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AUP. Ep. 28 Jonathan Majors: The Harder They Fall

AUP EP#28 TRANSCRIPT

Transcribed: Cameron Blackwell

Completed: 11/22/21

Cortney Wills: [00:00:02] Hello and welcome to Acting Up the podcast, the dives deep into the world of TV and film that highlights our people, our culture and our stories. I’m your host, Cortney Wills, Entertainment Director at theGrio. And this week we’re speaking to The Harder They Fall star Jonathan Majors. Jonathan is easily one of my favorite actors, and his performances have been stellar since the start. He got his start in Hostiles, opposite Christian Bale, which was also kind of a Western, which is interesting considering how rare it is to see a Black man in a Western and now we get another one. Jonathan is the star of The Harder They Fall, alongside an epic cast that includes Regina King, Idris Elba, Lakeith Stanfield, Zazie Beetz and Delroy Lindo, to name a few. His portrayal of Atticus Freeman in HBO’s Lovecraft Country still has my head spinning, and he was also very impressive in The Last Black Man in San Francisco, which I saw at Sundance two years ago and was really good. In The Harder They Fall, Jonathan Majors plays Nat Love. He’s an outlaw who’s sworn enemy Rufus Buck is played by Idris Elba and is being released from prison, so Nat Love rounds up his gang and sets out to track down Rufus and seek revenge. Thanks so much for joining me today on Acting Up. It’s such a pleasure to talk to you. I’m a huge fan of your work and I have been since Hostiles, actually, which I realized. I mean, The Harder They Fall is not even your first Western, which is crazy because there’s never Black people in Westerns. And here we go with number two for you. [00:01:44][101.4]

Jonathan Majors: [00:01:45] Yeah. Anyone who mentioned Hostiles has a special place in my heart. That film is my very first picture. You know, it’s my very first feature film that I’ve done out of school in general, actually, but The Harder They Fall is number two. [00:01:57][11.8]

Cortney Wills: [00:01:59] What was your experience with like the world of Westerns coming in to either of those projects? I mean, were you a fan growing up of cowboy flicks? [00:02:08][8.8]

Jonathan Majors: [00:02:10] Was I a fan? I just want to really take a moment to think about. That was a fan of it. I was familiar with it, you know, and I had watched it and watched the genre, and had watched a few pictures. You know, my grandparents, they had the Western Channel and we watched Western Channel and we lived in a very rural area. So the spirituality of the genre, I was very much attracted to. And yeah, I guess I witnessed it a lot. I mean, Gunsmoke was a big and that’s a TV show, Gunsmoke. is something we watched a lot of and my mother’s favorite show was Little House on the Prairie, which is more of a Western in the vein of Hostiles. You know, more of a day to day type of Western. It’s not really an event that happens. It’s just this is what it is to live on the frontier, you know? [00:02:52][42.4]

Cortney Wills: [00:02:52] So coming to The Harder They Fall. I mean, for me, this really was my first real foray. I think I saw Unforgiven when I was little with Clint Eastwood because my dad took me to it and I hated it. I thought it was boring and like, you know , it’s not my speed at all, but The Harder They Fall? Was really the first time I was interested in seeing a Western, and I think it’s because it was full of people that I thought that I could relate to and people I was excited to see on screen. And then I come to the film and I was thoroughly entertained. You know, it was just a fun, wild ride. It was exciting to watch and it made me curious about how much potential I think that there is in that genre, kind of unexplored for artists of color. And I wondered for you, how did you start to kind of cultivate your character without many tangible examples of Black folks starring in Westerns? [00:03:45][52.7]

