On Michael B. Jordan’s first trip to Cannes for the Ryan Coogler-directed Fruitvale Station, the young actor walked wide-eyed down the Croisette, smiling when fans shouted, “Where’s Wallace?” a signature line about his tragic character from the HBO series The Wire. Jordan is the first to admit that, while growing up in front of the camera, he was lucky to be in the right place when cast in that seminal series, as well as Friday Night Lights. But he has shown remarkably good judgment in his transition to adulthood. He is emerging as a major star, not just because he’s got the acting chops, but for his willingness to work harder than anyone else. 

Michael B Jordon and Tessa Thompson in Creed

He would confirm it with his second film for Coogler, the Rocky sequel Creed. Jordan trained hard, sure, but then Coogler headed to Philadelphia to scout gyms and watched the footwork of the fighters there. He told Jordan they weren’t ready. The actor didn’t bat an eyelid. He put in months of extra work, so much so that he looked more ring-ready than his onscreen opponent, the former WBC cruiserweight champ Tony Bellew. 

Fresh from his turn as a powerful nemesis in Coogler’s Black Panther, as he preps a return to the ring for Creed 2, Jordan is reflective on how far he and Coogler have come, and how glad they are to travel the path together. “I was coming off Chronicle when I met him, right at the time where I started to really question myself,” he remembers. “I wanted to know, can I carry a movie or not? I’d been in ensemble cast projects that did OK, but I was never the guy. You see some of the most talented actors on the planet who can’t open a film. I needed to know.”

He saw the promise of an answer in Coogler’s Fruitvale Station script. “I was blown away. It was such a personal project that verbalized some of the frustrations that I’ve felt at a time when police shootings were becoming more frequent and people were recording them. It checked all the boxes. I met with Ryan and we just clicked immediately.” 

Now it is clear we are watching a star bloom before our eyes. Jordan will be in Cannes for the Ramin Bahrani-directed HBO film Fahrenheit 451 he stars in with Michael Shannon. While he’s shooting, with his sharp Outlier Society Productions chief Alana Mayo, he is building a slate of film and TV projects that includes his directing debut on the David Barclay Moore novel The Stars Beneath Our Feet. The company was also among the first to take the “inclusion rider” challenge leveled by Frances McDormand in her Oscar victory speech.