“Jonathan Majors is your new American hero,” The Washington Post boldly proclaims. And they might be onto something.
From playing Jesse Brown, the first Black U.S. Naval pilot, in “Devotion,” to Nat Love in the Spaghetti Western “The Harder They Fall,” to the highly anticipated role of Kang the Conqueror in the upcoming “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania,” School of Drama alumnus Jonathan Majors (B.F.A. '12) has taken Hollywood by storm over the last several years.
His new involvement in the Marvel Cinematic Universe was first introduced on Disney+ as the timeless being He Who Remains in the series “Loki.” Majors' role 'Kang' is meant to be a variant of He Who Remains and after “Quantumania” he is also slated to continue his role as the main villain in “Avengers: The Kang Dynasty” in 2025 and “Avengers: Secret Wars” in 2026.
Raised in Texas, Majors found theater to be his “safe space” in high school and quickly decided it was the path he wanted to take. “Once I set my mind to do something, I really want to do it the best way and give myself the best opportunity to succeed,” explains Majors.
When searching for a college, he wanted to attend the “best” school possible. “And (U)NCSA was the best, in my opinion,” he says, adding, “and now it’s factual.” Majors met with former Drama faculty members Robert Beseda and Bob Francesconi, explaining that “they picked me, and I picked them.”
Like many alumni before him, Majors connects much of his UNCSA training to former Dean of Drama Gerald Freedman. “All of my professors are very important to me… and during my time there, Gerald Freedman was my teacher. He was our leader. It didn’t matter what was being taught; the way it was being taught was the Gerald Freedman way—natural, free, authentic,” explains Majors. He adds that his training was multifaceted and beyond strict theater training. “Gerald said he wasn’t training us for the theater; he was training us to be actors,” he says. “An actor can play in a theater, on a film set, in a soap opera, a sitcom, stand-up poetry… anything. That’s what we were being trained for.”
Majors says that it took a bit of time. Still, once he realized how the various parts of the drama curriculum worked together, he could approach acting in a new way. “You can’t do stage combat without Alexander Technique; you can’t participate and do your best work in speech class if you’re not doing your voice work. And you can’t act without any of it,” explains Majors. “It’s what a great actor, a great technician, can do, and what a great artist makes a habit of doing,” he adds.
To this day, he takes his UNCSA teachings with him to each new job, literally. “When I started production on “The Harder They Fall,” I reordered Gerald’s book, ‘The School of Doing,’” shared Majors. “I ordered, like, nine copies when it came out and I’ve since gifted them all away. So now I have my own copy to read as I move through [new] productions.”
Editor’s note: Dean Emeritus Gerald Freedman led the School of Drama for 21 years. “The School of Doing: Lessons from Theater Master Gerald Freedman” was written and published in 2017 by Drama alumnus Isaac Klein. Freedman passed away in March 2020 at the age of 92.
In November 2021, Majors hosted “Saturday Night Live” and said in his opening monologue, “I like to say I was born in California, raised in Texas, educated in North Carolina, roughed up in New York City and then re-educated in New Haven, Connecticut," Majors said. “Which I guess is my roundabout way of saying, ‘yeah, I went to Yale.’”
After graduating from UNCSA, Majors attended the prestigious Yale School of Drama, completing his M.F.A. degree in 2016. While at Yale, he landed his first onscreen role in a miniseries portraying LGBTQ+ activist Ken Jones called “When We Rise,” which also featured fellow School of Drama graduate Mary-Louise Parker. After graduating, Majors quickly booked new projects, including his first feature film, "Hostiles."
Majors’ first breakout role happened when he was cast as aspiring playwright Montgomery Allen in A24’s “The Last Black Man in San Francisco,” which premiered at Sundance Film Festival. After Majors received Independent Spirit Award and Black Reel Award nominations for his performance, it took him some time to get used to the attention. He told IndieWire, “To me, an award just means your peers are saying, ‘He contributed to the form,’ and I want to contribute to the form as much as possible…I’ve been lucky enough to be busy, but it’s still strange at times.”
After that performance, Majors went on to portray the son of a Vietnam War veteran in Spike Lee’s “Da 5 Bloods,” which premiered on Netflix in 2020 to critical acclaim and starred in HBO’s horror drama series “Lovecraft Country” as Atticus Freeman.
Speaking on the show “Lovecraft Country,” Majors told us, “The show is an example of how to love better, how to be more connected to your family and your country and how to be a citizen of the world... And to push yourself forward to reach your highest potential, regardless of obstacles.”
When choosing new projects, Majors considers many factors. As he tells Men's Health, “When I look at a script, I look at the level of difficulty,” he says. “If it’s going to be easy, I don’t want to do it. The fitness community is going to scrutinize ‘Magazine Dreams.’ The Navy is going to scrutinize ‘Devotion.’”
Majors has three huge projects this year alone, all of which are highly anticipated. In a return to Sundance Film Festival, Majors stars as Killian Maddox in “Magazine Dreams,” where his performance as an amateur bodybuilder has received rave reviews from critics. The Wrap writes, “what Majors does in writer-director Elijah Bynum’s ‘Magazine Dreams’ as Killian Maddox, an alarmingly single-minded bodybuilder staring straight into the abyss of his own despair, is the kind of earth-shattering showcase that turns an actor into a legend.”
Later this month, Majors will appear as Kang the Conqueror in the Marvel Universe film “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.” Kang described what drew him to the role to Men’s Health “It was the character and dimensions of Kang [that drew him to the role]. And the potential that it had. I thought, ‘I'll take a chance on that.’” Lastly, Majors will round out 2023 with the release of “Creed III,” where he stars as Damian “Dame” Anderson alongside established Creed actor Michael B. Jordan – this film also marks Jordan’s directorial debut.
Looking forward, one role that Majors tell us he is setting his sights on is “Hamlet,” saying, "I think, just recently, he's been haunting me. I think he's commanding. I'm thinking, 'I wanna do that, gotta find a way to do that—on the stage.'"
Throughout all of his roles, Majors has maintained a passion and dedication for his craft. As he tells The Hollywood Reporter, “I’m not acting because I want to be on the big screen. I’m acting because it’s everything I’ve ever wanted to do since I was sleeping in the back of my car. The appetite for it is far beyond [being] in a cool movie.”
When asked if there is any bucket list item he could do right now, he also remains dedicated to his career, saying, “You know, I’m having the time of my life. I wouldn’t want to stop what I’m doing right now for anything.”
by Hannah Callaway and Melissa Upton-Julio
Get the best news, performance and alumni stories from UNCSA.
SUBSCRIBE TO OUR NEWSLETTERS
August 21, 2020