Jonathan Majors: [00:03:46] For me, like my process just in creation is I try to stay away from that energy. I try to stay away from something that’s been made before. I mean, at the same time, you do end up playing, and paying an homage to the genre. But the genre is like, like I said, like the spirituality of a Western is something I experience from growing up. So in crafting the Nat Love, you know, I could look at Sundance, Butch Cassidy. I could look at, you know, the aforementioned Unforgiven, the Gunsmoke that I have in my head. All the “spaghetti Westerns”. You know, I can I can look at those, but I actively tried not to actively didn’t because we were building something new and Nat Love to something new. You know, if I ride a horse, literally, these villas aren’t built like Nat Lo is built. These men weren’t ex-slaves, you know, I mean, like, they don’t have the– we’re different people, you know, that’s the thing that up into this point, the Western and cinema has been depicted as this very white, very male playground, and it certainly is not the case. So if I were to do that, if I were in my process to, you know, try to copy and paste or be a rendition of, you know, the great actor, you know, the great director, the great artist, Clint Eastwood, you know, I’d be in trouble. You know, Robert Redford love him to death, but I’m not Robert Redford. We’re different people. You know, we come from different people. And because the Western is such a look into history, it was important for me that I used my history, you know, so kind of to your point and I feel like I’m rambling, but I think it’s it’s clear to me helps clear to you. In the process of entering into The Harder They Fall, entering to this Western frontier, I had to enter into our culture and into our books and our history because it’s not foreign to us. It’s actually very, very, very true is more true than, you know, how we’ve been depicted in the quote unquote Western genre. So I read my books, you know, an autobiography of Nat Love was written by Nat Love, also known as Deadwood Dick. I also looked at a lot of paintings, I paid attention to the scenery, you know, because the thing about the thing about a Western is where it takes place and it takes place in a place that is wild, right? And in order to survive in the wild, you have to master it and you have to find a way to get conversation with it. So there was in Nat Love this sense of freedom that’s turned all the way up to this sense of almost feral liberty in which he lived and existed. And so from those energies, you know, I began to build on Nat Love. [00:06:20][154.1]

Cortney Wills: [00:06:21] Now what you said about pulling in our history and coming to a space and inhabiting a space that I mean, kind of in large part, we’ve been shut out of. I can’t help but think about your role in Lovecraft Country because same, right, like it was a genre that we were shut out of, but yet was so deeply applicable to us and to our experience. And I thought, I mean, I loved so many things about Lovecraft, but I loved how much it felt like we belong here and we’ve always belonged here in this space. And this genre has everything to do with our history and that connection that was made between our history and that series and weaving it into this genre that we didn’t see ourselves in. And I wonder for you, do you find yourself attracted to those kinds of roles, those roles that for the longest time haven’t really been intended for you? [00:07:13][51.7]

Jonathan Majors: [00:07:13] You know Cortney you say something there, and I go mmm interesting because the Western genre in the Sci-Fi genre is that the genre and that they’ve been safeguarded. And why have they been safeguarded? Because there is something there is like all like all things right, that hold value like all territories that hold value. There’s a resource there. Right? And if you can tap into that resource, your livelihood will be better. Right? Which is why they hoard bandwidth now, right? There’s all these things. So as an artist, look, this is this is like a cheat sheet you just gave. Like, let’s look at the places in which we don’t exist or where we’re not depicted as, you know, Black folks or whatever it is, you’re fighting for, whatever it is, we’re trying to see but in this case, Black folks, right? Members of the African diaspora. There’s something in the Sci-Fi genre that allows us to expand, right, that allows us to transcend the history that holds us down. Right. And if you experience that as a human being, as an artist, if people experience it in viewing the work, they then have tapped into that resource and they then have access to it, which then they then grow as an individual and as a people. Right. And so whoever the powers that be and there’s no beef right now, we an angry, so to speak plainly, you know, powers that be that that have put up these barricades done that in order to safeguard themselves and give themselves that experience, but also to there’s fear there, right? There’s fear in that group because they’ve taken that away from other from other people, right from the Asian experience and African-American experience, from the Mexican-American experience to Mexican experience. We can go on, you know, the Indian experience can go on and the Western has done that in the same way. The Western is very much the the dignity and the legality of what it is to be free, right? What it is to be physically liberated, right? Of course. Of course, they try to keep enslaved people away from that right because if we can see that and experience that, that’s detrimental right to some people’s agenda. Now to the question, I personally am always trying to find a way to grow, you know, and to challenge myself. Otherwise, you just kind of quit don’t you. You kind of go, Okay, have you done it now? You know, let me walk away from it. So, so no, I do find myself attracted to barricades, the places where they say, you know, we can’t go. We’re not allowed to go. That’s an occupational hazard and do that in my own life, you know, because it helps me grow as an artist helped me grow as a man, as a father, as a friend, a lover, a citizen. Yeah. [00:09:42][148.6]

Cortney Wills: [00:09:43] What was the most challenging part of filming this movie in a pandemic? I mean, Regina said it was such a different experience than any other one that she’s ever had on a set because you guys were doing this with a big cast and a lot of stunts and taking up a lot of space and a really scary time for us all. So what was that like for you and how did it affect your process? [00:10:05][22.0]

