Michael Bakari Jordan’s success lies in his unique ability to bring parts of himself into each of his characters. The result is magnetic and has produced fan favorites like Wallace from the critically acclaimed epic “The Wire” and Vince Howard from the also esteemed “Friday Night Lights.” As intrinsic as his faculties may be, Jordan does not take his career for granted. When he moved to Los Angeles, he faced the 2007 Writer’s Strike and the subsequent dearth of auditions but this never crushed his spirit or his persistence. “I’ve been blessed to continuously work and mature with my craft,” he explained in a phone interview with The Phoenix.
A New Jersey native, Jordan attended Newark Arts, a performing arts high school in his hometown. The school boasts alumni like tap dancer Savion Glover, and was also home to his mother, older sister Jamila and younger brother Khalid. “If I had the chance to go to high school again, I definitely would,” Jordan said as he laughed, recalling good times cut short by professional pursuits.
By his sophomore year, Jordan’s busy acting schedule led to home school and although he has no regrets, he often reflects on the time he missed and continues to miss with his family. “My sister and I did not get along at all when we were growing up, but we are really close now. She understands me,” Jordan said. It is a difficult and at times isolating experience for the West Coast-based actor to be separated from the people whom he credits with getting him where he is today. “It was hard for me not to be there for my brother. That’s something that always sits with me and always will. It’s time I just can’t get back. Without them, I have nothing,” he said. “But when you are in certain situations, you think of ways out …” he added as his voice trailed, a seeming observation of his humble beginnings.
His best friend and housemate Sterling is an extension of that family he holds so dear. “Sterling’s been my best friend since I was 12. If I didn’t have him out here, I’d be going crazy. He’s family. He keeps me grounded,” Jordan admitted.
The 24-year-old rising star’s determination to takeover the industry has yielded widespread respect. Last year, actress and comedian Mo’Nique called him “one of the hardest working young brothers in Hollywood” on her BET talk show. It was during this segment that we learned that although the actor does not want issues of race to dictate his life or his career, it is a harsh reality he simply cannot avoid. He missed his previously scheduled taping of the show when he was senselessly pulled out of his car by theLAPD. “It was the most humiliating and degrading situation I’ve probably been in, in my life,” he told Mo’Nique. However, when I questioned him about what could be viewed as racially problematic or bordering on stereotype in his more recent roles, he emphasized that this was not his focus.
In this season of the NBC comedy-drama “Parenthood,” created and directed by Jason Katims also of “Friday Night Lights,” Jordan plays a 19-year-old recovering alcoholic and soup kitchen manager who falls in love with the upper-middle class Haddie Braverman. “Why does it have to be a 16-year-old white girl from the suburbs and the 19-year-old black kid from the hood with no mom and no dad?” he said. “I try not to think about it that way because it taints what I am trying to do and the message I want to get across.” This is why despite the situated realities of southern poverty that affects his character Vince on “FNL,” Jordan describes him as “pretty much every kid.” He brings a certain integrity, honesty and passion to Alex and Vince regardless of the racial quandary.
The inherent racism in television is not lost on Jordan; he’s just one step ahead of it. “I know there’s not enough roles for black actors but the only way to break the cycle is to envision my own opportunities and eventually bring people with me,” he acknowledged. The industrious scene-stealer is not just waiting for auditions; he wants to write and produce his own projects. “I create my future. God has a path for me but I have to put the energy out there.”
If Jordan weren’t acting, he probably would have taken after his father, a caterer, and be working in a kitchen somewhere. “I love to cook. I eventually want to open up my own restaurant, a tapas bar,” he excitedly revealed. His ideal suitor would have to be on the same page. “I need a woman with an appetite, someone who can put some food away,” he said, laughing more richly this time.
Luckily for us, Jordan is following his dream with vigor and perseverance, prompting everyone from “GQ” to “VIBE” to take note. He will star in the upcoming George Lucas movie “Red Tails” as Maurice “Bumps” Wilson, a Tuskegee airman during World War II, fighting for his country under the pressure of segregation and Jim Crow. The film features other fresh-faced Hollywood gems such as Marcus T. Paulk (“Moesha”), Aml Ameen (“Harry’s Law”) and fellow “Wire” sensation Tristan Wilds. “We’re ushering in that new generation,” Jordan proudly asserted. “We’re trying to do something else. We got to have another name besides Will Smith, Denzel Washington, Forest Whitaker … and the list goes where. And then what,” he argued. With aspirations of opening movies and working with veteran directors Spike Lee and Steven Spielberg, Jordan merely recognizes his great potential: “I’m going to force you to know my name.”
You can check Michael out on the fifth and final season of “Friday Night Lights” (NBC) on Fridays at 8 p.m. EST. You can also watch him on “Parenthood” (NBC) and “Lie to Me” (FOX), and follow him on Twitter @michaelb4jordan.
Eva is a senior. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.