her back on screen (and) on set, and to be able to have real moments and conversations around grief and experiences, that really helped push and drive John, my character, through this movie,” says Jordan, who experienced his own grief losing Chadwick Boseman, his “Black Panther” co-star and “big brother,” a year later.
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Jordan, who broke out in 2013’s “Fruitvale Station” and in recent years has embraced experimenting with multiple genres like 2019’s “Just Mercy,” a biopic about a lawyer who helps the underserved, Marvel’s 2018 superhero fantasy “Black Panther,” his sports drama franchise “Creed” and Denzel Washington’s upcoming drama “A Journal for Jordan,” says he’ll always take on projects that help spotlight stories that need to be told.
“As you get older and you start to be more selective with your time and things that you put your effort into, you start to pick and choose the ones that really start to matter for you,” Jordan says. “And then sometimes you got to take a back seat and be creatively involved in things from behind the scenes.”
Jordan is getting into the driver’s seat makinghis directorial debut with “Creed III”(out Thanksgiving 2022), in which he’ll also star. He’s going through all the feels taking on this new challenge.
“I’m excited. I’m nervous. But the good nerves, like the anxious feeling right before a game or something you just can’t wait to do,” Jordan says. “I can’t wait to get started. So that’s next for me, and it’s a world that I’ve been getting a lot of advice and picking the brains of a lot of directors that I respect and admire.”
The best advice he’s gotten? Prepare. Prepare. And prepare.
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