Michael B. Jordan is Sprite Films 2014 celebrity mentor. Michael B. Jordan is Sprite Films 2014 celebrity mentor.

Interview: Michael B. Jordan Talks Sprite Films Program & Upcoming Role in 'Fantastic Four'

When Michael B. Jordan got the request to be this year’s Sprite Films celebrity mentor, a transition took place for the young actor. After soaking up advice from the likes of Oprah Winfrey and Matthew McConaughey, Jordan has imparted some of the industry’s most important lessons onto the program’s six finalists, who have been tasked with putting together short films for the brand, and are now competing for the chance to see their work run in select movie theaters across the country. And as he gears up to play The Human Torch in Marvel’s upcoming Fantastic Four film, Jordan is ready to showcase just how much he’s learned. -- Iyana Robertson

Hey Michael, how are you?
I’m doing well, doing good.

You’re doing all these interviews, so I just wanted to take a second to ask how you’re doing.
[Laughs] I’m doing good. Just traveling, man. I have nothing to complain about. I’m excited right now, getting ready to go work on another production. I’m getting back to doing the things I love to do, which is acting, being on set and stuff. So I’m really excited right now. This is fun.

Very cool. So let’s talk about your Sprite Films gig that you’re into right now. You’re mentoring screenwriters and directors. How has being an actor - being on the other side of the camera - been an asset to you giving the students advice?
I mean, it was a little weird at first. I was like ‘Wow, this is crazy, they want me to mentor somebody?’ Like, I’m still learning so much. And they were like ‘No, no, no, you’ve been doing this for 15 years, you have experience and insight. You can give these directors a lot of information. And I was like ‘Cool, why not?’ It’s always weird when you make that transition from --

Student to teacher?
Yeah, not a student, but you’re used to being a young actor, and then looking at yourself and being like ‘Wow, I’m giving somebody else advice in following their dreams?’ So that was a cool transition. But Sprite Films, they set up such an incredible program for these filmmakers to win. I think competition is one of the greatest forms of motivation and encouragement, when you give these students the opportunity to develop these 50-second scripts into short films, and you give them an incentive. You do the best short film that you can do -- and your film will be seen by ‘x, y, z,’ it’s going to get a chance to be put in select theaters throughout the country, and we’ll give you a cash prize towards your university’s film department, and a trip to AFI -which is a huge deal for filmmakers. You put all that stuff together, and you see the cream of the crop kind of rise to the top. And that’s what they did with these six finalists.

I checked out the films online and I couldn’t pick a favorite. How hard was it for you to have to pick a winner?
That’s crazy, because for me, I’m a tough critic. So it wasn’t that hard for me. I’m very decisive when it comes to films, things that I like and don’t like, quality, you know. It wasn’t that hard for me. There was a few that I liked that stood out from the rest, but as far as my pick, I made my pick.

Wow, you’re cutthroat over there. [laughs]
I am cutthroat! I am surgical when it comes to it! [laughs] No, they all did a great job, don’t get me wrong, they all did a great job; it was the cream of the crop. But for me, the ones that kind of spoke to me, that kind of stood out was like ‘Okay, boom, this is the one for me.’ But yeah, they did an incredible job. Old, young, post-grad, it was a mixed bunch. They did a really good job with it.

Was there any specific instance where you saw yourself in one of these finalists?
I saw a little bit of myself in everybody, honestly. They’re so ambitious. They’re very, very ambitious. Some are very soft-spoken. Because I was talking to producers and directors, you have a lot of different personalities. Some producer’s personality might’ve been bigger than a director’s. Or a director’s personality that might be so huge and so talkative. You could kind of see in talking to them, the different styles. After watching the films then talking to them, you could see who directed what. You could kind of match them up with their projects a little bit. A couple of wild cards that you didn’t expect, but for the most part, you can kind of put them next to their project like, ‘Alright, your personality definitely comes through.’ And that’s important, to have a decisive voice, to be unique to your personality, because a little bit of you is going to come through your work. Or a lot of you is going to come through your work. So you can take that as a compliment.

