The Arrival of Jonathan Majors, Hollywood’s New Leading Man

The activist leader holding the check was in fact played by Hawk Newsome, then president of Black Lives Matter of Greater New York, and his sheer presence stirred something deep in Majors. “That was a reminder of everything that was happening in the world back home, that was in the zeitgeist,” he says. In particular, it made him aware of his place in American society, how that was something he could never escape, even in Southeast Asia: “I’ve been removed from the machine, you see. I’m out of the United States of America. But within us, we carry that system. You are free, outwardly. But the mind is still held.”

The themes of Black subjugation and liberation run throughout the film. “I was consistently reminded of the burdens of what it is to be an American, a Black American,” he explains. He found himself thinking, at times, of cultural icons who had left the country—Ella Fitzgerald, James Baldwin—and why they stayed abroad so long. “Because it takes a while to loosen those locks on the brain.”

It’s hard to imagine Jonathan Majors letting go and living the expat life—he seems too duty bound, too dedicated to the cause of telling authentic American stories. As Delroy Lindo puts it, “He’s rooted not only as a human being but in his culture, in his own history.”

Majors, for his part, has plenty of ideas about how Hollywood can showcase that history, and at one point he begins to muse on the many Black projects he’d like to see greenlighted. It’s clear at this moment what he meant by feeling “enlisted.” Jonathan Majors, an actor with a military lineage and a knack for playing veterans, is, at his core, a soldier in the fight for a richer canon. The more we talk about this mission, the more animated he becomes, until he starts riffling through ideas like an agent pitching scripts:

Marriage Story. Noah Baumbach, with our DNA, what does that look like?”

“An all-Black adaptation of Chekhov’s The Seagull.

“What does illness look like in the Black body? Tell me a story about a cancer patient with a Black lead, because then we get back into the systematic fuckery that happens if you are a Black person with a real illness.”

“What would it look like if we had a Black person dealing with the opioid crisis? Not crack cocaine but the same thing that Bobby and Jane are doing. Can we tell that story? Where’s our Beautiful Boy?”

A fear often shared by Black artists is that Hollywood will make room for only one narrative on each subject, as opposed to the dozens told through the white gaze. Running through the marquee names, Majors explains how constraining that can be. “Horror, Brother Peele has got that on lock,” he says. “It’s Coogler. It’s Spike. It’s Denzel Washington. That idea of only one, we’ve got to bust it. We’ve got to break that head-slave mentality.”

Jonathan Majors is, of course, fast becoming one of those names. Taking a sip of coffee, he leans back and pauses to reflect. “Someone once said to me, ‘I wish for you an ordinary life and an extraordinary career,’ ” he says. “And so I try to keep it that way, hella grounded, talk to my family, spend time by myself a lot. I find that to be the best kind of balm when shit gets crazy.”

An ordinary life is proving a little elusive this summer. As for an extraordinary career, it seems to be happening. Spike Lee has said, with characteristic brevity, that Majors has all the goods. And as Jonathan Majors’s extraordinary year unfolds, he remains focused on the bigger narrative: how other Black actors might get past the old Hollywood gatekeepers. “We got the ball now,” he says. “I don’t give a fuck how you get in the door. Rob, steal, kill, hook, crook, whatever you got to do. And you’re in there, you’re in now. Go to work. Make it undeniable. It’s our job as artists to stay bold. To continue the protest, continue the year of authenticity.”

J.M. Holmes is the author of the short-story collection ‘How Are You Going to Save Yourself.’ This is his first article for GQ.

A version of this story originally appears in the October 2020 issue with the title “The Moment Belongs to Jonathan Majors.”

Photographs by Shaniqwa Jarvis
Styled by Mobolaji Dawodu
Grooming by Sincere Gilles for Director’s Cut, Inc.
Tailoring by Ksenia Golub