Last week, I attended the Just Mercy press junket in New York City. For those unfamiliar with the film, Just Mercy is a 2019 American legal drama directed by Destin Daniel Cretton and stars Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Foxx, Rob Morgan, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Tim Blake Nelson, Rafe Spall, and Brie Larson. It tells the true story of Walter McMillian, who with the help of young criminal justice attorney Bryan Stevenson, appeals his murder conviction.
In our first roundtable interview we had the pleasure to sit down with Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx. Check out the interview below:
You guys have been friends for years but how was it being scene partners in the movie where the relationship of your characters plays a crucial part?
Michael B. Jordan: It lends itself to the work. I think it was something that you know, being so comfortable with Jamie being able to, you know, handle the sensitive material in such a way where we knew that there were really no boundaries. I wasn’t too worried about saying anything or doing anything that was gonna make him feel uncomfortable and vice versa. It’s like when you’re with your best friends, you can crack jokes and say harsh things because you know, there’s no love loss and that bond is there. It was kind of the same thing when it comes to our work, we were able to kind of find our chemistry and balance and also having a lot of fun, you know, even with the sensitive material that we were working with.
(Jamie) how did growing up in the south affect how you approached the role?
Jamie Foxx: There’s things that you can draw on in the south you know, the southern hospitality, sometimes people don’t get us as far as how we move and how we how we process things. The south is definitely like steeped in religion and for me it was steeped in football when I was growing up and things like that and so it’s things that you know that you absolutely love. And then there’s those layers of racism and navigate through it. So I drew upon those because they didn’t jar me. Certain people like my friends in LA when they heard this was happening with a police officer they have no idea things were like that but with me knowing those things are a matter of fact, it helped me to lock in on the Walter McMillian character because there’s certain things that you have to know as a black man in the south on how to how to navigate just like how Brad Cedars and navigates through certain cases .So, that being said, I think that’s how being from the south helped me to jump into the character.
Can you talk about working with Bryan?
Michael B. Jordan: He’s very humble. I say that I thought he was kind of auditioning me, making sure I had all the right credentials to play him before I actually, actually signed on to really to start making the movie, but he’s a wealth of knowledge. He’s extremely busy. He was always going in and out of the Supreme Court, fighting a different case, that really lets you know that you know, we were just making a movie. This is his real life. He’s dealing with life and death every day, non stop, he doesn’t retire. He’s always on the go, he’s always working. So, having that type of work ethic is something that I look towards that inspired me to make sure that I got it right. I put everything that I could into this role to make sure I portrayed him on how he should be seen how we should be saying, trying to capture the essence of what Bryan Stevenson is. He was always available to get on phone or text or stop by every once in a while, whenever he was in town to make sure you know, things were going the right way smoothly. Whenever I got lost, or I felt like you know, I needed to kind of know where he was mentally and you know, physically and spiritually in a certain parts of the movie out he was available to me. So it was a you know, it was incredible to have that resource as we were making the movie.
Can you guys talk about how great storytelling can impact change?
Foxx: Oh, well for us. How many times have you seen a movie or TV show or a song that has changed our culture. It’s like this, your parents guide you, but your environment raises you. So I think the best vehicle especially nowadays, when we get our information, which is through social media, which is through entertainment, I look at Michael B Jordan as a person who’s a trailblazer. And the reason I say that is because when we start out as entertainers it is a a self fulfilling I want to be whatever it is that I want to be the people who speak my name in good ways. But when you see a person pick part that also reflects and educates…when he did Fruitsville station.. I talked about it constantly. That movie impacted me in such a way with me going with my family and going with the friends that would like I call these guys stern guys who don’t believe in emotion. But the way he broke them down and then you go to Kill monger in Black Panther the biggest movie in the world, we can’t get a bigger movement, but his narrative in Black Panther is speaking to us directly to us directly to Black people on the biggest stage. I don’t think that there’s ever been a movie like that and whether he knows it or not he now becomes he now plants his flag with art that has the ability to tell those narratives so when you get to Just Mercy now people are are hungry to see what the next step is and how he’s shaping our culture with his art so it’s definitely an incredible tool but at the same time he still entertains. Does that make sense?
A powerful and thought-provoking true story, Just Mercy follows young lawyer Bryan Stevenson (Jordan) and his history-making battle for justice. After graduating from Harvard, Bryan had his pick of lucrative jobs. Instead, he heads to Alabama to defend those wrongly condemned or who were not afforded proper representation, with the support of local advocate Eva Ansley (Larson). One of his first, and most incendiary, cases is that of Walter McMillian (Foxx), who, in 1987, was sentenced to death for the notorious murder of an 18-year-old girl, despite a preponderance of evidence proving his innocence and the fact that the only testimony against him came from a criminal with a motive to lie. In the years that follow, Bryan becomes embroiled in a labyrinth of legal and political maneuverings and overt and unabashed racism as he fights for Walter, and others like him, with the odds—and the system—stacked against them.
Just Mercy is in select theaters now and hits theaters nationwide Janurary 10th!
Check out our TIFF review of the movie here.