Jonathan Majors is everywhere you look these days. He holds prominent roles in two of the top four box office draws currently in theaters. His photoshoot for Ebony magazine broke the Internet. Throngs of fans thirst over him and a chorus of insecure men decry Majors’ “emasculation” for appearing in pink, an argument not heard in his other recent shoots for GQ or Men’s Health, also on newsstands in the last few months. Majors is a revival of a believed-dead breed: the movie star.
Majors went from unknown to movie star in the blink of an eye — there were nearly no Google Searches into Majors before the spring of 2020. His leading role in the series Lovecraft Country corresponds to the first big increase in public attention. The show was an ambitious adaptation of Matt Ruff’s novel of the same name. The story blends the uniquely terrifying creations of H. P. Lovecraft and the real-life horrors of the Jim Crow south. When Korean War veteran Atticus Freeman (Majors) receives a letter from his missing father, he sets off on a cross-country road trip with his friend and love interest Leti Lewis (Jurnee Smollett) and Uncle George (Courtney B. Vance). The latter is less than thrilled by the undertaking but goes along as research for the Green Book-style travel guides he writes. Their destination is a town in rural Massachusetts none of them have heard of. Atticus’ father, Montrose (Michael K. Williams), wrote in the letter beckoning his son to a family reunion of sorts. From the very first days of their trip, the group faces the terror of violent racism; they are chased out of towns, denied service in various businesses, and threatened with physical violence. They quickly learn that the devil they know is not the only one after them, as unexplainable events and impossible monsters cross their path.
The show aired from August through October 2020, just months after the killing of George Floyd and the nationwide protests born from it. The show was perfectly timed to capture and channel the rage and fear of this period, explicitly naming the evil at the root of the show, racism. No showrunner or production company could have expected how American culture would be shaped by these events, and yet Lovecraft Country was prepared to deliver. Despite its heavily fantasy and horror framing, the show highlighted several under-discussed elements of Black history: the Green Book and other Black-focused travel guides, the murder of Emmett Till, The Tulsa Massacre, sundown laws, and the pervasive nature of anti-Blackness that defined the twentieth century.
Despite its uncanny timeliness and positive reception, the show was canceled after its first season. Perhaps the show tried to do too much, but what it did was visually stunning, well-acted, and extremely memorable (that Marshall Fields stomp sequence, for one). It had so much potential to draw from for future seasons that its cancellation was a genuine loss. The only positive to have come from the end of such an epic series is the launching of Majors onto larger screens and into our hearts.
Majors’ on-screen career began in 2017 when he was cast in When We Rise, a docuseries about the LGBTQ Rights movement. In it, he plays activist Ken Jones as a young man; His Lovecraft Country costar Williams played Jones as an adult. That same year, he appeared alongside Christian Bale and Jesse Plemons in the Western Hostiles. 2018 brought a few more small roles Majors’ way, including appearing alongside Matthew McConaughey and Brian Tyree Henry in White Boy Rick. Majors had a very small role in the IFC film Out of Blue, itself a small movie starring Patricia Clarkson and James Caan.
Majors would double his appearances on the big screen in 2019, garnering critical attention for his work for the first time in The Last Black Man in San Francisco. His portrayal of Montgomery Allen earned him Gotham and Black Reel Award nominations for Best Breakthrough Performance and a Best Supporting Actor nomination at the Independent Spirit Awards. This triumph opened the door for larger and larger roles throughout the rest of 2019. He played the primary antagonist in Max Winkler’s Jungleland, and was billed third in sci-fi thriller Captive State and coming-of-age tale Gully.
Major’s largest pre-Lovecraft role was the character of David in Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods, which he starred in alongside Chadwick Boseman. Da 5 Bloods debuted on Netflix in June 2020, weeks before Lovecraft Country, and at the height of the pandemic. The film was nominated by several award-granting bodies for its exceptional ensemble cast.
Ultimately, it was Lovecraft Country that forged Jonathan Majors into the leading man he is today. His performance as Atticus Freeman earned him seven nominations, including a Best Actor Emmy nod. It’s clear that he cut his teeth on this show and the influences of Atticus Freeman come through in many of Majors’ more recent work.
It’s been only three years since the series began and ended, but Jonathan Majors has taken no time off. His first post-Lovecraft project was his first leading role in a film, starring as Nat Love in the Jay-Z-produced The Harder They Fall. The primary protagonist of the film, Majors starred alongside such heavy hitters as Idris Elba, Zazie Beetz, Regina King, and Lakeith Stanfield. A COVID production, the film had a very limited theatrical release before moving to Netflix. The Harder They Fall earned nearly 60 award nominations and won several, including those for its cast. Like Lovecraft and many of Majors’ other projects, this film is a historical action-drama, a genre Majors has laid significant claim to. Perhaps the truest testament to Majors’ movie-star status is his ability to be part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe without the MCU completely devouring his career. His first foray into the MCU, in 2021, was in two episodes of the Disney+ series Loki. In a different corner of the MCU, he was recently on the big screen as villain Kang the Conqueror in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.
In 2022, Majors played real-life soldier Jesse Brown in Devotion, his latest role closest to that of Atticus Freeman without the supernatural elements. Like Freeman, Brown is a soldier in the Korean War dealing with the constant pressure of anti-Blackness among his comrades. One of the first Black pilots in the United States Navy, Brown deals with discrimination from all sides. It is in this role that Majors’ growth as an actor is on full display. How he carries himself as a soldier is more rigid and grown up. How he shows love for Brown’s wife Daisy (Christina Jackson) is sweet and understated, reminiscent of the way Freeman showed love for Smollett’s Leti in Lovecraft Country. In both Lovecraft and Devotion, Majors portrays strength, bravery, and vulnerability in compelling ways, but it is richer to appreciate them together as a progression of Majors’ undeniable talent. Unfortunately, Devotion was forced to share oxygen with another massive military-pilot spectacle in Top Gun: Maverick, and was underappreciated.
So far in 2023, Majors is in his athlete movie era. Magazine Dreams, a film starring Majors as Killian Maddox, an aspiring bodybuilder, debuted at Sundance in January. The film’s distribution rights were purchased by Fox Searchlight after the festival, but no wide release date has been announced. Majors ate over six thousand calories and worked out upwards of five hours every day to prepare for his role in Magazine Dreams, but that work was put to good use in the latest (ninth) installment in the Rocky franchise, Creed III, which dropped in theaters on March 3 and has been dominating the box office ever since. In his role as “Diamond Dame,” Majors is best friend turned rival for the titular Creed, played by Michael B. Jordan.
Since 2020, Majors has earned over 25 nominations for various acting awards. He has proven that he has genuine talent big enough to carry films and prestige television of any genre, from drama to romance, science fiction to Westerns. While fans of Lovecraft Country will continue to mourn its premature cancellation, we will all rejoice in the continuing powerhouse career of its leading man.
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