Film festival honoree Jordan has his own creed of honor

WAILEA – In a Celestial Cinema tribute Thursday, actor Michael B. Jordan added the Maui Film Festival’s Rainmaker Award to the other honors that have come his way following the one-two punch of his starring roles in “Fruitvale Station” and “Creed.”

The roles are two of many memorable performances the 29-year-old actor has registered in a career stretching from television to movies. It plays out a bit like a “Rocky” story for a new era.

“I think it was just random,” said the actor about his career path during an interview before the award presentation.

It began as a boy during a doctor’s appointment with his mother. “The receptionist had two sons that were in the modeling industry and she told my mom, ‘You should take your son in for one of these auditions.’ So I went in and I booked it, and that’s what started it off.”

Although he had no interest in acting as a kid, “One thing led to the next. I started off as background, extra work, then commercials and small television roles.”

Then came bigger roles in three critically celebrated dramas over the past decade – Wallace on HBO’s hit series “The Wire,” quarterback Vince Howard on “Friday Night Lights” and recovering alcoholic Alex on “Parenthood.”

“Each role was like a learning experience. I was blessed to be around some pretty talented people, directors and cast. Always being the youngest guy on the set, I was eager to learn, always hanging around with the directors and DPs (directors of photography), just learning whatever I could,” said Jordan, who is no relation to the NBA legend.

Roles on the big screen followed, including “Hardball” with Keanu Reeves and Diane Lane, and “Chronicle,” but everything changed with “Fruitvale Station” – a drama based on the true story of the accidental killing of Oscar Grant by a police officer in the Oakland, Calif., metro station named in the title.

After shooting “Chronicle,” Jordan said, “I wanted to do an independent film, something gritty, to show I could carry it. And right around then, Trayvon Martin had happened, and I was feeling very frustrated as a black man, and not being able to express myself the way I wanted to.

“I was feeling very frustrated – I just wanted to do something, you know, productive. And at the same time (writer-director) Ryan Coogler was writing the script, about his community, about Oscar Grant, from his own backyard. These two forces – wanting to tell a story about our community – just came together, and it just worked out.”

Produced by Forest Whitaker and co-starring Octavia Spencer and Melonie Diaz, “Fruitvale Station” won the Grand Jury Award at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival along with NAACP Image and Independent Spirit awards and many others for itself and its young star.

“A lot of people didn’t know about the story, didn’t know what it was,” Jordan recalled.

The script begins with the shooting, then shifts back to the beginning of the day, letting the story unfold even as everyone knows its tragic conclusion.

“In the middle of the film, a lot of people were telling me they wanted it to turn out differently. That’s the power of the film,” he said.

Ironically, Jordan and Coogler had ideas about “Creed” – a boxing story revolving around the son of Rocky’s former nemesis Apollo Creed – before they filmed “Fruitvale Station.”

“It was just an idea. We didn’t know it was going to happen. It was just a dream, but things happened, the stars aligned, it worked out.” Having Sylvester Stallone along playing his manager helped.

Asked if they were under the shadow of “Rocky,” Jordan replied, “I think everyone else put that pressure on it – it can’t be ‘Rocky,’ it can’t be this, it can’t be that. But Sly, the guy who created Rocky, tells me himself, ‘This is your own thing. I’m here to support you. Don’t try to live up to anything before, just be yourself.’

“After I hear that, I can go to work every day without having that pressure. He took that weight off of me. It really allowed me to collaborate with an incredible cast and make something our own, with our own fingerprints on it.”

The Rainmaker Award that Jordan received “honors a film artist for having the mysteriously magical ability to profoundly and positively impact the creative dynamics of every project they are involved in both on the set and on the screen.”

Jordan had a more laid-back take on it all, savoring his Maui visit.

“I haven’t done too much. I just got here yesterday, but I’m planning to stay a few more days really exploring it,” he said, noting the relaxed feel of the festival. “It seems like everyone I talk to here came for one visit and decided to sell everything and move here. It definitely has that feeling of warmth and family and just being relaxed. It’s definitely a cool place.”

Tonight’s Maui Film Festival tribute honors Viola Davis and Saturday’s is for Bryan Cranston. For more information, visit www.mauifilmfestival.com.