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February 23, 2018

Michael B. Jordan gets his kicks playing the villain in 'Black Panther'

Star's portrayal as the hero's nemesis is drawing rave reviews

As great as the Marvel Cinematic Universe's films have been the past decade, one common complaint is that the villains are usually somewhat lacking.

That is not the case with Michael B. Jordan's Erik Killmonger, the main villain in the white-hot "Black Panther" film. Killmonger has brains, brawn and – most importantly – a ton of motivation to hate the titular hero.

"His motivations, in his eyes, are his people and caring about the survival of his people – and he's willing to do whatever it takes to assure that," Jordan told PhillyVoice in an exclusive interview. 

"As I developed this guy, I prayed hard and meditated on people like Malcolm X and Tupac Shakur."

In all his previous major film roles, Jordan has played the good guy and he said it was fun changing things up.

"It's a lot more fun playing the villain because you have less boundaries," he said. "It's definitely more fun playing the bad guy."

Jordan said it was also "unbelievable" to go mano a mano with Chadwick Boseman, who plays the titular hero.

"It was great to finally interact with each other," he said. "I feel like we helped push each other to give the best performances possible."

While this is Jordan's first time working with Boseman, it is the third major film in which he has collaborated successfully with director Ryan Coogler – after "Fruitvale Station" and "Creed" – and he feels that they will do many more together.

"We can read each other's artistic shorthand. We talk the same language, are about the same age, have many of the same interests. He would've been my best friend growing up if I knew him then," said Jordan. 

"On top of that, he's extremely talented. We just kind of click. I've been lucky enough to find my director."

Jordan said being in a film with legends like Angela Bassett and Forest Whitaker "makes me humble" and that being in a film with a predominately black cast that took place in a fictional African nation and that dealt with complex cultural issues and relationships made him "very proud to be part of it."

At the same time, I'm conscious that this film – and my character, on some level – can inspire kids to achieve their dreams."

Surprisingly, Jordan said it wasn't the Black Panther who was his favorite superhero growing up, but the Inhuman Black Bolt, who can literally shatter mountains with his voice.

"He comes to Wakanda and instead of Black Panther being on the throne, it was Black Bolt who destroyed the villain simply by saying, 'Boo!' I thought that run was pretty memorable and it just stuck with me."

Jordan says all the heroes in comics pale in comparison to his real-life hero – his dad, Michael A. Jordan.

"My dad is an amazing guy," Jordan said. 

"He's a man who works and sacrifices to take care of his family. He's a standup guy and a man of his word. There's really nothing bad you can say about pops, you know?"

Jordan said he realizes that not only does his character represent some people in the black community, but has an opportunity to be inspirational to all – especially young, black men.

"I take that responsibility very seriously," Jordan states emphatically. 

"Killmonger is a symbol of African-Americans growing up in America under systemic oppression – and he's an extreme version of that."

"At the same time, I'm conscious that this film – and my character, on some level – can inspire kids to achieve their dreams," he concluded. 

"I think, as storytellers, we have a responsibility to give positive reinforcement. If you reach the right person, it can be a great thing."