This week on The Treatment, Elvis welcomes back actor and producer Michael B. Jordan, who stars in the new Amazon film “Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse.” Jordan’s other roles include those in the “Creed” films, “Black Panther,” and “Fruitvale Station.” Jordan tells The Treatment his interest in the Tom Clancy story goes back to playing video games as a kid. He says he enjoyed preparing for the role of John Kelly in “Without Remorse,” by spending time with military veterans and also doing underwater scuba training. And Jordan says he feels a responsibility to make sure his films have diverse representation and also are entertaining to watch.
The following interview has been abbreviated and edited for clarity.
KCRW: Welcome to The Treatment, the home edition. I'm Elvis Mitchell. It's always good to talk to a man who lives his life without remorse. My guest is Michael B. Jordan and he's starring in the film "Without Remorse" on Amazon. You have a line early on in this movie that could have been a line in every other Michael B. Jordan movie of the last few years, which is: "we served a country that didn't love us back."
Michael B. Jordan: You take a character like John Kelly, and we change the lens of that through a Black man. So in that moment, where Kelly is going through what he's gone through, after the tragedy takes place in his life, he feels betrayed, he feels like he gave everything and was fighting for something. And now he's on a mission, and he needs to get some answers. So, I think he's putting the power back in his hand. At one moment, John feels like he's powerless, and he's just one person, and then something changes in him, and he pushes towards that change.
KCRW: So, what made you want to play a Tom Clancy character?
Jordan: For me, as a kid, man, playing Rainbow Six video games, and this job's got to be fun, right? When you get opportunities to bring things full circle, all those hours I played, my mom yelling at me telling me to turn that off. And, to be able to come full circle and let all that daydreaming and all that imagining actually go to use and be able to do my own stunts, to play this character, to give it a fresh take, modernize the story a little bit, make it a little bit more reflective of the world that we live in today, it checked off a lot of the boxes for me.
KCRW: The story has been modernized a lot actually, hasn't it?
Jordan: The script that we were working from had a few differences from the novel. I mean, it's never really a page by page, but when it comes to adapting it, there's a lot of things to consider, a lot of things to align in order to really make that happen. So, we changed a bunch and we got Karen Greer, made her commander played by Jodie Turner-Smith. To show that character be capable in the field, to show that camaraderie--she's taking names in this one, too--she's handing them out and then also be able to be in her dress blues and be in an office full of generals and Secretary of Defense and hold her own in those spaces as well, I thought that was really powerful to see on screen.
KCRW: You do so many water stunts in this movie, I thought you were auditioning to play the submariner.
Jordan: Some days, you get to work, and you're like, wait, we wrote that? Did we? Is that what we got to do? Who put that in here? But no, it's a lot of fun. It's exhausting. But it's really cool being able to work on deep sea diving techniques and becoming very comfortable underwater, in high intensity stressful situations, work through equipment and weapon malfunctions underwater. It took us about two weeks to shoot those sequences, so it was definitely a lot of a lot of work, but it was satisfying at the end of it.
KCRW: One of the things I thought was really interesting about the movie is when he's in the water, he's always looking for where an air source might be. So you're training as you believe that he's trained in doing this, and I'm sure that's something you want to get across: his comfort in this situation, right?
Jordan: Exactly. You know, he's constantly assessing, taking in new information, and problem solving, and he's trying to figure it out. And at the same time, a never quit attitude. And then you combine that with: the fear factor of dying is out the window because he really doesn't have anything to lose at this point. And that's a dangerous guy, you know? And that's kind of the space that John Kelly's operating from, especially during those moments: he's willing to push everything to the extreme.
KCRW: I wonder if part of this is conscious. If you look for these guys who have this divide between what they do when they're in this intersection of being really professional, and also really enjoying what they do, and then trying to figure out where their personal lives split off from their professional lives.
Jordan: Yeah, I think there's a torn balance between the two. Getting the chance to talk to a lot of military vets and understanding their mind state around things that they've gone through or thought of; why do they keep going back? Why do they keep going more towards the things that they've seen, the things that they've done, things that they've seen done to others, the Brotherhood and the bond, people that they've lost that are close to them? That's something that they don't forget, and then figuring out how to do something else, I think, is really tough. That transition is not an easy one; it's very challenging, so that balance between both those lives was something that John Kelly was definitely dealing with. Also, especially when your work comes home, literally, what does that look and feel like?
KCRW: What did you like about this character?
