Make no mistake about it, Jonathan Majors is Hollywood’s next big thing – ‘Big’ being the operative word. Standing just a touch under 6 feet and weighing in at a cool 90kg, the hulking American actor cuts an imposing physical presence, but it’s the shadow that he’s casting on the industry itself that demands recognition. After a breakthrough role in A24’s touching epic The Last Black Man in San Francisco, Majors has run up a string of incredible performances. The 33-year-old garnered critical acclaim for his work with Spike Lee on Da 5 Bloods, before cementing himself as a serious dramatic force in Devotion, the real-life story of America’s first Black naval aviator, Jesse L. Brown. Now, the rising screen star stands on the cusp of greatness and he’s not backing down from the fight.
“It’s a great deal of hard work and luck,” Majors tells me. “I’m of a certain age where they want to tell stories about the young man category, the contemporary or whatever it is. But depending on when you took a look, it may seem astronomical or just natural.”
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In arguably the biggest role of his short career, Majors is set to star alongside Michael B. Jordan in the thrilling third instalment of the blockbuster Rocky spinoff franchise, Creed. Taking place seven years after the events of the last film, we find Jordan’s Adonis ‘Donnie’ Creed thriving in his personal and professional life, but the ghosts of the past are never far from view.
When his childhood friend, Damian Anderson makes an unexpected return after being imprisoned for several years, Donnie is forced to confront the demons of his past. Slowly, his perfect world crumbles as Donnie realises the life he left behind hasn’t forgotten what it’s owed.
Unlike the previous two releases in the series, Majors’ appearance as Damian introduces a somewhat unknown element. There is no rehashing of old Rocky relatives, no needless love interest driving the film’s sub-plot, just a tortured knockout artist on the hunt for revenge and Majors is the perfect man for the job.
“Oh, I know Damian, I grew up around Dames,” Majors reveals. “Guys with so much potential who just took the wrong road and then lost it. Rarely do they get a chance to come out, and when they do, sometimes they go back to crime, they go back to the shit that they were doing beforehand or they just run out of gas.”
It seems almost a moot point to ask why Majors was drawn to the role. After all, kids everywhere dream of playing a boxing champion in a Hollywood blockbuster, but to Majors, the character offered an opportunity to do more. A redemption story disguised as an action film, Creed III isn’t your average fight flick. It speaks to the power of family, the importance of forgiveness and the struggle to escape the cycle of incarceration that plagues inner-city America.
“Dame is a love letter to those who have been pushed aside or made the wrong decision. Maybe they can redeem themselves, be exonerated from it,” Majors tells us. “Ultimately, it’s a story about what it is to be, when the mind is incarcerated, what it takes to free oneself again. That’s something I was really into. In addition to the fact that it’s a boxing movie and you got to fight and do all that fun stuff.”
Taking up the Fight
Mild-mannered as he may be, fighting isn’t a foreign concept to Majors. In our chat, the 33-year-old actor revealed that his life in many ways paralleled his on-screen counterpart.
“I used to fight my ass off in high school. I’m not proud of that,” he says. “I didn’t box, but I had one of my best friends growing up, a guy named Brandon Wyatt, was a golden gloves boxer. And very much like in the film, where Adonis would carry his bag, we had a stint where I would just roll with him to boxing practice. Or be there and watch him fight.”
Majors’ turn as the rough around the edges Damian is one of the franchise’s great underdog performances. For nearly two hours, he terrorises the audience with a battering of brutality, before landing a knockout blow that will leave you heartbroken. It’s a performance that bleeds fragility, painting a visceral picture of life after lockup, something Michael B. Jordan knew Majors would bring to the role. The action star, in his first foray behind the camera, reportedly headhunted Majors for the role of Dame long before the story was even finalised.
“(It was) Probably the most unorthodox thing because my manager calls me and says, ‘Hey, Michael B. Jordan wants your phone number.’ And I go, ‘The fuck out of here. No, he doesn’t. Me?'”, Majors tells us. “He calls me back 10 minutes later…and he pitches it to me, tells me what he wants me to do. And tells me why he wants it to be me.”
“Coming from the director and the star and all of that, (it was) quite unorthodox. We hung up. I called him back 10 minutes later and said, “Yeah, I’ll do it. I’m in.” My team was even freaking out at how fast and how intimate the conversation had been and the process.”
Over the course of the film, Majors and Jordan’s characters trade punches, both physical and metaphoric, in a battle for on-screen dominance and there’s no shortage of training montages to go along with that. As Donnie goes back to basics, running up hills and shadow-boxing, Damian’s regime is part callisthenics, part CrossFit and entirely exhausting. The results speak for themselves.
Not since Rocky Balboa took on Clubber Lang have we seen two more aesthetically gifted athletes go toe-to-toe on-screen (you could argue there is a lot of Mr T’s foul-mouthed bruiser in Dame) and like Sylvester Stallone, both Jordan and Majors took their conditioning to the extreme. Seven meals a day, multiple workouts and hours of shooting, Majors described the process of getting into shape for Creed III as ‘torturous’.
“I’m slim by nature – athletically built, but slim by nature. For guys like me to gain and hold weight, you got to eat. And that was seven meals a day, shakes, the whole thing. I mean, it’s just torturous, but then the body adapts,” he tells us. “I fought at 188. It looks like 205, but I fought at 188 and yeah, man, it was intense. It was intense. But it’s also character study. It’s nice to do a physical film, a sports film like that, because everything you’re doing as the actor, your character will be doing in the film. The marriage is quite seamless.”
On the surface, Creed III feels like a homage to the great boxing movies of old, but dive a little deeper and you’ll find something far more intricate. As Donnie and Damian’s lives twist and tangle, forging a wretched path of parallels, we learn the complexities of their conflict – two lives so similar in circumstance separated only by fate.
For Majors, Hollywood’s next blockbuster star, potential and performance are finally crossing over and much like Dame, he’s not about to let it slip.
“I’m 33 years old, man. I’ve been trying to do these things since I was 14. It was just a matter of time.”
MGM Pictures’ Creed III was written by Ryan and Keenan Coogler and is directed by Michael B. Jordan. It stars Jordan and Majors, alongside Tessa Thompson, Florian Munteanu, Wood Harris and Phylicia Rashad. Creed III debuts in cinemas on March 3. You can watch the official trailer above.