What advice did you have to offer that you wished somebody would’ve said to you a while back?
I wanted to talk them and really find out what they needed. What did they really care about? What did they want, you know? And then try to answer based on the questions they asked me and give them answers and advice around that. So honestly, they really cared about [questions like] ‘How do I become a better director,’ ‘How do I improve my relationship with the actor,’ ‘How do I improve my relationship with my cast and crew.’ And I think being collaborative, honestly, is such a running thing. [People are] not as collaborative. There’s a lot of egos out there. So when you find moments, and you find directors that don’t have an ego, that are willing to collaborate with their crew and their cast and not make people feel like ‘You do your job, and that’s it,’ to give them a stake in the entire project, they want to feel like they’re involved. When you can find moments like that as a director, I feel like it’s very important. And also I’m giving them a lot of my opinions from an actor’s perspective and more-or-less as a new producer as well, because I’m starting to produce a lot more. So it was a mixture of both, just trying to give them a little insight inside the actor’s brain, which could be a complicated place to be.

You have mentors like Oprah and Matthew McConaughey. Did you relay any of the messages they gave you onto the finalists?
Yeah, man. Something Matthew told me; I was trying to figure out some roles, I had a couple of choices between roles. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, and I was a little fearful. And he was like ‘Man, that’s a great fear. You have to be scared. You have to be fearful.’ He said, ‘What you have to do is, you have to figure out what type of fear it is.’ Is it healthy fear? Is it fear that’s going to going to be able to motivate you and elevate your level of acting? Or is it a fear that people aren’t putting you in a position to win, they’re not putting the right pieces around you for you to be successful? That’s the negative fear, that’s the fear that you don’t want to be a part of. So I was just kind of letting them know that you can be fearful, you can be scared, you can be uncertain, but you gotta figure out where it’s coming from. And then kind of use that to gage the projects that you do, the types of risks that you take moving forward on certain projects. Because you’re always going to be rolling dice. There’s always going to be a risk, there’s always going to be a gamble; there’s no sure thing.

Dope. So you said Matthew Mcconaughey talked to you about the fear of your next move, and you next move is kind of huge with Fantastic Four. What was your level of geekage when you got that call?
I mean, it’s crazy how it kind of came about because you know, the writer/director Josh Trank, I did Chronicle with him back in 2011. We’ve become really good friends since then. We know what we’re doing and stuff like that. So he kind of approached me a long time ago, maybe a year and some change ago, about the project. I was like ‘Oh shit. Man, that is ridic-- really? You want me to play that guy? Okay, cool.’ It was just us two guys, two fanboys, just geeking out over the possibilities, or how it’s going to be, and what we should do here, what we should do there, and the ideas we had for it. It just like two best friends just sitting there talking about our next science project. It was a lot of fun, a lot of excitement. I was excited. I was geeked.

So the film has already been done, and now you guys are going at it again. How do you plan on making the Human Torch role your own?
Honestly, if anything, just doing my homework. It’s been done before, there are certain characteristics that people look for in the Human Torch that makes him unique. You gotta respect the past a little bit, and you also gotta respect the present and the future and give your own take. You can’t be an imitation of anything. Imitation isn’t the way to go. So you just gotta understand the world that you’re in, the person that you’re playing, and then you just give your take. That’s the way I’ve been living my life [laughs]. That’s the way I’ve been living my career, so we’ll see how it turns out this time.

You’ve had a little experience with action with Chronicle and Red Tails. Have those two roles prepared you at all, or is this totally different?
I think this is the biggest world that I’ve been in, the Marvel world. Biggest budget, I believe. I’m just getting in shape, you know. I’ve watched all these comic book films, and Marvel films growing up over the years, so you kind of get an idea of the world that you’re playing in. I mean, honestly, there’s not that much to talk about, you just gotta go do it [laughs]. It’s just one of those things where it’s a project I’ve been waiting to do for a long time. I’m past excited already. The anxiousness is gone already. Now it’s just ‘lets do it.’ There’s literally nothing else for me to say.

Cool. So I’m going to put you on the spot right now. Top five Marvel characters. Go.
Aww man, you are bold. Um, top five? You gotta put Wolverine up there.

Okay.
Now, are you talking about in movies, or are you talking about in comic books?

Comic books.
Alright, you gotta put Wolverine up there. Um, you gotta put Bishop up there for me, personally. Um --

I knew this would be hard [laughs]
Uh, let’s see. Man, this is -- I mean, I’ve always been a fan of Colossus. This is all personal. These are just personally characters that I just love. Colossus is someone that that I’ve always loved. You got Spider-Man. You got uh --

You got one more!
I’m going with Black Panther. Is that good?

