CANNES, France - Before "Fruitvale Station," Michael B. Jordan was glimpsed sporadically in supporting roles on TV shows like "The Wire" and "Friday Night Lights," and in films like "Chronicle" and "Red Tails."
That changes emphatically with "Fruitvale Station," a Sundance hit that premiered Thursday night at the Cannes Film Festival. In the film, he plays Oscar Grant, the 22-year-old victim of the infamous 2009 police shooting on the Oakland, California, transit system.
To humanize Grant, first-time filmmaker Ryan Coogler fashioned the movie around his last day: Jordan hardly leaves the frame.
"When I first saw it, I was like, 'Man, can we cut to something else? I'm tired of looking at myself right now,'" Jordan said in an interview by the beach off the Croisette. "That's when it really sunk in that this is sink or swim. Sink or swim. Hope I'm swimming."
Not only is the 26-year-old Jordan swimming, he might as well be doing swan dives along the Riviera. He utterly commands "Fruitvale Station" with star-quality charisma and an honest naturalism.
"I wanted to show that I could carry a movie," he says. "That's the next step. I want to do films. I want to be a leading man. A lot was riding on this."
"Fruitvale Station," which was simply called "Fruitvale" before the Weinstein Co. picked up the film for release July 16, won both the Grand Jury prize and the Audience Award for a drama at Sundance. Cannes has a tradition of cherry-picking the best of Sundance. Much as "Beasts of the Southern Wild" did last year, "Fruitvale Station" is playing in this year's Un Certain Regard section.
Jordan, who says he was merely hoping the film would make it into Sundance, was excitedly enjoying himself at Cannes on Thursday. He's planning to stay at the festival a few days longer than necessary, "to drink a little more, stay up a little later."
"It's electric," says Jordan. "It's like March Madness. It's that time of year where everyone's just in it, talking about movies."
But he's also trying not to get ahead of himself.
"I don't want to be that ignorant American who comes over here and expects everyone to love it: 'Oh, you got to love it because it's hot over there,'" he says. "I want people to be excited about it because it really affects them."
"Fruitvale Station" has certainly been doing that, with raves for the film continuing at Cannes. Its power owes much to Jordan's performance, as he slowly - through a routine day of running errands, fighting to keep a job, trying to live down an earlier stint in prison, and caring for his daughter - fleshes out Grant beyond the simple posthumous photo in a newspaper.