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Jonathan Majors is ready to be a critical darling

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

From the Sundance Film Festival to big screens around the country, one actor has critics and movie fans buzzing - Jonathan Majors. Last year, he got positive reviews for his lead role in the film "Devotion." This year, he's in the new "Ant-Man" movie, the new "Creed" movie, and an upcoming drama that debuted at Sundance about a bodybuilder that's already getting talked up for next year's Oscars. Majors' rise seems meteoric. Not so for the star, who recently sat down with our colleague, Weekend Edition Sunday host Ayesha Rascoe.

When I heard that you were interviewing Jonathan Majors, this is what I got for you.

(SOUNDBITE OF PAPER RUSTLING)

MARTÍNEZ: A big bag of jealous - that's what I got for you.

AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: (Laughter) Online, I - people have responded with the sad meh (ph), like, congratulations.

(LAUGHTER)

RASCOE: It's very - they're a little jealous.

MARTÍNEZ: Absolutely. All right, so give us a sense of how Jonathan Majors got here, because he is, like, the hottest name in Hollywood right now. But it hasn't always been that way for him.

RASCOE: No. Like, the path his career has taken is really incredible. He grew up in Texas, and he's very open about not growing up with a lot of money. He got into a lot of trouble as a kid. He says he got put into a theater class and that it really changed his life. And then he just said he actually just Googled what is the best acting school for adults, which is what landed him at Yale School of Drama, which is a pretty good place to end up if you're an actor. He had a breakout role in the movie "The Last Black Man In San Francisco" in 2019. And then he really started taking off when he starred in the HBO show "Lovecraft Country" in 2020. His dedication to bringing these characters to life is, like, what really stood out to me during the interview. Majors talks about, like, the physical, spiritual and emotional transformation he goes through for these roles. And, you know, look, he got muscles. Everybody know he got muscles. But, you know, it's more than just that. Here he is talking about playing in "Creed III."

JONATHAN MAJORS: There are, you know, 2 o'clock workout sessions where you're just crying on the floor 'cause your abs just feel like - they just stop working, you know? Or you're punching and, you know, I remember we were doing "Creed." There were days I just couldn't feel my arms.

RASCOE: Yeah. And he said that he never even told Michael B. Jordan, who is his co-star in "Creed" and the director of the movie, about, like, not being able to feel his arms. Like, he basically said he kept going because he felt like the character he was playing wouldn't quit, so he wouldn't quit either.

MARTÍNEZ: Well, think about the movies he's been in. So, I mean, you got an "Ant-Man" movie, which is, like, you know, a superhero movie. Then you've got a boxing movie, then a bodybuilding movie. It's hard enough to act, I would imagine. But then to physically transform yourself and keep it up and act - I mean, that's a lot.

RASCOE: It's a lot that he's carrying. But he says he doesn't feel the pressure from the outside - just from the pressure of wanting to live up to the roles.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, I keep trying to look for him on social media, but I'm not having much luck.

RASCOE: No. He is not on social media, but he was trending last week because of this amazing Ebony photoshoot he did. There was this backlash from some people who felt like the cover was emasculating because he was in a pink coat and because of the styling. You know, I asked him about, like, this pushback, and this is some of what he said.

MAJORS: I hear my brothers. We fight and claw for every inch of positive popularity we get. I don't shy away from, you know, this idea of Black masculinity ever. I'm just living my life. I ask them to, you know, be a bit more enlightened.

RASCOE: He doesn't think masculinity is defined by what you wear. For him, it's balance. He says, it's strength and vulnerability and being strong enough to be kind. His response to that seemed very similar to the way that he approaches acting with just, like, this empathy and thoughtfulness.

MARTÍNEZ: I mean, muscles and talent - it's just really - what? - Jonathan Majors, me and Steve Inskeep. And that's about it, right?

RASCOE: That's what we got. I think of you three together all the time.

MARTÍNEZ: That's Weekend Edition Sunday host Ayesha Rascoe. You can hear and watch her interview with Jonathan Majors this Sunday morning. Thanks a lot.

RASCOE: Thank you.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

(Laughter).

MARTÍNEZ: We're the pyramid of power, Steve.

INSKEEP: Muscles and talent - Thank you so much. I really appreciate that as long as you're not calling me a musclehead or something like - I mean, who knows what. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.