Jonathan Majors has spent many years perfecting his craft whether it’s been at the University of North Carolina or at Yale in their Masters of Fine Arts program. While most credit his rise to prominence due to his performance in The Last Black Man in San Francisco, Majors has been turning in solid performances since 2017. Fans of Marvel gushed about his appearance in Loki as Kang and can’t wait to see him in the Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.
Most recently Majors earned his 1st Emmy nomination for his work as Atticus in Lovecraft Country which ended being one of the show’s 16 nominations. Majors joined us recently to talk about Kang and to discuss his process preparing to take on the role of Atticus.
Dewey Singleton: It is hard to have the most bad-ass entrance into the Marvel Cinematic Universe ever, but you managed to pull it off. Because dear God, were you amazing with your reveal.
Jonathan Majors: Oh man. Thanks bro. I appreciate that.
DS: Let’s start with that Kang reveal. You knew it was coming. You knew it was right around the corner. Was it hard to keep that to yourself?
JM: No, no. I feel like it was best for me to act as if it never happened. Because if I thought too much about it, I don’t think I would’ve been able to contain myself. Especially after an ADR session, it’s very difficult to be like, “Yo, wait.” You know what I mean? Like, “This is going to be crazy?”
DS: How often do family members pull you aside and go, “Hey, man. You can just tell me. What’s going to happen? What’s going on?”
JM: You know, man? They don’t, actually, I mean, the closest people, my siblings and my mom and them, no, they don’t. They just like, “When’s it coming out?” What you doing? When you coming home? So that’s pretty helpful for me. My homeys they’re very respectful. Like, “So bro…” They may ask a question like, hypothetically, could this happen? And I’ll be like, “I don’t even… I can’t. I don’t know.” I mean, it’s the best G movie you can say. I don’t know. Because the truth of the matter, I usually don’t know the answer, but it’s cool to act like I do.
DS: If you were even to hint at it, I would imagine Marvel Secret Agents would come out of nowhere and just tackle the person.
JM: I think they’re waiting in your cupboard behind you. If you ask the wrong question, it can get crazy, bro.
DS: And on that note … I think we’re going to move on to Lovecraft Country. (laughs)
DS: When you get pitched a show like this, is it a hard sell? Were you in from the get-go? What was it about Misha’s thoughts and her direction for the show where you were like, “I’m in.”
JM: I mean, it’s two-fold, right? One is the job came to me. The audition came when I was really, I was jobbing. I was trying to be a working actor and trying to continue working. I was working, I was trying to continue working. And the opportunity of just on the page, what it was that, here’s a series of a very great network. I would say one of the best networks, historically, telling a story with a young Black male lead and you got a shot at it. That’s never been done before. Not on that network, not on that type of platform. And it’s sci-fi, okay. And it’s about primarily a family. Okay. All right. I was in from that point. The rest of it was just gifts on gifts on gifts and surprises upon surprises. And I went in there, I wanted to play that role. I wanted to play a role that was… I wanted the responsibility to tell the story on this platform with these people. And at the time, we were still in the height of the get out vibration. Misha green, it was known in her show, Underground, and noted what had done. And JJ Abrams. I mean, it’s like, “Okay, the unknown factor here is this kid from Texas. Let me give it a go.” To answer your question, it was a no brainer as far as engaging. I guess the nuance part to it was once I saw what was going to happen, and again, not dramaturgically, but I haven’t chosen films. I’d worked four months, three months, sometimes two weeks, and then jump onto the next thing.And here we were in a position where I was going to have to sign off for six years. Say I was going to be doing this for six years. As we know, that’s not the case. But in the moment, that was a big moment for me to go, “Okay, do I want to do that?” And after the testing. Well, the week of testing, after the conversations, after reading more, after meeting more people, I say, “Yeah, I it’d be an honor the story and play this character and share this with folks.”
DS: I mean, well, we can go on for that. Let’s talk about your co-stars. You’ve got so many bad-ass costars in the show. I mean, you had to feel blessed from day one.
JM: Like I said, man, I was the unknown factor coming into this thing. I mean, a lot of my stuff hadn’t been out, or I didn’t have much. So when I see Jurnee Smollett, say less. Michael K. Williams, say less. Courtney B. Vance, one of my heroes. Aunjanue Ellis, NYU alum. We shared a master acting teacher. And then you get little Jayda Harris, that whole squad. That in and of itself, that’s a dream team. Is it not? You go, “Wow. That’s the ensemble?” That was a blessing for me. That was like, “Okay, I’m going in here. And everybody can hit. We’ve got hitters all around.” The potential of telling a story that was going to be moving, that was going to be entertaining.That was going to rock the site guys, was heightened even more by the fact that I was going to get better as an actor working with these people. I was going to learn more about the craft of acting working with these people. And in my mind, after six years of that, I’d be ready for anything. Unfortunately, it’s only for a year, but still and so, I feel very prepared to continue the education I received from that cast and my family now, on to other projects.
DS: How does one prepare for a role like this? Because there’s a lot of heavy lifting on your end, sir.
