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Jonathan Majors’ performance as Kang the Conqueror in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania has already received universal acclaim from critics and journalists ahead of Friday’s worldwide release. According to Marvel Studios boss Kevin Feige, he also tested higher than any other MCU villain to date. Majors’ supervillain is the heir apparent to the Infinity Saga’s Thanos (Josh Brolin), and he stands to serve as the MCU’s big bad for at least a few more years, culminating in his own eponymous event film, Avengers: The Kang Dynasty (2025).
In 2021, the Loki season-one finale introduced a “variant” of the character known as He Who Remains, and he foretold that there would be many more incarnations of himself to come, such as Quantumania’s Kang. Majors’ process of getting into this particular character relied heavily on music, and as the Multiverse Saga’s archnemesis, one might expect a playlist consisting of Swedish death metal, synthwave and industrial rock. However, he instead opted to depend on some timeless R&B and soul.
“So early on, I said to [director] Peyton Reed, ‘Hey, man, I want to play this song,’ and the song I played him was Stevie Wonder’s ‘If It’s Magic,’” Majors tells The Hollywood Reporter. “So if you know the tune, you know that it’s not a very Kang song. And yet, I felt that there was something so elemental in it that connected to Kang.”
In a recent conversation with THR, Majors also explains why he views Kang as the hero of his own story.
Well, congrats on conquering your first Marvel movie.
Whew! That actually means a lot coming from you.
I also want to commend you for the way you stuck up for that reporter [Daric L. Cottingham] at Sundance. That was really big of you, and clearly, you’re nothing like your character Kang.
Otherwise, I would’ve ripped his [the festival worker’s] head off. (Laughs.)
Something like that!
(Laughs.) Well, I appreciate you saying that.
So there’s this notion, or perhaps cliché, out there that the best villains think they’re the heroes of their own story. Does Kang have any of those delusions, or does he know he’s the bad guy?
I think people are inherently good, and I think people believe that they are inherently good. If you think you’re the bad guy, that’s not a very natural thing. What Kang is going for is essentially good for him and potentially only for him. And so I would say that he aligns with the idea that he’s the hero of his own story and perhaps other people’s stories. And that’s where things get a little conquer-y.
I still love the fact that you traded hands with your Creed III director, Michael B. Jordan. Have you and Mike swapped stories about playing Marvel villains?
We chatted about the magnitude of the work that we were doing: Killmonger and Kang, and now [Creed III‘s] Damian and Adonis. So we spoke about that and what that crossover means to cinema at large. But villainy is quite personal and how we portray it is personal. So we didn’t speak about how we were doing things, but we did recognize the parallel tracks.
In Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, Kang says he knows how this all ends. He knows what’s coming. Do you know what Kang knows?
Oh, I wish I did. Or maybe I’m glad I don’t.
A lot of actors bemoan exposition, but the way you performed it on Loki somehow felt like jazz. So do you welcome the challenge of exposition?
It doesn’t bother me. There’s the narrator in Our Town, which is all exposition. It’s a great play, but it’s all exposition. You’re time-shifting with exposition. I’m telling you something that’s going to bring you back in time and make you present in that moment, or I’m pushing you forward. So exposition can be quite active. It’s tricky, but it can be active. And I think the best thing is to do something with exposition and try to affect the people you’re speaking to with it and express character. That’s the way I look at exposition. It’s an expression of character, at least in the opportunities I’ve had as He Who Remains [on Loki] and as Kang, briefly, in this picture.
I’ve heard a number of stories about how you’d listen to music on set in order to get into Kang’s headspace. What did that playlist consist of at the time?
Music is so beautiful because it really speaks to your subconscious, and a funny thing happens every time I begin a project and try to put together a playlist. It’s the music on the surface that you think the script is asking you for, and that can be something like Requiem for a Dream’s [“Lux Aeterna”]. You think that that’s Kang, but it ends up connecting to something that is so deep in my subconscious.
So early on, I said to Peyton Reed, “Hey, man, I want to play this song,” and the song I played him was Stevie Wonder’s “If It’s Magic.” That was the highlight that connected us. So if you know the tune, you know that it’s not a very Kang song. And yet, I felt that there was something so elemental in it that connected to Kang. And then you got “Big Poppa” by The Notorious B.I.G., which is also a vibe. And then you have your Bach, Mozart and Beethoven that fall in there. But all the music is to communicate. I’m trying to communicate with myself and what part of myself needs to be activated and used. Sometimes, it’s just to dance to and to get the crew moving and grooving, but there’s a method behind it.
So did the reactions to your Magazine Dreams performance make those 6,100 calories per day even more worthwhile? [Writer’s Note: Searchlight picked up the film yesterday for distribution.]
Yeah, I think so. I personally just want to keep it as real as I possibly can, but there’s a limitation to things. If it was 6,500 calories, maybe I would’ve made it, or maybe I would’ve thrown in the towel. So you always have to stand by your work, and I try to do whatever I can in the process to stand by the work. Am I eating 6,100 calories now? No, because I don’t have to gain, but I’m very happy that I did. It brought me closer to the mentality and the social circumstances of Killian Maddox. And we got that picture out of it, so I’m quite proud of Magazine Dreams.
Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania opens in movie theaters on Feb. 17th. This interview was edited for length and clarity.
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