Michael B. Jordan is used to baring his soul on camera for a role, but his latest film, A Journal for Jordan, required him to bare something … extra. The Denzel Washington-directed drama features Jordan's first nude scene, and it's a moment he probably wouldn't have agreed to had the Training Day Oscar winner not been on the other side of the camera.
"As an actor, if you're going to expose yourself and be vulnerable, you have to do it in the most elevated way possible," Jordan tells Yahoo Entertainment. "And the pieces involved here included working with Denzel on this incredible true story. I was like, 'This is the one I'll go there for.'" (Watch our video interview above.)
Based on the memoir by journalist Dana Canedy, A Journal for Jordan recounts her relationship with Charles Monroe King, a 1st Sergeant in the U.S. Army who was killed in action during the Iraq War. During his tour of duty, King kept a journal for their son, Jordan, who was an infant when his father died. Years later, Canedy (who is played by Chanté Adams in the film) passed the journal along to Jordan as a way for him to understand the kind of man his father was.
The journal itself obviously omits the more intimate moments from Dana and Charles's romance, like the aforementioned nude scene. But Washington was persuaded to include that moment in the film by his cinematographer, Maryse Alberti, whose credits include Todd Haynes's Velvet Goldmine and Ryan Coogler's inaugural Creed installment, also starring Jordan. "During this intimate lovemaking scene, he was like, 'As a woman, where would you wanna put the camera?'" Jordan recalls Washington asking Alberti. "And she was like, 'On Michael B.'s butt!'" I was like, 'Alright! Let's do it.'"
Adams is also naked in that scene, and says that it was filmed on a closed set. "They want to make it as intimate as possible, but also protect the actors," she notes. "Of course, we knew it was going to be a very fun scene for [the audience] but as actors and as people coming to work that day, we have to treat it as something very serious. And we always do!" Adds Jordan: "Everybody does everything humanly possible to make sure the actors are safe and comfortable. But you've just got to go for it. If you overthink it, you won't do it."
As the son of a Marine himself, Jordan felt a close connection to Canedy and King's story. "I've always heard stories and been around the military in some way, shape or form," he notes. "So to be able to portray Charles, you just take all of those experiences and memories, and you just want to do the best job to … do his story justice. I couldn't be prouder."
Adams, meanwhile, was proud to be able to depict what military partners experience when their significant others are serving overseas. "Our soldiers who are fighting are truly protecting this country and hats off to them, but also the spouses … and the partners who are holding them up go through so, so much. I developed such a respect and such a love for them that I just was ignorant about before doing this project."
Washington's own opinion of the military has changed in the nearly four decades since his breakthrough film role in Norman Jewison's 1984 drama, A Soldier's Story. "I've had the opportunity to make at least a half-dozen films about soldiers and spend a lot of time with them and understand the sacrifices that they make for us to be free," remarks the director and actor, whose other military-themed films include 1996's Courage Under Fire.
"When you walk around the Arlington National Cemetery, there are 250,000 headstones, but they're 450,000 people [who are] wives and daughters and sons," Washington continues. "So I love and appreciate what these women and men have done, and the sacrifice that they have made for us to be free. At this point in my career, I am grateful for the opportunity to celebrate them and to lift up real love."
The emotional finale of A Journal for Jordan takes place on the Arlington National Cemetery grounds, the first movie to film there since the Sept. 11 attacks. (In real life, King was laid to rest at Evergreen Memorial Park Cemetery in Bedford Hills, Ohio.) That sequence also features real veterans — although none of them are soldiers that King served with — among the small crowd that gathers at his gravestone. "Their presence meant everything because they are what the film is about," says Canedy. "The story is specifically about my Charles, but it's about the dignity that soldiers and their families bring to public service. To have them as part of this film was a reminder of that."
— Video produced by Anne Lilburn and edited by Steve Michel
A Journal for Jordan premieres Dec. 24 in theaters