How Jonathan Majors Went From Sundance Hit ‘Last Black Man in San Francisco’ to a Spike Lee Joint

Yale drama school grad has seen his career rise quickly since starring in “The Last Black Man in San Francisco”

Jonathan Majors TheWrap Last Black Man in San Francisco
Jonathan Majors for The Wrap Photo by Matt Sayles @msayles

A version of this story about Jonathan Majors first appeared in the “Dark Horses We Love” section of the Actors/Directors/Screenwriters issue of TheWrap’s Oscar magazine.

“The Last Black Man in San Francisco” has earned critical acclaim since its Sundance premiere for its exploration of the emotional impact of gentrification through the personal experiences of star and co-writer Jimmie Fails. But it’s Fails’ co-star, Jonathan Majors, who adds themes built on modern masculinity through his character, Montgomery.

“Those themes are just a natural result of who we are,” Majors said. “I am black and male. Jimmie Fails is black and male. We’re both under 30, and we’re going to be in close contact with each other all the time.”

Those dynamics come into play in “Last Black Man,” which follows Majors’ Montgomery and Fails’ Jimmie as they move into the Victorian house in the rapidly gentrifying Fillmore District of San Francisco that Jimmie called home as a child. They turn it into their own private paradise despite the fact that the neighborhood has been taken over by tech transplants.

“In black culture, masculinity is such a hot topic. Who is the biggest man, whether it’s in size or bank account or record deals,” Majors said. “But it’s especially bigger in marginalized groups like these characters are in. So in this film, we are showing the full spectrum of masculinity in a specific group, and we are exploring what it means to be a young black man in America, and in an area that is pushing you and your kind out.”

Working with a first-time feature director in Joe Talbot to create a story as personal as “Last Black Man” was valuable for Majors, and one that fiercely contrasted with his experience with his next director: Spike Lee. Majors starred in the ‘BlacKkKlansman’ director’s upcoming joint, “Da 5 Bloods,” which was filmed on location in Vietnam.

“With ‘Last Black Man,’ Joe was coming at it with perspiration, genius and drive,” Majors said. “And then with Spike there was wisdom, hustle and a different type of craft. As an actor for Joe, it’s great to just spar. It’s like making a Jackson Pollock painting: Get it filmed and work it out later. And then with Spike, there’s so much control and he knows what the moment needs. It’s so great to be able to work with two very different types of filmmakers and try different things.”

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