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Michael B. Jordan is back to work. The actor, producer and head of Outlier Society linked up with Jennifer Lopez, Lady Gaga and Robert De Niro courtesy of a just-launched brand campaign for the WELL Health-Safety Rating. Ahead of its debut, Jordan spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about why he signed on, what it’s been like to work for director Denzel Washington on Journal of Jordan, and what he’s learned about himself during the COVID-19 pandemic.
I know you are very thoughtful about collaborations, why did you decide to partner on this WELL Health-Safety Rating initiative?
Like you said, I’m pretty selective. Things have to line up with me, what I stand for and what I’m about. During this pandemic, the opportunity came around to align with the WELL Building Institute and I like being a part of solutions, man. I like being a part of figuring out how to solve a problem. With this, it seemed like [they have] done the homework; there are stats, data and research around trying to create a new norm and new system that will work. It made sense for me. They want to get us back to doing things that we love to do, trying to create a new norm. When I go to a restaurant and see that letter A out front, I know I’m eating from a clean kitchen. They’re up to code. In my mind, it’s the same thing when it comes to the safety seal. When I go into a business, I know that they’re going through all the precautions, all the necessary steps to make that environment safe for me.
How careful have you been about entering spaces and navigating the world during the COVID-19 pandemic?
At first, it was easy to sometimes forget, like, “Oh, shit, I ain’t got a mask on, let me put it on.” Or you do some type of normal behavior and have to quickly remind yourself, like, “Oh, snap, I’m exposed. Let me go ahead and get back.” Now, it’s almost like clockwork as we’ve become creatures of habit. You got to have certain things: hand sanitizers, two or three masks in case you forget and leave one. You don’t want to be out there without one, so you keep a couple on deck, in the car, etc. You have to recondition yourself to do things differently.
Almost a year into it, I have personally adjusted. You have to be more mindful and respectful of other people’s space and respect one another a little bit more. I’m a hugger, I like giving hugs so I have to remind myself to social distance and respect that personal bubble. There are other adjustments, too. Usually, when you would be talking to somebody and maybe you can’t fully understand, you could read their lips. Now that you can’t, and it’s all by eye contact, you have to pay attention to what somebody is saying. It really makes you lock into individuals a little bit more if you want to communicate, which is a really interesting thing. I think I can [recognize] somebody by their forehead, eyebrows and eyes now more than anything. It’s interesting.
This period of time has led so many people to look inward and get back to basics, thinking about how best to move forward and who they want to be. What have you learned about yourself during this pandemic?
It just reinforced less is more. The self-applied pressure to have to be somewhere, to do something or that I’m missing out, or I’m going to lose out on this or that, that’s just not true [anymore]. I’ve been able to get back to the basics and the bare necessities of things. You’re still able to cope and listen to your voice by being still and letting your intuition and gut lead the way. It really allowed me to grow personally and to have more patience. I grew up a lot last year. Not that I wouldn’t have done it, but I don’t think I would have done it as quickly if I would have been constantly on the road, working or distracted by a lot of the other things that would have happened without the pandemic. So, you try to look at the glass as half full and try to find the silver lining through all the tragedy, loss of life and misfortune. That was one of the things that I try to take away from it.
You posted a photo on Instagram in fatigues as 1st Sgt., presumably for Journal for Jordan directed by Denzel Washington. That was in late December, what’s the latest with filming? How is it going?
Yeah, that was for Journal for Jordan. Filming went great. We broke for the holidays, and we’re getting ready to pick back up next month or so. It’s a love story. I haven’t had the opportunity to do an intimate love story before. Being directed by the GOAT — Denzel, himself — and being able to work with a very talented cast and actress in Chanté Adams, it’s something that I’ve been looking forward to. We’re having a blast and I’m getting a masterclass and a crazy education on character development, directing, and producing from Todd Black and Denzel Washington. It’s a great thing. I think I’m going to walk away from it a much better actor. I’m a sponge right now, just soaking it up.
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You weathered change at your production company Outlier, naming Elizabeth Raposo as president. Why her? What are your company goals for 2021?
Liz is great. I’ve had the joy of knowing her for a long time, but we got a chance to work very, very closely through [Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse], developing and shooting that movie. When the opportunity came at my production company, we were talking a lot and I really got a chance to get to know her. We’re very much so aligned on a lot of things, same way of thinking, very ambitious, the same type of goals, and it aligned with the culture I have had at Outlier Society. Things worked out the way they worked out and I landed her. For me, scaling up is a big thing that I want to focus on in the next few years when it comes to the company, and I couldn’t see a better person to be leading the charge with me.
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