Back at the beginning of December (which technically is last year…crazy), I was invited to participate in a roundtable interview with Fruitvale Station writer/director Ryan Coogler as well as star Michael B. Jordan in advance of its release on home video. The film hits Blu-Ray and DVD this week, right before the Oscar nominations, and that’s no accident, trust me. A couple of colleagues and myself sat down with Coogler and Jordan at an Irish Pub of all places (around noon too, no less) to chat about the movie, and the transcript of the roundtable highlights can be seen below. I included some of the more interesting questions by others, but specifically cited when I was asking a question or chimed in with a hopefully humorous response (they laughed at my dumb jokes, so I think it went over pretty well). A good portion of the time seemed to be dedicated to Jordan, so I tried to focus attention a bit more on Coogler, though I did get a nice giggle out of both of them when I mentioned Creed and asked Jordan a question too. Anyway, take a gander at this chat with the men who made Fruitvale Station happen.
Question by someone else at the roundtable: Has your life changed since Fruitvale Station’s release?
(Added by me: “Besides becoming Apollo Creed’s grandson!”)
Michael B. Jordan: (Laughs) From a professional standpoint just being in different conversations, and more incoming calls. There’s more opportunities to do films that I want to do. There’s more choices, especially to create as well from a producer standpoint. Attention for sure — that poster is pretty ridiculous. I didn’t expect to have my face on it like that. First time I was driving around L.A. seeing the billboards it was pretty crazy. The attention from people got magnified a little bit in a sense. For me, personally, it’s about finally getting the chance to be a lead of a project, and make a film that really means something. It was one of the biggest accomplishments for me in the past year.
Q: Do you feel like you have to be more selective or more thoughtful because this project is so meaningful?
MBJ: Sure. Up until this point everybody sometimes they want to say, “You pick such great roles.” I want to say honestly, that’s not me. Actors don’t really pick roles when they’re first starting out. You work to work. I’ve been fortunate enough with the projects that I’m in had meaning and stood the test of time. I’ve played characters that people remember and now it is more of a conscious decision to pick roles that map out my path the way I really want it to. Making decisions for the next project will be really important for me.
Q: Now that’s it’s coming to DVD, it’ll be able to reach people who didn’t get to theaters to see it, right?
Ryan Coogler: Exactly…I love DVDs and have a huge collection, they’re right next to my books and that’s how I saw some of my favorite films of all time…I’m excited about it.
Joey Magidson: To add to that, for our generation, since Michael and I are the same age and Ryan is a year older, for our generation, DVD is a thing too to be proud of, as opposed to the days of VHS. It used to be, you played in theaters as long as you can, but now, you’re just as happy when you get the DVD or Blu-Ray release too. If you have an alphabetical DVD collection, this movie goes next to Forrest Gump, and that’s gotta make you guys happy, right?
RC: Yeah, yeah. That’s an interesting way of thinking about it…
MBJ: It might actually be next to Forrest Gump too!
RC: But yeah, it’s a part of your collection now, so that’s why it’s so exciting, going through this process, and being in people’s homes. It’s really cool.
Q: How many times did you watch the movie?
MBJ: Does it count when we were doing sound?
RC: Probably not…
MBJ: Probably not. I’d say five times.
Q: Does it get any easier for you?
MBJ:Honestly the last two times I watched it I wasn’t really watching it. I was just there for everybody else like my friends and family. I can’t. After a while it’s not for me anymore. I usually watch it one good time and then I can’t because I start to pick at things. It’s the first time I ever saw myself on the screen so much before. I was like, “Can we cut to something else?” It was a lot but it’s a tough film for me to sit through again and again. I’m good.
Q: What’s been the most gratifying response of the film?
MBJ: I guess…
RC: I’d say Oscar’s family.
MBJ: Oscar’s family, yeah. For me, Cannes was incredible. I just wanted to make sure it translated because I was so nervous. You see a black director, a black actor, and all of a sudden it’s a “black film” or it’s labeled as a black film. It’s just a film. It’s about humanity. It’s about human beings, and I just wanted that to translate no matter where your from, and Cannes kind of solidified that for me. It was incredible. I’ll never forget it. That standing ovation was humbling. It was almost embarrassing because it went on for so long, but it was cool.
Q: There’s a lot of talk about this year being a big year for black films. What’s your take on that?
MBJ: I feel like, if this is the year of black films, what’s next year going to be?
MBJ: (laughing) Yeah, martians. It’s one of those weird things, the opportunity for black filmmakers this year. These films just came out this year and it was the timing of it all. It’s been amazing — Malcolm D. Lee with The Best Man Holiday did very well. As long as they continue to be profitable it’ll make it easier for the next filmmaker to come and tell the stories they want to tell. Hopefully this project right here will encourage the next generation to continue to tell the stories they want to tell. It’ll get easier as time goes on but to be a part of this label is a weird thing. (To Coogler) How do you feel about it?
