Director Destin Daniel Cretton on Just Mercy and working with Michael B. Jordan

Photo by Jake Giles Netter

Destin Daniel Cretton made the news when he was announced as the director of Shang-Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings, the upcoming film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The film is a couple of years away, but you can check out the director’s previous films to get an idea of his directing style including The Glass Castle and Short Term 12. Cretton’s latest project will be released in theaters this Christmas titled Just Mercy. It stars Michael B. Jordan as Bryan Stevenson and is based on the true story of a lawyer trying to get an inmate who’s been falsely accused out of death row. Nerd Reactor had the chance to chat with the director about the new film as well as a taste of things to come for Shang-Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings.

Nerd Reactor: How did you start on the Just Mercy project?

Destin Daniel Cretton: I just read the book “Just Mercy” and Brian’s story and his life. The work that he did was so moving and powerful that I really wanted to be a part of it. It wasn’t until I met Brian face to face that I felt like I could do this as long as he was kind of by my side throughout the process. With his blessing, that’s how we jumped into the project.

Nerd Reactor: Did you have Michael B. Jordan in mind for this film?

Yeah, Michael B. was kind of like the first person that we went to both as an actor and a producer. When he stepped on then, he was very instrumental in building the rest of the team.

Nerd Reactor: What was it like for Michael B Jordan to become Brian?

Destin Daniel Cretton: Michael B. was able to spend time with Brian in Montgomery and see where he works and ask him about the details of his work and his clients and see how he works the room when he’s in court. And he did a lot of research, one on one, just through talking with Brian.

Nerd Reactor: The film has a lot of closeup shots of the actors. What were the challenges?

Destin Daniel Cretton: Every day is a challenge on a film set. But with actors like Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Foxx, Rob Morgan, and O’Shea Jackson, a lot of the preparation happens beforehand, and it’s setting the camera up, finding your shot and watching them do their magic. It’s really kind of wonderful to see. There wasn’t a lot of just making things up because they’re all real characters. Sometimes you have to create some connective tissue between one scene and the next. But we were always going back to Brian to try to root it in something real. Sometimes we would create a scene that was not in the book but was based on an experience that Brian actually had so that it was always rooted in his life.

Nerd Reactor: There were definitely experiences that were intense.

Destin Daniel Cretton: I mean, yeah, there’s the strip search scene when Brian, as a lawyer, was going in to visit clients, and he was forced to go into a room and take off all his clothes and be strip-searched, even though that was not policy to do with lawyers. That’s something that happened to Brian that he spoke about in his book. And he felt like it’s also important to include in the movie because that is the stakes that he was up against when he was doing this work.

Nerd Reactor: The movie touches on how people jumping to conclusions can cause harm to another. Is there a message that you wanted to convey with how things are now?

Destin Daniel Cretton: I mean, we are in a very hot, judgmental time in society where judgment can happen very quickly. I think Brian says it best, and it’s that at some point in our lives, we will all need grace and mercy from others. Brian really does believe that each of us is more than the worst thing that we’ve ever done. I think if he says if you lied to me, that doesn’t make you just an innate liar. You are still you, who made a mistake. He takes it all the way up to if you kill somebody, that doesn’t just make you a killer, there is still a human. He’s dedicated to making sure that that humanity is looked at for the most vulnerable people in our society.

Nerd Reactor: What will you get to infuse in the upcoming Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings film? Is there a different tone we can expect?

Destin Daniel Cretton: Yeah, I mean, it’s gonna be a very different tone, but there’s still going to be human relationships and connections. There’s always going to be the humanity of characters that I’m trying to tap into. But yes, Shang-Chi is a very, very different type of movie for sure.

Just Mercy hits theater on December 25, 2019.

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