Jonathan Majors takes the reins of The Harder They Fall

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JONATHAN MAJORS as NAT LOVE in THE HARDER THEY FALL
JONATHAN MAJORS as NAT LOVE in THE HARDER THEY FALL

DAVID LEE/NETFLIX Jonathan Majors as Nat Love in Netflix's 'The Harder They Fall.'

"I've been fighting my ass off for the past two days at work," jokes Jonathan Majors, as he is currently in London shooting Marvel's Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.

The past two days? Try the past two years. Since his breakout role in 2019's The Last Black Man in San Francisco, Majors has been working constantly and consistently, turning in memorable performances in projects like Spike Lee's Da 5 Bloods and HBO's Lovecraft Country. Now the charismatic 32-year-old actor is about to become a "proper" leading man with Netflix's all-Black Western The Harder They Fall. As outlaw Nat Love, Majors toplines a stacked cast that includes Regina King, Idris Elba, LaKeith Stanfield, Zazie Beetz, and his Bloods dad, Delroy Lindo. To Majors, the project — an electrifying epic with a swaggering soundtrack — was "a love letter to those who subscribe to the ultimate freedom of one's own spirit, legacy, and destiny."

Explaining why he was dead set on having Majors play the infamous Love, writer-director Jeymes Samuel says, "He's a really measured personality, but equal parts, really powerful aura. You believe that in the Old West, a gang would rally around that guy and risk their lives to seek vengeance."

The Harder They Fall
The Harder They Fall

DAVID LEE/NETFLIX Jonathan Majors and Idris Elba face off in the new Netflix western 'The Harder They Fall.'

The musician-turned-filmmaker, ​​also known by his stage name The Bullitts, cast Majors for the role in his head before ever meeting him because he was so impressed by an interview the actor did at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival promoting his supporting role in White Boy Rick. Meeting his eventual lead for the first time over FaceTime, Samuel recalls "not only did he get it and was totally in and committed, 10 minutes after I put the phone down, he wrote a poem about the psyche of Nat Love. It was unreal."

Majors quickly saw him and Samuel as kindred spirits. "A director and a lead actor have such an interesting dynamic. It's one of the reasons it can be so contentious because they are essentially the same person," he posits. "One is inside out and the other is outside in, or they're perceived that way. The thing about me and Jeymes is that we're both highly sociable introverts who really just keep to ourselves and our imaginations, very much like Nat Love."

The actor further suggests "there's always a characteristic about the protagonist that the director, I believe, that the director subconsciously is trying to express about themselves and therefore they can spot it when they see it in another person."

The Harder They Fall
The Harder They Fall

DAVID LEE/NETFLIX © 2021 Jonathan Majors reunites with Delroy Lindo and RJ Cyler, two actors he's worked with before, in Netflix's 'The Harder They Fall.'

Feeling empowered as a creative partner helping execute Samuel's grand vision for the film, Majors even helped find the right actors to fill out the members of Nat Love's gang. "We had no idea that we were going to get the cast we were going to get," he shares. "There's two castings [where I] got real active... Of course with Netflix everyone has to sign off and s--- but [Lindo] and RJ Cyler were guys where I said, 'Whoa wait—,'" says Majors, describing his eureka moment, cutting in to offer up his respective Da 5 Bloods and White Boy Rick costars.

Unfortunately, just as the cast and crew were starting production in New Mexico, the pandemic hit. That's when Majors took the reins off screen, too. "I said, 'Jeymes, you cannot leave. I'm leading this cast and you're leading this movie,'" Majors declares. " 'If you leave we go down, bro. We go down. You are a walking metaphor right now. If you surrender there's no fight… and if there's no fight there's no movie.'"

With nothing to do but fine-tune the script in Santa Fe, Majors says everyone involved with the film reemerged "bigger, faster, stronger, and knew the leaders of this project were about this project." Adds Samuel, "This is Jonathan as the lead. Every part of him was the cowboy."

Majors elaborates, saying "When s--- gets bad and I'm accustomed to it, for whatever reason I double down. I go, okay, bring it, come. Bring the fire, bring the panic, I'll be alright and I'll be better for it." He admits "the isolation was so necessary. I can't imagine having shot the film without the time that was given in the way given — what we all got — and using that time during the pandemic."

Jeymes Samuel and Jonathan Majors
Jeymes Samuel and Jonathan Majors

Rachel Murray/Getty Images 'The Harder They Fall' director Jeymes Samuel and Jonathan Majors connect at the film's U.S. premiere.

Back in college, at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, he heard veteran actor Stephen McKinley Henderson advise that with any given role, "You don't want to get it right, you want to get it true." Noting how that quote has stuck with him through his professional career, Majors states "I have a very particular process, it's more like a world building process just because I'm so frightened of inauthenticity."

On The Harder They Fall, this rang true in his approach to stunts ("if it can be done, I do it"), and his overall commitment to embodying the infamous historical figure. "He'll stay in his clothes the whole time, so they don't look brand new when we're filming. He'll change my cutlery in my house to all authentic cutlery from the Old West," says Samuel. "When Jonathan leaves the set, he stays in, his whole world is cowboy stuff, everything he'll do. He was doing so many things and saying so many things that were off page, but in character, in the zone, like all these shows of strength and everything he was doing was popping off the page... [he] knew the importance of the statement we were making."

Now, having led an ensemble of veteran artists, Majors sees the hand of fate in the way everything worked out. "Oh, it's all right, isn't it? This was the plan. I didn't know it was going to look like this, sitting up in some place in London, but this is what it looks like and I'm happy about it. I'm very happy about where my work is."

To read more from our Fall Movie Preview, order the November issue of Entertainment Weekly or find it on newsstands now. Don't forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.

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