Michael B. Jordan on the action, the women, and the underwater scenes in Without Remorse

Michael B. Jordan stars as John Kelly in Without Remorse. Pic credit: Amazon Studios

Michael B. Jordan was explosive in the boxing ring as Adonis Creed in Creed, taking on his opponents and becoming the WBC World Heavyweight Champion, but now, in Amazon Prime Video’s Without Remorse, his enemies are of the more lethal variety.

Their goal is to kill the elite Navy SEAL John Kelly (Jordan) in retaliation for his role in a top-secret op. But when the would-be assassins fail and instead kill Kelly’s wife (Lauren London) and unborn daughter, he becomes an avenging angel. From that point onwards, his only goal is getting justice – even if it could lead to a breakdown in U.S.- Russian relations.

The movie is based on a Tom Clancy novel of the same name and is set in the Jack Ryan universe.

Directed by Stefano Sollima, Without Remorse is a fast-paced, action thriller with the requisite fight scenes and explosions, but it is the underwater work that will leave you gasping for breath.

Monsters & Critics took part in a press junket for the film in which Jordan spoke about how he prepared for those underwater scenes; what it was like working with Jodie Turner-Smith, who plays a fellow SEAL but not a love interest; producing his first action film; and more.

There are multiple intense sequences of your character underwater for extended periods of time. Can you talk about the preparation that went into those scenes? And how long can you hold your breath underwater?

Michael B. Jordan: At least a song. It’s one of those things where your breath and breathing is definitely a trained thing. It’s an exercise. If you stop training and you stop exercising that muscle, you can lose it.

Underwater training was something that we spent a lot of time on. We knew we had these sequences earlier in the script development phase. Stefano looked at me and said, “Mike, you know you got to do all these?” And I’m, “Right, of course. Easy. No problem.”

So, we hooked up with some military divers and we spent some time in the tanks and they put us under stressful situations where we would have to problem solve, work through malfunctions, gear failure, work through military rebreathers, which are basically these machines that soldiers wear to suppress all the bubbles so they can breathe underwater without leaving any physical traces.

I don’t know how many pounds they weighed, but they were heavy, and then you have a floatation bag that you have to manipulate the pressure on, so you can be buoyant enough to stay underwater but not buoyant enough to float to the top. It was a lot of very detailed training that we went through.

I could hold my breath during filming for about 3 minutes. I’m a water baby. I love being in the water. Honestly, if you’re calm and sitting still, you can hold your breath for a lot longer, so they would create an environment for us to really relax and just be at peace. Without giving too much away, there’s a moment in the movie where you see me be at peace underwater, and that’s the one that everybody’s talking about.

How did you feel about doing your own stunts and what was most challenging?

Michael B. Jordan: It was fun. I’m a little action junkie, so as a kid, these are the movies that I watched and always wanted to be in one day in my imagination, so the fact that I actually had the opportunity to train and do a majority of my stunts was fun. We had an incredible stunt team.

When Stefano says he wants you to do all your own stunts, we still worked with stunt doubles and people who actually vet these sequences and make sure things are safe and teach us the proper way, so we’re able to handle ourselves in those situations.

Either Clay [Donahue, Jordan’s stunt double] or Doug [Coleman, stunt coordinator] and everybody that was there assembled this incredible stunt team that allowed us to train at high intensity, so when we showed up on the day, we were able to do the things we needed to do. We got banged up throughout the process, but it was so worth it.

When we were hanging on our last leg, Stefano’s like, “Good job. We can move on.” But it’s fun. When you get to know somebody and you’re working with these stunt guys who you build bonds and relationships with and other actors like Brett [Gelman] and Jodie and everybody that we’re working with, it gives you the free reign to actually go that much further.

To play against somebody that you don’t like, or you’re trying to kill, whatever the case may be, it actually makes it more fun when you’re really close and you like each other. We were all very fortunate in that way that we could act like we weren’t cool with one another, and I think it really pulled those performances to the surface.  

Jodie Turner-Smith, Michael B. Jordan on the set of Without Remorse
Jodie Turner-Smith, Michael B. Jordan Pic credit: Amazon Studios

Tell us about the chemistry between John and Karen Greer (Jodie Turner-Smith) and the uniqueness of it, because it’s not an onscreen romantic chemistry like you might see between a man and a woman, but a professional relationship.

Michael B. Jordan: Finding the balance – putting my producer hat on – and Stefano and Akiva [Goldsman, producer], we really worked through finding that balance between camaraderie and that brother/sister relationship that they had. To make sure that the audience understood that it was deeper…we didn’t want it to be misunderstood by the relationship, by the dynamic.

We wanted to be really clear that they loved each other, and it was, “We got your back no matter what. Through thick or thin, I’m not going to leave you behind. This might give you trouble, but I’m still going to give you this. I have to look out for your best interests because you’re not all the way thinking clearly in this moment.”

To be able to define those moments, those dynamics, and relationships, but also be respectful to John’s relationship with Pam (London). We didn’t want anyone to assume or forward think that their relationship would go down a road it wasn’t supposed to. We want to make sure we honor John’s motivation throughout this movie. That was something that we kept a close eye on as we developed those scenes. I think we found a pretty good balance between them.

How did you build the relationship between John and Pam and have it hold the emotional weight that was carried throughout the course of the film?

Michael B. Jordan: It was something that we as actors and artists being able to have the opportunity to express ourselves through our work is sometimes the only release we can get in that way. We were so lucky as a project and as a scene partner for Lauren to be so generous and help me personally get through and understand the mind state and some of those emotional beats of what a person would be going through in certain situations.

I think it added so many layers to the performance across the board and also was my driving force throughout the movie, as well. Sometimes in movies, you just get those X-factors, those special whatever it is that makes things just pop the way it is, and Lauren, for us, was one of those things.

A lot of films originally intended for theatrical release are now streaming. Can that help a film find an audience?

Michael B. Jordan: I think it’s giving access to films that people might not possibly have the opportunity to go see. Certain films, obviously, are intended to be played in a movie theater, but we are in an evolving time right now – the pandemic this last year had everything to do with the shift – and we’re victims of that as well, and we’re trying to figure out where we’re going to pivot, how we’re going to get our movie out to the masses, so everybody has an opportunity to watch it and see it.

Luckily, we were able to land at Amazon to house this film. I think it’s going to be a healthy balance between the two. There’s something about sitting at home and having instant access to movies you want to see, but there’s also something about going to the theater and having that theater experience as well. It’s going to be a nice, healthy balance in the future.

This film is the first action film from your production company, what can you tell us about producing this film through your Outlier Society banner compared to its previous feature?

Michael B. Jordan: Being involved from the absolute beginning to the end, I think it was very hands-on in a way of how to build out stunts, what the process would be, and having experienced producers like Akiva and other people who have been through the process before, that have worked on high-stakes action movies, and really following their lead on how to package: “Okay, we want to do this intense airplane crash,” and working with the visual effects supervisor to work out that sequence and how we are going to shoot it. We’re going to use the crane on this shot and we’re going to need water tanks, and this and that.

It was going through the process of building that out. It was a learning curve. I walked away from this movie with more knowledge and experience in how to put those sequences and moves together. I know when to shut up and listen and learn, so I was a sponge on this one and I think we walked away with something we can really be happy about.

Catch up with Monsters and Critics review of Without Remorse right here.

Without Remorse begins streaming on Amazon Prime Video on Friday, April 30, 2021.

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