Jonathan Majors: [00:10:06] Well, I feel like I don’t know but I feel like. A lot of people will speak to the physical handicaps that shooting the pandemic gives so I’ll speak to, for me, the spiritual handicap of it, right? Or the spiritual challenge of it. Because, as we said, like it, it almost felt to me in moments I think they can’t win, they can’t really be against it. You know, I mean, like we talked about how we were, you know, redlined out of the genre, God damn lord. Like, don’t let them. Don’t let it win. Don’t let that. Don’t let that spirit win. You know, one thing that keeps us out, that lets our film go down. You know, and there were so many times like we actually even after coming back, we went down two weeks, 10 days, three days. OK, we’re going to now. Some people have to be recast. You know, there was so much turmoil. You know that physically, I was like, look, I’m physically and also like, let’s just be real. You know, any marginalized group we’ve experienced. I mean, a pandemic. Yeah, it is tough is bad. It’s bad. It touches everybody. But they nothing like the Middle Passage, I guarantee you. I mean, ain’t nothing like the Trail of Tears ain’t nothing like the Holocaust, you mean like those who have experienced blood trauma. You know, it’s just it’s just another thing. And it didn’t gravity and it continues to have gravity. I degress, but i say that to say that for me, it was really trying to hone in that and still stay connected to myself, still stay connected to the mission. You know, like, we’ve got to tell the story. You know, like these folks as James Samuel so beautifully put at the beginning of the film, these people actually existed and they need to exist. They need to be made real again, you know, for this generation, for this time. You know, they force it as a time capsule for many, many, many generations. So, yeah, the hardest part for me was keeping the mental tight, you know, keeping the faith, you know, like, we’re going to get it done. And then on top of that to try to, I couldn’t- I didn’t really have time to be caught up in it because if I felt if I took my mind or my spirit or my heart of getting this thing done, getting the work, getting me stunts, you know, as Nat, you know, if I would have gone down physically or emotionally or spiritually, you know, I don’t, I don’t know if. I don’t know if we would have made it. I mean, it was very important to me to have that, you know, to keep the faith. You know, and that’s what was pulling on me. You know, and I don’t know if I’ve- I probably haven’t shared that with too many people, with many people. There was isolation that allowed me to kind of sit and think and soldier myself, you know, to be able to do it to the best of my ability. [00:12:39][152.8]

Cortney Wills: [00:12:39] I do not want to embarrass you. But I wonder, I mean, talking to you and really, I mean, I have followed your career from jump. You don’t strike me as someone who gets very wrapped up in like the celebrity of all of this, you really seem like someone who’s dedicated to the work and the work leads. I don’t read about you in the tabloids. I don’t know who you’re dating. But do you get like, what an incredible impact you have made just in the last I mean, honestly, this role and Lovecraft, I think if I was to ask most people, especially Black women, who their number one, Oh my god, dreamboat is right now, it is you and you’re in a movie with Idris Elba. And a lot of people are asking me, Does Jonathan take a shirt off in this movie? And they’re not asking me about Idris, and I see you’re getting embarrassed. But sometimes I wonder what an artist like yourself makes of all of the hoopla because it is there. I mean, we are dying of over you right now. [00:13:42][62.8]

Jonathan Majors: [00:13:43] I was holding it too. No, I mean, it’s all right. It comes with it’s just all high school in it, you know, is it? We’ve all experienced it you know to a degree, maybe just for a moment, you know? But no, it’s to me, it just feels like support. I love that. I love that the ladies a resonating because maybe those ladies got boyfriends and they they come in or they got it mamas. And, you know, and they see the work because I think however they get it, you know what I mean however, they get it. And it’s a I mean, it is it’s very flattering. You know, it’s very flattering. You know, I’m a young man. It’s just like, Oh, wow, that’s kinda cool, you know, but [00:14:19][35.4]

Cortney Wills: [00:14:20] You’re like the homecoming king right now. [00:14:21][1.4]

Jonathan Majors: [00:14:22] I’ll take it, you know, you just got to win the game, you know, I mean, we just go in the. You know, so it don’t hurt none. Yeah. [00:14:29][6.9]

Cortney Wills: [00:14:31] And I know I have to let you go soon, but I wondered for you, you know, like you said, Hostiles was your first real feature film out of school. And now you’ve got these highly visible, highly praised projects under your belt. How do you see yourself navigating your career from this point? You know, the exposure and the access that you have now compared to the start of your career. How does that inform how you intend to move through this industry? [00:14:59][28.5]

