Jonathan Majors on Heath Ledger's Joker and creating complex villains for Creed and Ant-Man

Jonathan Majors on Heath Ledger's Joker and creating complex villains for Creed and Ant-Man

From the boxing ring to the multiverse, Jonathan Majors is here to conquer Hollywood.

After making a name for himself with critically acclaimed roles in projects like The Last Black Man in San Francisco and Lovecraft Country, the Texas native will soon play major roles in a pair of billion-dollar franchises. First he'll take over the gauntlet from Thanos as the new big bad of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, unveiling his Kang the Conqueror in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (out Feb. 17). And just weeks later, he'll join the Rockyverse in Creed III as Damian Anderson, a childhood friend of Michael B. Jordan's Adonis "Donnie" Creed with an Ivan Drago-size chip on his shoulder.

"I'm entering into something that is so massive, so mega," Majors tells EW from the Sundance Film Festival, where, in a career-best performance, he debuted another complicated antihero in Elijah Bynum's Magazine Dreams. "I'm humbled, I'm excited. I'm full of energy for it. I have an undying passion for it, and I know I'm not doing it alone."

As the (evil) new face of the MCU's next chapter, there's a lot riding on Majors' beefed-up shoulders. "There's pressure and there's all the support," he says. "From [president of Marvel Studios Kevin] Feige to [producer Stephen] Broussard to Tom Hiddleston, [who] texts me every now and then just saying, 'What's up?' That's been awesome." (Majors first appeared in the MCU as a variant of Kang in the Hiddleston-led Disney+ series Loki.)

Jonathan Majors in 'Creed III,' 'Magazine Dreams,' and 'Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania'
Jonathan Majors in 'Creed III,' 'Magazine Dreams,' and 'Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania'

courtesy everett; Glen Wilson; Jay Maidment/marvel Jonathan Majors in 'Creed III,' 'Magazine Dreams,' and 'Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania'

Plus, in contrast to boundary-pushing indies like Magazine Dreams, which has yet to find a buyer after its festival premiere, major studio franchises provide some inherent security and proof of concept. "Trust the franchise," Majors says. "If they're saying, 'You got the ball, you're the captain, go,' you got to go. I played sports — point guard, quarterback. I know what I do on the day, but then it's out of my hands."

For Majors, starring as the villain of a highly anticipated comic book adaptation is something of a full-circle moment. The actor has described watching Heath Ledger's take on the Joker in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight as a pivotal moment in his young life. "Okay, first of all, he's gorgeous," Majors says of seeing Ledger on screen for the first time. "He's got that f---ing jawline, and he didn't give a f---. He threw his body around. He was so full. And I went, 'I'm coming for that. I'm inspired.' It takes a lot, you feel me? To be inspired."

But it wasn't just Ledger's jawline that grabbed his attention. In December, Majors penned an essay celebrating the film for Variety, drawing particular attention to its complex portrayal of good and evil. "The Dark Knight etches so vividly the agnostic morality of survival and the discipline of goodness," he wrote. "Each step of our lives is moving us towards being the hero or villain of our tale."

Heath Ledger in 'The Dark Knight'
Heath Ledger in 'The Dark Knight'

Everett Collection Heath Ledger as the Joker in 'The Dark Knight'

Navigating that gray area between right and wrong is something with which Majors is intimately familiar. "The way I grew up, the people I grew up around, drug dealers, killers, murderers, everybody was just coming out of jail. Everybody had an ankle monitor on. So I knew the complexity of the guys I grew up with," he explains. "Yeah, you did do that, but you also did this. And what I saw in Heath, and in everything he did, was: It's this and that."

Not only did he see that duality in his neighbors, but he also lived through it himself. As a teenager, Majors was arrested for shoplifting and suspended from high school for fighting. He soon found himself kicked out of his home and living in his car, working two jobs to make ends meet. Not long after being inspired by Ledger's Joker, Majors found solace in theater and performing on stage. "Life is just… it's not enough," he says. "So you got to go into these worlds where you can just go, 'Here's everything,' at least for a little bit." After graduating from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, Majors went on to earn his MFA from the Yale School of Drama.

Now, whether he's playing an ex-con out for revenge in Creed III, an intergalactic space tyrant in Quantumania, or an obsessive amateur bodybuilder with a volatile temper in Magazine Dreams, Majors hopes to inspire others in the way Ledger did for him.

"I'm trying to give as many bastions of hope for those who were like me, man," he says. "We are extremely complex if we allow ourselves to be, and if you can be touched in certain places that you don't even know, you'll be better. If you can find a haven of comfort in being seen, that's helpful. If you can watch a film and be inspired to work out, great. Inspired to love somebody better, great. Inspired to be a better best friend, great. That's the business I'm in."

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