RC: About the label? I feel, I hope that diversity, for actors and stories, specifically the people behind the camera, I hope that it can be sustainable. I think that society at large would benefit from having voices in media from different perspectives than the norm. I hope that it continues and doesn’t die off or turn out to be a flash in the pan. I also hope it doesn’t just continue for African Americans perspectives, but for every perspective. The more we have in cinema, the better it makes society in general.
JM: I cover the Oscar race for a living and it is perhaps one of the most diverse years besides Harvey Weinstein releasing multiple films aimed at different audiences, that isn’t something we normally see like a 200 million sci-fi movie headlines by a woman, directed by Alfonso Cuarón and the idea that they’re profitable, like you said, and getting awards buzz, and getting looked at in a way that’s, y’know “We have this quota of one film. If Precious is talked about then we can’t talk about any other movies…
RC: Right, but you can even look at…it’s everywhere. Hell you can look at Hunger Games or Frozen, these are films that, Frozen has a female co-director, and Hunger Games is written about a woman that’s an incredibly strong female character, you know what I mean? These movies are headlining at the top of the box office. This…the paradigm is changing. The consumer is changing. Go ahead though, finish what you were saying…
JM: Right. I was just going to say that we’re in New York City and if you go to the big multiplex there’s Mandela, 12 Years a Slave, and Blue is The Warmest Color. There’s this diversity that I don’t think we’ve seen in terms of respectability in a long time. It used to be going to one art house and you could see Fruitvale Station or Blue, but now it’s going to Sundance, Cannes, and multiple film festivals and then a thousand theaters.
RC: Right but I mean if you look out on the streets of New York you will see black people, you will see gay people. It’s about time that what’s on these 50 foot screens reflects the people that are going to see them. When that’s not happening that’s an issue. Those are the walls that have to come tumbling down at some point.
MBJ: You would hope
JM: Everyone’s money is green.
RC: (Laughs) This is true!
Q: There seems to be a general interest across the board to see some of these stories. Is that something you’re finding?
RC: Absolutely. Nobody has answers to what consumers want. If that was the case every movie would be a success, but I have ideas about my generation. I went to film school and it doesn’t get more white, Caucasian male than film school. That’s what the majority of my classmates were and everybody’s favorite television show to watch was The Wire. The idea that people only want to know about their perspectives, I found evidence that’s to the contrary. I found that it’s the total opposite. People are very interested in experiencing things that are outside the box for them but they kind of have to be presented to them. They have to be provided and marketed, so that’s my view point on it. As long as the story is good people want to see it.
Q: How do you navigate yourself as an artist?
MBJ: As an artist I think you’re always trying to figure yourself out and redefine yourself from project to project. This one was the first one I ever had the opportunity to have everything on my shoulders, for the most part from a vanity standpoint. I just wanted to see if I could do it. Growing up I did episodic television, and you try to find moments where you try to make these characters memorable, and then you’re doing films in an ensemble where you’re just trying to find your place, to find these little moments that you can be memorable, and then you finally get a chance to be “the guy.” You want to make sure it’s successful so you can have another opportunity to be another lead and in another project. In that respect it’s something that you’re always trying to figure out.
JM: Something that I’ve noticed in your roles is the humanity that comes out of your projects. I mean, in Chronicle you’re flying through the sky but that character is such a likable person and it doesn’t feel like you’re trying. In this movie you don’t oversell or undersell the character, this is just the person I’m playing. He has good sides and bad sides, so when you approach a role, what goes through your head in terms of, your approach where you want to have a fully fledged out character?
MBJ: With Chronicle, it was one of the proudest roles I ever had, because it was originally written for a Jewish kid. It was the first time I had a role where it was written one way and they changed it for myself. The backstory is really important to me. I like writing in journals in character. The earliest memory up until that day. Whenever I feel lost I try to go back to see what went on in that character’s life to make him who he was up until that point. As an actor it’s something that’s so hard to put in words. For me personally, I just want to make things real, no matter where you come from, what language you speak, I want to be relatable. There has got to be some type of constant, it has to have heart, it has to have something that people can be like, “Okay I know what that feels like” or “I’ve experienced that”. Everything else is just out of my hands.
RC: It’s interesting man. I recently this book by Malcolm Gladwell called “Blink”. There’s a part in there where they talk about Tom Hanks, the first time he walked in to read for a part and what a producer said. They said that they weren’t sure what it was, but they cared about that guy! It’s just something that some actors have, like Mike definitely has it. Mike walks into a room, you care and you want to hear his story, but what Mike also has is an incredible intelligence and work ethic too. First guy on set, last guy to leave, you know? So those two things together, you have this ability to generate great performances that you can latch on to.
Well, those were the main highlights from our roundtable chat with Coogler and Jordan. Fruitvale Station hits Blu-Ray and DVD on Tuesday, so mark that down in your calendar and be on the lookout for it in my weekly DVD column on that same day as well. In the meantime, I hope you enjoyed…
–Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!