At CAA’s third annual Amplify summit on Tuesday, Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Foxx and the team behind Just Mercy spoke about working on the upcoming civil rights film and screened a first look at the movie.
Just Mercy is based on the New York Times best-selling memoir of the same name by Bryan Stevenson, a civil rights defense attorney and founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, who fights on behalf of the wrongly condemned and death-row prisoners trapped in the criminal justice system. The film follows Stevenson’s first case: that of Walter McMillian, a black man who was sentenced to death for a crime he didn’t commit.
Jordan stars as Stevenson and executive produced the project, coming on board after a call from his Black Panther director Ryan Coogler, who connected him with Just Mercy helmer Destin Daniel Cretton.
“They sent over Bryan’s TED Talk. That was my first real introduction to Bryan Stevenson and his work, and I felt a little embarrassed that I didn’t know about him and what he was doing before that,” the star told the room at the Ojai Village Inn in Ojai, California. “I think the world is getting ready to get a real deep-dive into the work he’d been doing and can be a tool for Bryan to make some real change.”
Jordan added that when choosing his projects, “It’s never about money. I don’t chase clout, limelight, any of that stuff. I just want to do things that are honest and help people grow.” He also admitted to being nervous to take on the role and portray Stevenson accurately, thinking, “This guy is damn near perfect, I don’t want to mess this up. I know how important it is. … That might be me up onscreen, but I want you to see and feel this man.”
Foxx, who stars as McMillian, praised Jordan for his performance, remembering how after one powerful scene, “The extras in the fourth row were weeping, that’s how powerful, important and how sincere he was about it and how sincere Destin was about it.”
For his own role as an incarcerated man, Foxx said that he drew on many of his experiences growing up in a racially divided Texas town, remembering times when he was called names by white families and even recently when was treated aggressively by white police officers. “My personal experience of being outside of the norm when it came to racial things, that prepared me,” he said.
Ford Foundation president Darren Walker moderated the conversation, which also included Cretton and Stevenson, who said he hopes that “people will see in films like this the opportunity to tell more stories that cause this country to rethink some of these issues,” including racial and criminal justice.
Warner Bros. screened the first footage from the film, along with on-camera interviews from Jordan and Foxx, backed by a new original song from Andra Day. In the clips, Jordan emotionally fights for Foxx’s character in the courtroom, while confiding in Brie Larson, who plays Equal Justice Initiative operations director Eva Ansley. Foxx appears behind bars in a prison jumpsuit as a man desperate to be free.
Just Mercy is the first film made under WarnerMedia’s company-wide drive for more diverse hiring and is set to hit theaters in January.