Jordan: I like the fact that he was extremely loyal and dedicated, like, once he's made his mind up and put his mind to something, there was no stopping him. And, I like the fact that he was challenging systems. Sometimes we feel like us as a singular person, we can't make a difference, and we can't impact a larger system. And I like the fact that Kelly used to feel like that, and then he said, Nah, you know what? I can. And he went out there and did it his way. An extreme way. But he went after it.
KCRW: Looking at Killmonger [from “Black Panther”], or Adonis [from “Creed”], or those kinds of guys who take pleasure out of being physical, it really is for them making a stand and showing the world who they are. You're playing somebody who's part of a team here. And I was wondering if that was the thing that attracted you because that's not something you got to do a whole lot.
Jordan: He, begrudgingly, is in that team. I think that's something that he wasn't really looking forward to because he didn't want the responsibility, or he didn't want to be the cause of the death of anybody else around him. So I think that lone wolf, that one-man army is something that was challenged.
This is the origin story, I think we just really got a chance to see a glimmer of what he will become. When you get a chance to do it in a Tom Clancy universe, with a character like John Kelly, it has the bones of a franchise. I want to start a franchise, so this is the beginning of that business as well.
KCRW: Do you think about the role of these characters first, physically when you get them, because so many of these people are really physical in their lives? Do you like figuring out who these guys are, the way they move, the way you think about the action, is that something that really impacts you? Even down to Bryan Stevenson [in “Just Mercy”] not knowing how to move. I just think about when he's being stripped down in that prison sequence at the beginning of that movie.
Jordan: I guess that's the luxury that I have really and am excited about, that I love so much about what I'm able to do is: depending on where I'm at, as a man, as a person, as a human, what do I feel like? Telling that Bryan Stevenson story and being able to be vulnerable in those ways and being able to show strength almost by trying to be humiliated as well in that scene that you're referencing, but trying to keep it together and putting this armor back on and self sacrifice to be able to go represent these guys. But, also being able to be the physical manifestation of that frustration. To be out there, to actually be hands on and be that one man army and show a different side of that, which taps into the gamer side of me, that taps into the fun side, the adrenaline side, that taps into the action packed, the entertaining side of things.
I want my career when it's all said and done, I guess, when it comes to the body of work, it's a collective. He did work that made people think and feel and laugh and cry. S---, do it while you can. There's gonna be a time when you can't.
How often do you see a guy like myself be able to do a film like this? A Black man, Black actor, you know what I'm saying? As a kid, there wasn't a lot for me to look towards, so to be able to do a movie like this, when I see younger kids or my partner's nephews and nieces asking about the movie, excited about the trailer, that's a cool feeling, man. And hopefully that inspires them to think about something that they never thought might have been possible. And if I can do work like that, that's inspiring. That makes it worth it.
KCRW: I know, for you growing up, when you did, a lot of times, the Black characters kind of lived in these worlds by themselves. They'd come in to solve a problem and leave.
Jordan: There's things that are intentional, right? Like the inclusion rider with Outlier Society [Jordan’s production company]. That's a straightforward and intentional thing that allows me to hold partnerships, collaborative situations and relationships responsible for the workplace. Given opportunities, and wanting to do business with my production company, that's what comes with us’ that's what comes with me. So that's there, then there's creative choices that have some of those ramifications also, but every creative choice within that sometimes doesn't exactly equal to that specific intent. You know, sometimes it's just a creative choice, because they were phenomenal actors, and they're great at what they do. But then there's other ones that are very, very specific, so it's just a mixture between long ball, and also circumstances and art.
So, when it comes to Karen Greer, the pastor, Colman Domingo, and "Without Remorse," we're making choices because it's culturally relevant. All my pastors in my life growing up were Black. But then also we have the opportunity to take some creative liberties and what that representation looks like for a first Black female commander in the Navy as well, so it's a balance. Also at the end of the day, you just want to make a great movie, too.
KCRW: When you were talking about playing Rainbow Six, you can put yourself in a game and not think about representation and what you do when you're watching a movie. And so it's kind of these two different things.
Jordan: Yeah, it is. It's the journey, man. It's the world we live in. It's the position that we are in, so trying to navigate that, professionally and personally, is a tricky one sometimes, but it's also really fun.
I'm standing on the shoulders of so many before me, to put me in a position to be where I'm at. There is a pioneering, trailblazing type of spirit that embody some of these decisions and movements. And there's an individuality and the uniqueness to me, that I also want to be able to live and enjoy as well. So it's awesome when things start to line up, and you feel your purpose and your power and your position all lined up. And I'm just figuring it out, too. It's a blessing, man, all in all, but you try to feel like you could really make an impact and change things. When you know better, you got to do better. And I know better, so I'm trying to do better.