Jonathan Majors is only 31 years old. In all likelihood, he’s been on your radar for no more than four years. So why does it feel damn-near impossible to contextualize, let alone list, his strengths as an actor? Watching the “Last Man in San Francisco” breakout and “Lovecraft Country” Emmy nominee is like glimpsing an electrical current — always pulsing, never predictable, and impossible to ignore. Whether he’s reading a book on the side of the road or sprinting at full speed through gunfire, Majors gives off that surreal star quality; the kind of magnetism that makes you want to know how he does it.
In speaking with the Yale drama graduate, a few items stand out. For one, when Jonathan Majors reads a script, he doesn’t just read it; he takes notes.
“There’s script’s everywhere here. I can show you, man,” he said, chatting over Zoom from his trailer on “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania,” before thinking better of flashing a Marvel script on camera. “[The notes] may look like a football play sometimes, but it’s like the astrology of the spirits in the space. Everybody works in relation to someone else, always.”
The studious approach not only helps him track the fluctuating emotional beats of a given moment but also his physical place in the scene.
“I do really pay attention to where I am in space in regards to my cast, my family, and the furniture,” he said. “Certain things feel safer if you’re close to it.”
For instance, in “Lovecraft Country” Episode 9, Majors (who plays Atticus Freeman) and Michael Kenneth Williams (as his father, Montrose) have it out in an alleyway. It’s a dense scene, with each character divulging long-held secrets and pent-up emotions. Majors is quick to credit his co-star — “Michael is one of the most vulnerable human beings on the face of the earth. And as an artist, it’s tenfold” — before recalling his own preparation.
“It was very important to me that, in that moment, Atticus was at sea,” Majors said. “I kept trying to keep him off balance the whole time. So what ends up happening […] there’s nothing for me to touch. Nothing for me to land on. And he’s like a boy. He’s a boy again.”
Majors has a way of describing a scene that instantly calls it to mind and permanently alters its perception. He remembers writing in his script a note about “the invisible triangle of the Freeman men,” in order to remind him that this moment wasn’t just about father and son, but also Tic’s uncle, George Freeman (Courtney B. Vance) and how Majors’ character “is being pulled to each and every one of them” as he learns more about his family’s past.
Writing things down also helped Majors in jumping from movies to television. After working mostly on two-hour productions, “Lovecraft Country” was his first 10-hour, serialized experience.
“The best advice I got [on that] was from [pilot director] Yann Demange on the first day of shooting — he said, ‘Morsels, bruv. Morsels. Just give them morsels.’ And that’s what I did. I followed instructions and I also began to take in morsels. If I tried to take in all of the Leti [Jurnee Smollett], if I had tried to take in all of Uncle George all at once, it’d be impossible. You’d be playing an attitude. So you have to take it in as you can get it.”
In sharing little morsels of each other’s characters, Majors said the cast never talked about it. “We really lived it,” he said. “There’s a spiritual element to everything anyone does, and that was very forward in our work.”
Accordingly, Majors said if he notices an actor thinking too hard mid-scene or getting distracted by anything outside the moment, he’ll call them out.
“I’m a jerk about it,” he said, “because if I can smell somebody’s work, I’m like, ‘Oh bro, let’s go back out. Let’s back it up. Let’s back it up. Let’s back it up.’ But yeah, I’m [just] talking shit now.”
Notes are part of the preparation, but to live in the character like that, Majors makes times to slow down before heading to set.
“When I was in drama school or in a trailer, pacing back and forth, and something’s not working — the actor is always working. What you’re doing is always correct. It’s just sometimes it’s coming out wrong,” he said. “Usually it’s coming out wrong because of tension, because of fear, because of doubt, because you’re inhibiting yourself in some way — you’re not following an impulse.”
To help him relax and let his hard work come through naturally when the time comes, Majors meditates. He listens to music and radio shows, like “On Being with Krista Tippett.” He’ll call his eight-year-old daughter, “making sure I catch her before she goes to sleep.”
“Some days it’s just like the rooms are dark, you have your candles, and you’re just sitting there relaxing and breathing and really preparing for the thing that you got to go do,” he said, pulling a lit candle into frame. “I treat my trailer like my house, taking my shoes off, laying down to stretch. But the thing that gives me most peace is my music, matcha tea, and on ‘Lovecraft,’ I had my dogs with me, so just hanging out with them, taking them for walks.”
For fans, that level of zen was out of the question earlier this summer when HBO canceled “Lovecraft Country” after just one season. Showrunner Misha Green has teased plans for Season 2, but a new network savior is unlikely at this point, and Majors’ involvement in a follow-up was long unexpected (given how the finale ended). Still, frustration turned to jubiliation when the series earned a whopping 18 Emmy nominations, including Best Drama Series as well as Best Actor (Majors), Actress (Smollett), Supporting Actor (Williams), and Supporting Actress (Aunjanue Ellis). Until “Lovecraft Country,” Black actors from the same project had never been recognized in all four acting categories — at the Emmys or the Oscars.
“We are a family,” Majors said. “I had a text from Courtney this morning, and Jurnee and I talk damn near every day. We’re very happy, but there is a bit of a ennui, a bit of sadness, because we’re done. We did it and we did it well, I believe. And it’s over with now, so it’s really jarring.”
Majors doesn’t yet know if his shooting schedule on “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” will allow enough time to fly from England to Los Angeles for the Emmy ceremony, but he hopes anyone who has the chance to celebrate the series does so.
“It’s such a weird time for a show that’s so about an ensemble and about a family to not be able to be together, be in the same spot,” he said. “Even if you are antisocial like myself, it’s still good to be with the people you were in war with.”
While Majors may see himself as reserved off-camera, he’s absolutely alive onscreen. Up next, the western feature “The Harder They Fall” will open the BFI London Film Festival on October 6, before hitting Netflix later this fall; “Devotion,” a Korean War drama in which he plays a U.S. Navy fighter pilot, is expected later this year; and the next “Ant-Man” will continue Majors’ MCU journey (following his debut in “Loki” earlier this summer) when it debuts in February 2023.
Maybe after seeing all these projects, his attributes will be easier to summarize. But maybe not. Currents like his aren’t meant to be bottled up.