Jonathan Majors: [00:15:00] Well, I do think about, you know, the aforementioned, you know, ladies, you were talk about, you know, I think about them. I think about, you know, the homies I think about where I come from, you know, I think about think I really beautiful text message from one of my little mentees, you know, longer than usual. It moved me a lot. And you know, he said some things to me where I was like, I’ll take that, you know, you feel that way about me. I’ll take that. You think that about me? Shirt on shirt off whatever. I’ll take that, you know, and I’ve got the little girl I’m trying to raise, you know, and so I go, what do we need as a culture where we need as a people? And I was going to divide myself up, you know, and say, OK as a man and I feel as a southern man how I feel as an American, how I feel as a Black man. What can I- what can I continue to contribute, you know? And so I’m looking for the danger. I’m looking for the places where I can continue to grow. As I said, when that’s over with, I’m kind of done. You know, I know this is that this is I’m doing this animation thing that I’m trying to get you off the ground. These guys asked me to do it. I’m really excited about that, you know, and giving voice to that. But there’s more stories that I still feel like I need to tell more stories and then I feel the shifts coming where I can begin to produce more stories, you know? And like, really establish I really, really began to challenge my own point of view, you know, outside of the acting medium, because I do teach, you know, it’s something I always I do teach you do teach acting and it’s important to me, you know, so I would like to do that. And I guess directing is in a way, you know, offering someone your point of view, allowing them to experience it in a way. So maybe that. But right now I’m trying to figure out what the fuck am as of now? [00:16:33][93.3]

Cortney Wills: [00:16:34] So where do you teach? [00:16:35][1.7]

Jonathan Majors: [00:16:37] There’s a few. There’s a few guys here and there, but I have a theater company in Bali and we invite kids out that way. And it’s really spiritual work on the craft because one of my things, though I really find myself coming up against in all my training was the spiritual element of the craft is not there in the soul on, you know, to try to put it there. Like, I couldn’t imagine if my teacher tried to say, You know what? Wait, wait, wait. You know, like, you know, my mother passed I be like wait, I don’t know if you could do that, you know, just there’s just no place for it within institutions, you know, for whatever reason. But the artist needs it. And so if the artist doesn’t come in with it, there has to be a place. It’s just it’s just a way to it’s auxiliary, you know, it’s extracurricular that will help you in. Come game day, I think it’s imperative, you know, for my craft and and what I’ve been doing, so yeah, there’s a few kids that- when I say kids, just students and like Grown-Ups, that if I meet up with and we chat and talk about the pedagogy of it and try to drop that energy into that work, and because there’s a spirituality element that does touch the transcends genre that transcends gender, race, etc., once you can tap into that. And it’s just to try use it to try to, you know, you kind of begin to push the barriers. You begin to grow yourself in ways you didn’t think possible. And I think it’s I think it’s important if it’s not, you know, kind of stop doing it. [00:17:58][81.4]

Cortney Wills: [00:17:59] Yes. Yes. And you said you have a little girl and you are working on animation. So I know I don’t need to tell you how important representation is for kids. You know, seeing themselves in projects that they can relate to and that I think empowers them is so important. And we’re finally starting to see a lot of movement in that direction when it comes to the animation space, particularly for kids of color, which I’m so excited about. And I wonder for you. Was there something a person, a project that as a young person made you feel seen or even, you know, gave you the audacity to pursue this career in this country as a Black man from the South? [00:18:40][40.3]

Jonathan Majors: [00:18:40] I come from very audacious people, you know, so funny I’m the smallest man in my family. I stand, I’m almost six one in a small guy, you know, but I come from giants, you know, internally and externally, you know? And I watched my grandfathers really make a way for themselves. And they use their voices, you know, they were really the all masons, and they used a military man at that, you know? And you they use their voices. You know, it’s for me. I never really looked to the artform for inspiration. I looked at the people. I always look to the people in the first people I look to as you know, my granddaddy, you know, everyone worshiped him. You know, if your father, you know, I’ve got an interesting is really interesting relationship with my father. But when your father, when your king bowed to this man, you have to pay attention to him, you know? And so I honored him and the way I watched him move through the world, you know, Big Andy, you know, and in Marion, you know these my two, my two lions, you know, I watch them and they inspired me, and they embolden their grandson. A great deal. And I don’t think they– it moves me. I don’t think. I don’t think they know that. You know, I mean, I dedicated to my maternal grandfather. And yeah, that’s what it was was like. I mean, that’s that’s one reason I can kind of like, you know, fuck this whole thing, you know, like the celebrity thing, as you said at the beginning and say, it’s a it’s neither here nor there for me. You know, I actually I don’t know how to value it. You mean, so that ignorance is something that I, in my view that this whole thing a lot of this is happening in the middle of a pandemic. You know, I mean, like I remember Jurnee Smollett sent me a photo one time of her downtown in Los Angeles, and Atticus and Lady were big as Texas. And I was in New Mexico and it dawned on me. I’ll never see that because by the time I get to Los Angeles, the show will be done. You know, I thought, Oh, I think, thank God for that, thank God for that. You know, just to keep my feet on the ground, you know, at all times I’m rambling, but I’m having such a good time talking to you. [00:20:48][127.6]

