‘I’m Passing the Baton’: Inside Denzel Washington and Michael B. Jordan’s Epic Conversation

By Sameer Rao Apr 20, 2018

Michael B. Jordan admitted to The New York Times yesterday (April 19) that being compared to veteran actor Denzel Washington for his performance as Oscar Grant in "Fruitvale Station" gave him some much-welcomed self-confidence. 

"It’s like: ‘Really? You see that in me?’" he said. "I’d only done that one movie. But then I started using it as motivation. I wanted to pop up on Denzel’s radar. He’s the O.G. If I could get recognition from him, I know I’m going down the right path, you know?”

The "Black Panther" star got that recognition directly from Washington himself just a moment later.

“And here we are, Mike!" Washington responded, laughing. "Looks like it’s working out already." 







“It was a big highlight,” @michaelbjordan said, then looked down shyly into his lap. The actor was explaining what it meant to him when film critics wrote that his breakthrough performance in “Fruitvale Station,” 5 years ago, reminded them of a young Denzel Washington. Possibly complicating matters was the fact that Denzel — whose career spans more than 40 years and 50 films — was sitting next to him at the table. “When someone says you’re like your idol,” @michaelbjordan said, “It’s like: ‘Really? You see that in me?’ I’d only done that one movie. But then I started using it as motivation,” he said. “I wanted to pop up on Denzel’s radar. He’s the OG. If I could get recognition from him, I know I’m going down the right path, you know?” Finally, Denzel broke in with a booming laugh: “And here we are, Mike! Looks like it’s working out already,” he said. @andrewwhitey photographed the 2 stars at the Lambs Club in Manhattan (a Diet Coke for #DenzelWashington, a sauvignon blanc for #MichaelBJordan). They traded notes about creating characters and the socially minded work that really matters to them. Swipe left to see Denzel, and visit the link in our profile to read excerpts from their conversation, which touched on black superheroes and #MeToo.


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The two actors, united by their fame as bankable Black actors who pursue projects focused on African-American identity and history, traded reflections on Hollywood and their own passions with The Times writer Philip Galanes. Here are two notable excerpts from their conversation:

On how racism in the entertainment industry impacts their decisions and community:
rntJordan: And people like us, actors of color, we don’t get a lot of second chances. It’s a different type of scrutiny. Knowing it’s not all fair and equal, you’ve got to make smart decisions in the moment.

Washington: I remember going home one time and saying to my mother, “Hey, Ma, did you ever think that I…” And she said: “Stop right there! Do you know all the people who’ve been praying for your raggedy butt?” You don’t get there by yourself.

Jordan: That’s crazy! I was just thinking: I’m going to church in the morning—because I know the people there have always prayed for me. Their blessings have protected me from terrible situations. That’s how I think about keeping it simple: remembering where it started—that village, that tribe that kept you safe.

Washington: The way I see it, I’m in the service business now. I’m here to serve God, my family and young people of color in our business. I talked to Ava [DuVernay, whose “Wrinkle in Time” had just opened] this morning. Now, Mike knows more about what it’s like for younger folks today. There were no Black superheroes when I was growing up.

Galanes: And it was 38 years between Sidney Poitier’s Oscar for Best Actor and yours.

Washington: And then something like five [Oscars] to Black actors in the last 10 years.

On developing opportunities for artists of color on- and off-screen:

Galanes: How about opportunities for people of color?

Washington: That’s why I’m here! That’s why I’m still in the race. And I’m passing the baton. What a lot of people don’t know is: When you pass the baton, you keep running behind the other runner, you don’t just stop. I’m like, “Make the turn, bring it home!” I like helping people. I want to see them do well.

Jordan: That’s why I want to produce so much. I like creating opportunities for people.

Galanes: You were right out of the gate on inclusion riders, Mike. The first to say, "My company guarantees that casts and crews will be diverse."

Jordan: That’s super important to me. No matter what community we’re talking about. Everybody should be in a position where they can win.

Read the full conservation here.