With Killmonger, the dreaded (both figuratively and literally) villain in Black Panther, Michael B. Jordan changed the game. Like many of his Marvel counterparts, he wanted power and stopped at nothing to get it. But what set him apart was his motivation, which came from a place of deep personal trauma and a real desire to free his people from oppression. In fact, if he was just an ounce less murder-y, he could’ve been a hero.
How did you land this role?
It was pretty easy, actually. I got asked to audition for a movie, and I immediately knew it was for Creed II. The auditions went back and forth, and every time I sent something, they liked it. It went further and further until I got a call, and they told me that Sly [Stallone] wants to do a Skype audition with me. I had to prepare two more scenes, he liked what he saw and he flew me to L.A. Then I had to convince the director, and here we are now.
Your character has a lot of internal conflict over the course of the film, which separates him from previous boxing-movie villains.
The character is a lot more complex than Dolph Lundgren’s character in the '80s. Steven Caple Jr. wanted to create something new—he was creating a different kind of villain, not a typical villain. I’m playing my character with a lot of heart and a lot of emotions. In the beginning, you might think that I’m the typical killing machine who’s just intimidating. But once the movie progresses, you realize that I’m dealing with my own issues. People see that I have my own complicated history, and I think at the end of the day, they also feel for Drago, not just for Creed.
Of course. If it would have only been my boxing and my muscles, then they could’ve used anybody on this planet. Steven definitely wanted someone who had the ability to act, and he wanted someone who had a background story. I was focusing on the negative moments in my life in order to bring those emotions on the screen, so I’m definitely looking forward to proving people wrong.
The final fight between you and Michael is incredible brutal and filled with such animosity. Did that carry over in between takes?
No, it was so supportive. You have to realize the fight scenes were pretty intense. Every take was high intensity, every punch was high intensity, so once the take was over and we had a couple of seconds to breathe, we were just supportive of each other. We were hugging each other and motivating each other. On screen we were obviously enemies, but once the camera wasn’t rolling, we were like family.
How long did it take to prepare for the fight scenes?
The preparation was about 14 weeks. I had to deal with acting coaches that went through all the scenes with me. I had to learn Russian. I had to get in shape, and on top of that, there was the choreography, which itself took about 10 weeks. We had the two fights together, and other than that, we each had different fights. It was a lot of choreography to learn, which was not only physically exhausting but mentally exhausting as well.
Is it more challenging to land a realistic punch or take one?
I think it’s harder to land a realistic punch. It’s all about timing. If you have a real boxing match, then you focus on your yourself. This time around, it’s not only about you, but it’s about Michael. You have a dance, you have a partner, and it has to work between the two of you. You can’t only rely on yourself. So when I’m trying to hit him with a big haymaker, he has to flow with my punch, too. That was the hard part.
I was focusing on the negative moments in my life in order to bring those emotions on the screen, so I’m definitely looking forward to proving people wrong.
Yes, and he took it like a real man. In a movie like this, with a lot of emotions going on, it can always happen that some punches connect. I was pretty much in the zone focusing on my own acting, on my emotions, and when I hit him, he didn’t say anything. He didn’t want to get me out of the zone, which I respect. He’s a true warrior.
What did you learn from him?
He’s a huge star, and he has proven himself so many times, but if he comes on set and starts a new project, it’s like he’s the new guy. He always gives more than 100 percent—his work ethic and attitude is so impressive and inspiring. I knew that I had to prove myself, I knew that I was the new guy and it was a lot of pressure on my shoulder not to let anyone down, but seeing him working as hard as possible on acting and boxing just really helped me with my approach.
Did you teach him anything about boxing?
Of course! He had a lot of questions in terms of moving, coordination and combinations. We grew as a family together, especially me, Steven and Mike, who are all the same generation. If I had questions, he helped me, and if he had questions, I helped him.
Could he be a professional boxer?
Yeah, definitely. He’s a real athlete. I think he could play a lot of sports professionally, but once I saw him on the punching bag and on the skipping rope, and once I saw him in the ring, how he moves, how he dodges punches, I definitely think he could turn professional.
You were already in incredible shape before the film, but were you required to get in even better shape ahead of filming?
This was definitely the best shape of my life. One hundred percent.
I would say it’s a mix. At the end of the day, I’m building and constructing my bod, but I don’t see myself as a bodybuilder—I see myself as an athlete. In order to be an athlete, you have to combine all different kinds of attributes like stamina, speed, coordination and obviously power. So my workouts are not necessarily complex, but I try to do all kinds of stuff and improve in all kinds of ways. I don’t want a specific routine in my workouts, so I’m always looking to do something new to give my body new features. If your body is used to a specific routine, it won’t improve anymore. Like in all aspects of life, If you want to see changes, you have to change something.
Your six-pack has already become the stuff of legend. What’s your secret?
For the movie, I trained abs four times a week, and I was always doing it before my fitness workout, so it was like a warm-up, doing three, four, five exercises with four sets of all kinds of different ab exercises, like hanging knee raises, and trying to train the obliques. That took me 30 to 40 minutes per day. After that, I was training all kinds of muscles, but I was only focusing on one muscle group per day.
What was your diet like during filming?
To be honest, I’m not so strict with my diet. I benefit from pretty good genetics. I try to keep it clean by eating a lot of rice and chicken, fish and obviously vegetables, but in general I keep it pretty monotone, and that’s what I did for Creed. I tried to lose a lot of weight—I lost like 20 pounds—so I kept it pretty simple, as I said.
What do your cheat days look like?
If I’m being honest with you, I only started cheating in general after I got all of the boxing and montage stuff out of the way. I wanted to look in the best shape of my life, so I had to be as disciplined as possible.
Are you worried that people will be terrified of you after they see you in this film?
On screen, I’m pretty intimidating, but in real life, I’m a nice guy who smiles a lot, so there’s not a lot for people to be afraid of. Maybe because of my physique in general because I’m tall and big, but if they look in my eyes and see me smiling, they shouldn’t be too worried.