Cortney Wills: [00:20:49] Oh, I’m having a good time, too. I do not want to let you go. And before I do, I have to tell you because I don’t know that I’ll have another opportunity since this show is apparently done. But Lovecraft, I mean, I’ve done this job for almost 20 years now, and I don’t know that I’ve ever been as impacted by a project as a whole and by performances as a whole as you all did in Lovecraft. I mean, I thought it was something so special from the moment I saw the first episode. And I think that you and Journey and Cortney and Aunjanue and Michael God rest his soul brought something and did something that truly changed. The way that I understood this medium could could make me feel about our past. I looked at Letty like, I think that if I was alive at that time, I hope I would have been like her. That’s right. You know, and that we haven’t seen that we’ve seen victims and we have seen these stoic, you know, women marching that seemed unbreakable, but she felt human. And you all brought a human ness to this very real, tangible terror that was so much scarier than the monsters popping up out of the ground. You know, and you made the racism feel so close and so real. I think it was just truly remarkable. It’s one of the best things that I’ve ever seen, and I’m so proud of it. [00:22:20][91.0]

Jonathan Majors: [00:22:21] That moves me thank you very much for saying that. [00:22:23][1.8]

Cortney Wills: [00:22:23] You’re welcome. Last question is just what are you, homies with Jay-Z now? I mean, are you kicking it with Idris? This is a crazy cast, a crazy lineup of people involved in this project. Like, how cool is that? [00:22:37][13.5]

Jonathan Majors: [00:22:37] It is a pretty wicked text thread that I don’t think people will believe it. They’re like, What are you all these people like? Well, like a voice note. It’s like, Oh, like, you know it, it’s kind of silly, you know, but it just they’re just incredible artists, you know, and therefore incredible people. Mr. Carter, we have we’ve had more than one conversation at this point. And so he’s a brother, for sure. He’s always, always felt like a brother, but he’s a brother for real. Now, Idris and I are still trying to figure out what we’re going to work out together. You know, Regina’s Regina, you know, as silly and talented and beautiful as she is. And you know, the Lakeith and I are trying to do a play together. And so, yeah, I mean, that’s what happens when you when you have a group of artists like this that you know, we really are we really are an ensemble and we really are a cast and we are a team, you know, a family and you know, to, you know, to the Hostiles of it, you know, to know. And now to this is all one thing. It’s really all one thing, you know, and it’s just snapshots. You know, first snapshot was that, but it is still one thing emotion. And so I look at that text thread and I, you know, I wake up in the sending, whatever to whoever it’s beautiful, because now we’re all we’re all together now. You know, it will take effort to not be together. You know, we’re together now and we’ll run together and that team will help will help each other. I should probably call Regina at some point because she did SNL and ask her what you know, what the fuck was going to happen. You know all that stuff. But you know, and I know she’s got my back. If I actually do call her to do that. But yeah, yeah, it’s a crazy is a crazy team. It’s a crazy family. And they came up on the screen. Hopefully, people see it when we when we do our thing in the movie, you know that those gangs are two gangs, but one family. And yeah, I’m just I’m just really happy. It’s it’s all coming together. [00:24:32][114.2]

Cortney Wills: [00:24:32] Well, I loved it. I can’t wait for people to see it. I think you’re going to kill it on SNL. Don’t be nervous. Do you think that you’re funny? [00:24:38][6.2]

Jonathan Majors: [00:24:40] I am funny, I know I am, and I’m not nervous. It’s just more like, I wanna be respectful. I want to do my homework. You know, we have to do that. Do my best. And yeah, yeah. [00:24:50][10.0]

Cortney Wills: [00:24:51] Well, it’s a big deal. We’ll be rooting for you. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me today, and thank you for your candor and thank you for your work. I just I love watching you. I love having artists that I could really just look forward to everything you do and you have quickly become one of those people for me. So thank you. Thank you so much. You take care. [00:25:10][19.4]

Jonathan Majors: [00:25:10] I’ll see you soon. [00:25:11][0.4]

Cortney Wills: [00:25:15] Thank you for listening to Acting Up. If you like what you heard, please give us a five star review and subscribe to the show wherever you listen to your podcast and share it with everyone you know. Please email all questions, comments and suggestions to podcasts@theGrio.com. Acting Up is brought to you by theGrio and executive produced by Cortney Wills and produced by Cameron Blackwell. For more with me and Acting Up, check us out on Instagram @ActingUp.Pod. [00:25:15][0.0]

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