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‘Devotion’ Star Jonathan Majors on How Playing the U.S. Navy’s First Black Aviator Made Him a Better Actor (Video)

TIFF 2022: “You can’t do every film, so you look for the stories and you look for the people, and you want to work with the people that are going to make you better,” Majors told TheWrap

“Devotion,” directed by JD Dillard and starring Glen Powell, Jonathan Majors, Joe Jonas and Christina Jackson, soars into theaters this November. The story, based on the book by Adam Makos, is the second aviation film starring Glen Powell out this year, but he started work on this one (which he also exec-produced) before “Top Gun: Maverick” came along. “Devotion” screened at the Toronto Film Festival, where the cast and director stopped by TheWrap and Shutterstock’s Interview and Portrait Studio for a discussion about the filmmaking process.

“This predated ‘Top Gun’ by a few years,” Powell told TheWrap’s Executive Editor, Awards, Steve Pond. “I read the book six years ago, and this was my passion project. So I think maybe three years into the process, ‘Top Gun’ came along and I had to ask the producers, ‘Hey, I love ‘Devotion.’ Is there a way to do both?’ It’s ironic that two naval aviation movies come out in the same year.”

Powell plays Tom Hudner, wingman to Jesse Brown, the first Black carrier pilot for the Navy who flew during The Korean War. Jonathan Majors stars as Brown, who grew up the son of a sharecropper in Mississippi.

“It was so clear to me that the events were — how would I say it? — implicating, particularly the story of Jesse Brown,” Majors said. “I would say [it’s] because there’s a certain focus to him. When I read it, I thought this guy is — and I’ve said this before — he’s telling me secrets, and there’s a deep connection between his ambition to move himself out of his given circumstances, being the sharecropping son from Mississippi, and to rise in the ranks not just of the military, but of society.”

“You can’t do every film, so you look for the stories and you look for the people, and you want to work with the people that are going to make you better,” he added. “And this story, without a doubt, has made me better. And it had that potential when I read it.”

Director JD Dillard, it turns out, has a personal connection to the events of the film: Forty years after Jesse Brown got his aviator wings, Dillard’s father did the same thing. “I saw a lot of overlap, obviously, with the stories that I’ve grown up around — the things that my dad has told me,” the director said. “One of the great things about this film is obviously not just being able to honor the true story of these folks, but in some odd way be able to tell my dad’s stories, too.”

Christina Jackson portrays Jesse Brown’s wife Daisy, who struggles with her husband’s dream of flying for the Navy. “It was important to me to know the woman that [Jesse] chose to spend his life with,” she said. “And when you think about extraordinary men, like Jesse is, you look at the person that he trusts the most, you look at who he gives his love to, you look at who he’s created a life with, a child with, the person that he absolutely cannot stand leaving, but the responsibility that he has to himself and to his dream is something that he had to walk the balance of.”

Joe Jonas’s roles in the film came one by one — first the acting and then the musical contribution.

“To have an opportunity to work with these amazing people. I feel very grateful and lucky,” he said. “I personally didn’t know it happened, this beautiful love story, this heartbreak, this war, that out there they call it the Forgotten War and it’s true because it happened shortly after World War II, where there’s so much devastation, and this story needs to be told and heard and I hope everybody sees it.”

The film was shot during Covid, and according to Powell, Jonas (who also plays a pilot) helped bring the cast closer together despite the physical barriers dividing them. “In terms of shooting a movie in the pandemic, it’s a hard thing to create connection here when there’s masks and separation. I will say Joe did an amazing job of creating connectivity among the cast so that the movie didn’t suffer because of it.”

As for how he feels about starring in two movies about naval pilots in the same year, Powell said, “Really, ‘Top Gun’ and ‘Devotion’ could not be more different as films and yet, they do complement each other in terms of the legacy of aviation and where we’ve come from, where we’ve gone. But ‘Devotion’ has been the closest project in my heart that I’ve ever been a part of, and it’s a project that I feel like every single person here has put every ounce of themselves into it. I’m so grateful that I got to do both. My life’s better for it.”

Studio sponsors include GreenSlate, Moët & Chandon, PEX and Vancouver Film School.