Yep, we’re good [laughs]. I’m going to switch gears just a little bit. You lent your voice to The Boondocks season premiere. Did that script crack you up?
You know what cracked me up was -- we have directors in the animated world, just like anything else -- so to have this older white lady say, ‘On my abs, nigga! On my abs!’ [laughs]. To have a old white lady tell me that shit was probably the funniest shit I’ve ever heard in my life. And she’s in it, she does it all the time, but for me as a guest on it, to hear her say ‘nigga’ a hundred times, in a hundred different ways [laughs], was probably one of the funniest things I’ve ever heard. It was great experience. I was actually shooting Fruitvale Station when I recorded Flizzy’s voice. And I wasn’t exactly sure when it was going to come out, and I got wind of it. It was so funny, man. I loved it. Hopefully I’ll be able to come back and Flizzy will be back.

If Flizzy was a recurring character, I’d have no problem with that.
Did you like it?

Yeah [laughs] it was funny. But I did think that the Chris Brown thing was a little dated though.
Yeah, well we did that such a long time ago, so yeah I get it. A lot of the stuff that we kind of hit was exaggeration of the music industry and we just kind of pumped the fun out of a lot of things. But I love that people don’t take things so seriously anymore, you know? Just kind of laughed at the jokes.

Last question: what music are you bumping heavy right now?
J. Cole, honestly. I’ve been bumping a lot of his stuff, Born Sinner, waiting for his new album to come out. I’ve been listening to that a lot lately. And YG. I’ve been listening to YG’s album too. But yeah, Cole is a buddy of mine, and he’s extremely talented. Not a lot of artists nowadays are speaking about things that I can really relate to, you know? And his point of view on his music is something that I can always listen to.

Voting is open for the Sprite Films contestants until May 15. Check out the short flicks and choose your favorite here.

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VIBE: Can you give us a rundown on how you selected these artists?

Pusha-T: It was a vetting process between us and 1800. I would look for guys that were a strong lyricist, guys who're into melody. Just, you know, small followings, but I thought they were dope.

That’s interesting because in this era of music people focus on the people with the massive followings on social media.

You know, you got to think, if it’s too big then it’s not really special to see it in this process.

Very true. Your music has pretty much always stayed true to your sound and brand. So did you find it challenging to work with this pool of new artists that follow so many of the new trends in hip-hop?

Nah, I think that this is part of my calling and how I’m supposed to mature in the music business. Man, I’m performing in front of 18 to 45 [years old] every night, and it trips me out to see the people get hype over “Grinding” and the people that just know me since 2013. But you know, with that being said, I think I have my hand on the pulse, on what’s going on musically out here. I’ve learned how to enjoy it. I enjoy all types of rap. People will listen to my raps and listen to my music and be like, “aww man, he ain’t going to rock with me.” And really, I do. I enjoy it. I mean, how could you not? To be in it like this, how could I not find appreciation in everything that’s going on?

The way you answered my last question seems like you’re considering retirement or at least exploring what that looks like. But you’re right in the thick of it all, so that’s very interesting.

Yeah, man. I don’t think lyric-driven hip-hop goes out of style. I think that stays around forever, and then I feel like you retire when you’re out of the mix of it and out of the culture and lifestyle of it. When you start not caring about hip-hop aesthetics and just being first and competing, then you supposed to be like, alright cool, I’m out. But until then, I still know what’s fresh to put on and so on and so forth.

One of the biggest differences between vets and new artists is the communities they live in and the things they witness as youth. Did you see some of those differences reflected in their music while working with them?

Yeah. As a veteran artist, I was speaking about what was going on outside at that very moment. I think the newer artists are more introspective. They’re more about themselves and trying to convey messages from their heart. They’re trying to sell you on them, whether they want to party [or] they’re heartbroken. It’s not so much looking out the project window and saying what’s going on. It’s like, I don’t even want to go outside. I’m in my room, and y'all don’t even know I’m writing and I’m going to show y’all one day. It’s all about that.

That seems kind of overwhelming or can come on too strong at times, no?

Nah. As a writer, you dial in on things… You know when somebody says something in a song like, “oh you meant that.” Or you were so intricate with the description of that, you had to get that off. So that’s a score as a writer, me listening to somebody like that. That’s a good thing.

What’s the greatest lesson that you have given this new generation?

