Michael B. Jordan’s Practice of Using Character Journals

Michael B. Jordan talks with Sam Jones in this Off Camera interview about his role as East Dillon High School quarterback Vince Howard in the television series Friday Night Lights. The show was a critical success lauded for its in depth exploration of its central characters. The Emmy Award-winning head writer of the show, Jason Katims, encouraged Jordan to collaborate on his character’s backstory. Jordan explains how he used a journal as a tool to fill out Vince’s history.

He was inspired to start using such journals by his friend and actor, Nate Parker, who advised him, “Whenever you feel lost, whenever you feel like you’re not 100-percent sure of who you are at that moment, write a journal, you know, start off that day.” Jordan explains from that point on, he incorporated journals as a matter of practice for all of his characters. “Now, for every character that I do, it’s at least forty pages,” he says. He uses them to document the memories, habits, ticks, and personal preferences of his characters; doing so helps him to feel genuinely for his characters, and come from “the realest place possible.”

As far as filling out Vince’s backstory, Jordan describes how he wrote the journal, “Literally like from my earliest memory up until that day, and just kind of just go through life– you know, ‘how was my day today, how do I feel about not seeing my dad, how I feel about my mom being sick today?’ It kind of gives you a jumping-off point. So, I guess it was kind of a conscious decision, a little premeditated, kind of given these high stakes going into it, and knowing that right from the beginning, the character, any false move and he’s going to jail. It just gave me a lot of places to go moving forward.”

Ultimately, this preparatory work makes all the difference for Jordan. As he describes it, “Once you believe in what you’re writing, then that’s the magic, you got it, you know your person, you know who Vince Howard is.”

So what does he do the these journals after the project is finished? “I got them all stacked up at the house. I save the journals of these characters. You know, they’re like real-life diaries for these different people that I’ve played, and it’s weird–it is a little weird–but it works for me, “ Jordan says.

So, the library of his character journals would include roles such as Alex in NBC’s drama series Parenthood; Oscar Grant, the victim of a shooting in the biographical drama Fruitvale Station; the Human Torch/Johnny Storm in the Fantastic Four movie; and Adonis “Donnie” Creed in the Rocky sequel, Creed. Now that would certainly be an interesting read!

How about you? Are you in the practice of using character journals? If so, how effective are they in helping you connect with your characters?

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