(Lenny Gilmore / RedEye )
You can’t blame “Fruitvale Station” star Michael B. Jordan for being tempted.
“I was actually thinking about calling up Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse [today] and just getting dinner reservations,” the 26-year-old actor says. “Just to see what kind of table I would get.”
In the Sundance Award-winning, real life-based drama opening Friday, Jordan—who's named after his dad, not the Bulls legend--continues to establish his name on his own. The film depicts the last 24 hours lived by Oscar Grant (Jordan) before a San Francisco Bay Area train officer shot and killed him on a platform. (The officer claimed he meant to use his Taser, not his gun.)
At NoMi in the Park Hyatt, Jordan (best known for memorable small-screen turns on “The Wire,” “Friday Night Lights” and “Parenthood” and on the big screen in “Chronicle”) and writer-director Ryan Coogler, 27, talked about unjust treatment by cops, uncertainty about the real-life incident and why Jordan's goal of following Ryan Gosling's career has its limits.
Michael, you’ve talked about incidents that helped you relate to Oscar feeling targeted by cops, such as when you were pulled over in your BMW at 16. What did the cops say to you in those instances that gave you something you could use for this movie?
Michael B. Jordan: Just being pre-judged. I’m pretty sure that wasn’t Oscar’s first time getting harassed or held-up by authorities. And over time you start to feel some type of way when you get pulled over. “Oh, I gotta go through this. Again.”
What do they say?
MBJ: The usual: “License and registration.” That’s usually how it starts off. Or sometimes it doesn’t. It starts off with, “Whose car is this?” It’s an automatic assumption that it’s not mine or I don’t belong in it. Or, “How’d you get this car?” Or, “Who’s Donna Jordan?” “Here’s my ID. It’s my mother’s name. It’s my mother’s car; it’s in my mom’s name.”
There’s nothing suspicious about that.
MBJ: Nothing at all. But you see somebody like me, as young as I was at the time, driving around the inner city of Newark, and to them it doesn’t make sense. I’ve been illegally searched [and had] my car illegally searched. [I’ve] been handcuffed for no reason. You get in enough of those situations … it’s not hard for [me] to pull from those experiences when I came in to play this role.
Ryan, what do you think about in terms of your parallels to the film?
Ryan Coogler: The parallels for me stem from Oscar’s family—having a close relationship with his mom, with his grandmother, with his friends. And just being in the Bay area. We were born in the same year, so coming up in that environment I’ve got too many parallels really to count. In terms of experience with the police, everybody got those. Unfortunately, it’s—
MJB: It’s common.
RC: It’s such a reality.
Did you guys talk to any of the cops who were on the scene when this happened to get that side of the story? I know you spent a lot of time with Oscar’s family.
RC: We talked to BART [Bay Area Rapid Transit] and the chief of the BART police who’s there now. The one that was there then had been fired. It was basically a large trial, so I had access to everything that was publicly available about the trial. Every police officer that was there took the stand and because it was a criminal trial they were [questioned by prosecutors], so just about every question that could have been asked to them in terms of what their mind state was, what they were doing, where they came from before, the history was all available there. So there’s no need to [go into that further].
Having that as a resource, why do you think this happened?
RC: You mean, why did Oscar die? I think that’s a question that’s too large to answer. You can make speculation ... I think there’s so many different things feeding these types of situations when it happens and why they happen so frequently, so it’s tough to just sum up why.