I think the greatest lesson for me and the position I’m in right now is opening up these corporate opportunities. They do everything themselves. They’re shooting their own videos, recording themselves. They’re writing, producing, and recording themselves. They’re damn near engineering. One of the girls, [Nita Jonez], she was like, “Yeah, I just be knocking little stuff out while I’m at the crib.” I’m like, I don’t even do that. I don’t even know how to finesse all that. But they’re so self-sufficient. Only thing I could try to do is just package it for them the best way possible. They all got dreams of being huge. A lot of that has to do with the art and what they’re doing, but how it’s presented [as well]. And that’s what I try to show 'em and teach and help 'em with.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned from them?

Man, there are just absolutely no rules. No rules at all. They’re such free spirits. They don’t even record how I do. I come in a with a new notepad, pen, and I write like that. I have to see it. It helps me memorize it. They come in and run straight to the mic and just be who they are. And they find themselves through it all. Not everybody; there were some other writers in there, like, Hass and Tyler. Tyler [is] so good at it. It comes out just that precise or damn near close. And then he’ll go and chop it up, make it right a little bit. But they just have that unorthodox attack in the studio. I’m more like, I want to sit down, chill… I don’t even like being in the studio that long. I probably write at home, then I’ll come here and figure out the rest. It’s a very formatted type of thing. And some of the spontaneity and some of the energy probably gets lost in my way because they come in and vibe immediately. Things that may just happen on the spur of the moment, they catch it. When I come in, it’s just all there. Either I’ve written it already or I’m writing it and that’s just what it is. I may lose an adlib. I may lose something that’s quirky in a song that just happens that probably won’t happen for me, but they’ll catch every time.

Do you think there’s a way to balance that incorporates both of those worlds – yours and theirs – to make that ideal way to create?

Well, I think it would have to come from practice. Certain people learn a certain way. Honestly, there’s no difference in what they do than what Jay-Z does. He just practices so much that way that his mind works and processes things really fast. And you know, he’s just really confident in not seeing anything and catching the vibe and going at it. Theirs is just unorthodox. It’s the same thing though. And then as they do it more and better, it’ll get more concise.

In any field, with mentorship there’s only so much you’re willing to take from your mentor before you’re ready to do it yourself. Who were your mentors, and what were some of the things you did and didn’t take from them?

From afar, it would have to be Teddy Riley. Him moving to the area, Virginia Beach, where I’m from – him alone was like wait a minute, music is a real thing. Oh man, there’s a Ferrari down my street. I can’t believe this. I’m seeing Jay-Z’s here. Michael Jackson’s in Virginia Beach for what? You know, shooting a video, all of these things that happened, let me know that this is a real thing and not just for the people on TV. Now in arm’s reach, you got Pharrell and Chad. You got my brother [Malice] who taught me how to write. He actually taught me that MC Hammer wasn’t a rapper when I thought he was. Pharrell literally taught me how to count bars. It’s just been so many lessons between those guys; they taught me everything. They taught me to look at a song, try to see it the whole way through and not just get up and write for the sake of writing. Pharrell always told me, “you may not have something to say today.” Like if I get stuck, “It’s fine. You’ll get to it. We’ll find it another day.” Never force it though.

There’s a huge divide in the genre as far as rookies vs. vets go. This project is so good because it’s paying it forward. Do you think that’s both a necessary and important part of the culture that needs to be restored?

Yes. Well, no. You know what? It’s not for everyone. It’s not for everybody to do. Some people are so stuck in their heyday that they can’t even see what’s going on outside. Everybody that I’ve ever liked in rap music, I probably have had a longer career than all of them. Like whoever I thought was the greatest in my time, I be like, bro, wait a minute they only have five years, five albums? What? When I really think about it, it’s because they all got stuck in their heyday. And that was a hell of a time. The greatest of all great raps, but you know, they couldn’t see any further than that. And when something new came up, they was like, “Yeah, but y’all don’t like us because we…” They just start getting washed and their jeans start fitting differently and they pick the wrong size. They just get stuck in that time period and before you know it, it’s skinny jean time and they got on fucking size 42s and they weigh a buck 50 and they look crazy. And it’s wrong because you get stuck because you don’t embrace and try to help and learn from what’s coming in next. And you should. This is music. You can never stop learning. You have to continuously learn with this forever. It’s just what it is until you just say I’m done. It’s not for everybody man. If you’re not trying to push hip-hop forward, then no, you’re going to be washed and you should be. You should be. I think it’s corny. This is the youngest genre of music. The youngest, most powerful, most influential. We should not be at a point where the elders are knocking the rookies. It’s corny. That’s an effort to stunt the growth of the genre. And that is just totally wrong, 100 percent.

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