JM: First off, first and foremost, I mean, we talk about the cast. One is just being extremely vulnerable with the cast, and allowing them to help you define who you are as you move through it. Atticus and Leti is only Atticus and Leti when Atticus is with Leti. And the information that Jurnee Smollett was giving Jonathan Majors about Atticus in those scenes, that’s better than homework. The information that Courtney B. Vance, uncle George was giving me about Atticus in those moments, et cetera. Michael K. Williams, et cetera, Aunjanue Ellis, et cetera. That was a huge part of the work. That said, that’s also game time decision shit. You know what I mean? Like that stuff, you go, “Oh, it’s like that.” Or as you mature through the piece. You’ve done two or three scenes with Mike already. You’ve had scenes with uncle George already. So you know what these are at. And you’re building from that, and you’re taking the relationship momentum, and you’re open enough to remember what it is you had experienced with that person, as we do in real life, and push that forward and continue to add to that relationship. Then there’s the things you do at home at two o’clock in the morning before you’re supposed to shoot. And you’re just pacing back and forth in your… I’m pacing back and forth in my hotel, trying to figure out, “Okay, how do I get this in my nervous system?” That was a big thing for Atticus, right? I needed to make sure that I had the story, the war, the relationships, all of that had to be so embedded in my nervous system, in my subconscious, because there are so many other factors happening when I get to work.
When I get to work, there’s going to be a green screen. When I get to work, there’s going to be a bunch of extras. When I get to work and be dealing with all these… Just trappings over the craft that make big shows. You’re going to have all that. How was I to get it in there? And a lot of it was the language. I remember it became a habit for me. I would memorize my lines and run the episodes in my head in a steam room. I mean, something I picked up from Shakespeare and Company back in the day. You go someplace where it’s very hot, very uncomfortable and run it. Run it. Close your eyes and run it back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. On the treadmill, running, saying the lines back and forth, back and forth. Because once you understand the sounds that you’re going to make, what you do is Atticus. What you do will be Atticus. If you’ve laid the groundwork out. You read the books, I walked through the museums, I look at the work, I listen to the music from the time period. Try to submerge myself in as much as possible. And then relinquished control on the day and let them, let the ancestors and let my beautiful cast mates guide me. Because as we know, they know what they’re doing.
DS: Is that a scary feeling to relinquish control?
JM: Yeah, absolutely. Because the first part, I mean, that’s… In general, yeah. Because prep for me is it’s hands-on, it’s hard work. It’s pencil, it’s highlighter, it’s books, it’s texts, it’s concrete. Everything is being built. And then I’ll break it down like this. I’m preparing a character. You’re trying to build a ladder. And you want the ladder to have as many rungs as possible and get as high as possible, as quickly as possible and be as sturdy as possible. Because on the day you’re going to jump. And depending on your preparation, depending on how many rungs are in that ladder, tells me how long you can go before you hit the ground.And the ground is bull shit. So if you start, if you don’t build that ladder high enough, you’re going to hit some bull shit. You know what I mean? And what my cast does is they’re standing there, and I’m looking at them like, “Okay, I’m jumping to you. I’m coming to you.” They gave me the reason to jump, to surrender. So yeah, it’s a scary thing, but it becomes a habit after a while.
To live in that discomfort because that is what gives us those moments that we all think about, those moments that… The scene is not right until, for me, I know the scene is not right in preparation until I am literally dreading having to do it. Because the scene is now I have to confront my father about some bull shit, which is something in my life I don’t want to do. I’ve got to confess to my lover, this, this, this about my past, which is something you don’t want to do it. I don’t want to do that. You know what I mean? You’ve got to build it to that level. So you say, “Okay, on this day, I’m doing this on this. On this day, I got to try to keep the secret from my auntie that I’m responsible for my uncle dying.” It’s that simple. And you go to work to do that. And that’s quite difficult. You surrender to that and whatever happens, happens. We got 10 hours of that.
DS: Are you critical when you watch yourself perform or are you able to even watch yourself perform? Could you strike me as someone who might go back and see something you’ve done and see the one thing that isn’t to your standard when the rest of it is amazing to everybody else?
JM: That can happen. One of the reasons I try not to watch it is if I can avoid it, and there are cases in which I will watch. That’s just appreciation and respect for the other craftsmen that worked on the film with you. But to rewatch it in my private time, or to be forced to watch it at a premiere or something, I noticed about myself early on, or when I was auditioning a lot. I could watch a tape, and if I felt it, it would mirror neurons. If I started feeling it again, I know I’m proud of that. I can send that. And so in a film, when they’ve only taken the good bits, the things that are going to… what they think are the good parts. It’s going to have that type of potency to it. At least the way I aim to work.
When I watch it, sometimes it can be a bit overwhelming for me. I remember watching… It’s funny. Maybe I’m only saying this because the guy mentioned it, but I remember watching the scene where Montrose tells Atticus that he may not be his daddy, may not be his father.And without even knowing, I began to weep. My face got hot and I was like, “This can’t happen.” It’s like, but that’s natural. It’s natural. You build these human beings. You have helped building these guys. In my case, these characters, these men. It’s like watching your best friend a weep. You can’t help it. You can’t help but feel what he’s feeling. And sometimes it can be… And remember it, and it can be overwhelming sometimes. And not I’m overwhelming. I wouldn’t say it’s that deep. Sometimes you just won’t get on with it. I want to get on with my day. I don’t want to sit and watch something that’s going to fuck me up a little bit. The fact that I got to go do my other job. I got to go do this now. But no. I mean, that’s a beautiful inconvenience. It’s something that I wish they went with a different take. I fucking hate this take. Why’d they go with this take? That does happen too.
DS: I don’t want to take up any more of your time. You’ve indulged me. Amazing answers from an amazing artist. Your performances are always on top, best thing in a film. I mean, we could go on and on. But Mr. Majors, this was a thrill.
JM: Thank you, my brother. Have a good day.
Jonathan Majors nominated for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series and has submitted the episode “Sundown” of Lovecraft Country for Emmy consideration.
Photo: Elizabeth Morris/HBO