Man on Fire
Rising star Michael B. Jordan is primed to set Hollywood ablaze as the new Human Torch in the Fantastic Four reboot
After Marvel Comics legend Stan Lee gave Michael B. Jordan his blessing to play Johnny Storm/Human Torch in the reboot of Fantastic Four, the latter penned an open letter in Entertainment Weekly magazine.
It was to answer the firestorm that broke out after the African-American actor was given the part of the blonde, blue-eyed teenager who can burst into flames, originally conceived four decades ago in the comic books.
The character was, of course, first played by none other than a pre-Captain America Chris Evans in the original 2005 flick and its 2007 sequel, Fantastic 4: Rise Of The Silver Surfer.
Adding fuel to the fire was that unlike his co-stars, Miles Teller and Kate Mara, who auditioned for their roles, Jordan was offered the part by Chronicle director Josh Trank a few months after they finished filming the 2012 sci-fi thriller.
"To the trolls on the Internet, I want to say: Get your head out of the computer," the 28-year-old wrote. "Go outside and walk around. Look at the people walking next to you. Look at your friends' friends and who they're interacting with. And just understand this is the world we live in. It's okay to like it."
Helmed by Trank, the latest movie adaptation of Fantastic Four features the titular quartet learning to harness abilities gained from an alternate universe to save Earth from former friend-turned-enemy Dr Doom.
We are at the Four Seasons hotel in New York City to talk about the new superhero movie which opens in Singapore tomorrow, and the handsome young man is spiffily turned out in Louis Vuitton.
"I love clothes. It represents how you feel, how you walk with confidence. As of late, with my stock rising, I've been able to have so many opportunities to get gifted by certain designers or wear suits on the red carpet. I shot Vogue (magazine) not that long ago. It was pretty cool."
Johnny Storm is a dream role for Jordan, who grew up in New Jersey as a kid who loved comic books.
"I was a big fan of Fantastic Four. Even today I'm online with Japanese manga - I watch the cartoons with English subtitles. I'm a nerd in that way."
What does he have in common with his on-screen alter ego then?
"I take calculated risks. I'm an adrenaline junkie. I've been skydiving a few times. I like driving cars and I ride motorcycles. Don't tell my mum because she thinks I sold it. In that regard, I'm very much like Johnny."
But the wirework with harnesses was not his favourite thing on the set.
"Harnesses are not really made for the male anatomy, you know what I'm saying?"
Jordan also became good friends with Teller (Reed Richards/Mr Fantastic), Jamie Bell (Ben Grimm/Thing) and especially Mara, who plays his adopted sister Susan Storm/Invisible Woman in Fantastic Four.
And it wasn't just for the New York Giants tickets she scored for him (Mara belongs to the family that owns that NFL football team).
"Our scenes were very intense and emotional. She reminds me a lot of my own sister so it was easy for me to feel that dynamic."
They shared dinners together, talked about their families and she even gave him advice on women.
There wasn't a lot to do in Baton Rouge, where they were filming, so the foursome often drove together to New Orleans to hang out.
After some well-received television work (The Wire, Friday Night Lights, Parenthood) and a couple of small films including Trank's directorial debut, Chronicle, Jordan got his breakout role in 2013's Fruitvale Station. He garnered rave reviews for his performance as a black man whose death at the hands of a cop outraged the nation.
The stage was set for a thriving Hollywood career.
Next up for him is Creed, a continuation of the iconic Rocky film franchise 40 years later where he acts opposite Sylvester Stallone as the son of his boxing rival, Apollo Creed.
Having the name of a certain famous US basketball superstar has had its drawbacks but Jordan made it work for him.
"If anybody comes up with an original joke, I'll be impressed. I think I've come up against every joke possible," he said.
"Like I've tried ordering pizza and I've been hung up on a million times. It's annoying at this point. It gave me a healthy chip growing up.
"I always wanted to have my own lane, have my own reputation. I didn't always want to be compared to that guy."
From ballet dancing to doing that Thing
How did Jamie Bell go from the ballet dancing boy in Billy Elliot to Fantastic Four's Ben Grimm, the angry kid from the wrong side of the tracks who turns into the Thing, an indestructible superhero in a stone body?
The 29-year-old English actor had met with director Josh Trank a year before getting offered the part as he admired the latter's feature film debut, Chronicle.
He told M: "I had to look up who Ben Grimm was because I'm not familiar with comic books at all and I thought he was joking.
"I'm like a five-foot-tall Englishman. I think he was an American football player in the comic books. So it was very unexpected. But as he pitched me the movie, I thought what he was trying to do was very bold and unique."
The transformation into the Thing involved the use of performance-capture technology, where the actor is put into a special suit with sensors all over his face and body to capture his expressions and movements, so that the CGI character the audience sees on the screen actually has recognisable elements of the actor.
Bell didn't find it easy.
HARD MAN: Jamie Bell plays Ben Grimm aka The Thing.
"It's tricky and challenging. Beyond the technology, you also have to play a part and have a performance and create a character."
Asked if he considers himself a good actor, Bell says: "I have a very love-hate relationship with it. I love the doing of it. But it's very rare for me to walk away from a day's filming going like, 'Well, I nailed that. I've just killed that scene today'.
"I usually walk away going, 'Well, I'll get it tomorrow. I'll do it better tomorrow'.
"And I think I've always been that way ever since I was a kid... I'll figure out who I am as an actor tomorrow. And that's the thing that keeps you doing it."
Being a single dad to a two-year-old boy after his divorce from US actress Evan Rachel Wood last year is a joy and a challenge for Bell.
"I never anticipated this... I kind of feel like I'm always in a sitcom."
The couple share joint custody of their son. "We're very sharing of our child together. It's just incredibly rewarding. But you know, there's monotony to it as well. Like, trying to come up with things to do with him. Like, where am I gonna go today? We've done that park 15 million times. I've thrown the ball 20,000 times. I'm not really patient and want to do something different every day. But I'm really having a great time."
Mr Fantastic in the making
An age-old story in the entertainment business is the overnight success that was years in the making.
A rare few burst on the scene and one of them is US actor Miles Teller, 28.
From his film debut in Rabbit Hole (2010), his career has grown in leaps and bounds from the young adult Divergent franchise to last year's breakout Whiplash.
And this success has happened to a nice guy.
Let him tell you what he wants to do with his newfound wealth and you'll agree.
TWO OF FOUR: Miles Teller as Reed Richards aka Mr Fantastic, and Kate Mara as Susan Storm aka Invisible Woman.
"I have been offered an opportunity where I can make my parents' life easier," he said. "My dad is 61 and he still has a couple of years left before he retires, and I am just now at a point where I can maybe give him this money to stop working because really, what money buys is time.
"I think that's great if I can have my dad not have to go to work every day in his 60s. So that is the kind of thing I am working on. I am taking my grandparents to Ireland in a couple of months for their 50th wedding anniversary."
In Fantastic Four, Teller plays Reed Richards, a brilliant loner who gets the ability to stretch his body into extraordinary shapes after a catastrophic accident.
His character may be a misfit, but Teller was a popular guy growing up.
"I had so many different groups of friends. And me and my buddies, we tended to throw a lot of the parties, and then I was also in drama club and in national honours society.
"I was in a jazz band and I played in a rock band and I played baseball and I literally had all these different interests and that probably came from eclectic parenting. I never got pushed in one direction.''
Teller and his co-stars got close while filming, which is a good thing as a sequel has already been announced.