It’s a Saturday afternoon in Beverly Hills and Jonathan Majors is on the west coast, taking a break from HBO’s Lovecraft Country. He’s here to talk about The Last Black Man in San Francisco. The story is a beautiful one about friendship and two friends trying to claim a house that belonged to Jimmie’s grandfather. In the film, Majors plays Jimmie’s best friend Mont.
Joe Talbot wrote and directed the story set in San Francisco. I caught up with Majors to talk about how this film changed his relationship with the city and how his own personal relationships inspired the crafting of Mont.
What was your relationship with San Francisco before the movie?
I shot my very first professional job in San Francisco. I was in my final year at Yale. We shot in Vancouver for a good deal, but then we shot in San Francisco for the latter part. I was living at the Fairmont there. I liked the area. I was high on doing a professional job. I liked the town, but to me, it felt like, “Are there any black people here?” There were very few African-Americans. It was so clean in some places. I’d walk and realize it wasn’t so clean everywhere. I went to the beach, and it was the worst decision I’d ever made because it was just sand and ocean. I did that, and I wasn’t a fan of the place. It made sense because the character I was playing wasn’t a fan of the place either.
Two years later, I came back playing Mont for this. I was living in the Tenderloin at the Phoenix Hotel. There were druggies everywhere; I was in the shit and I loved it.
Yes. The real heart of the city. I got to see that. You could tell it’s in transition. You walk down to Union Square and it’s a carnival. I went around and saw elements of the city and just fell in love. His whole thing was he wanted to see everything. With the DNA of the script and the character that I was beginning to craft it just became this romance between myself and the city.
Ultimately, it’s one of my top two cities, but not in that order. I’m not sure.
That’s what I love about this film. It brings in all the different characters. That is San Francisco.
You really get to see the town. There’s no opinion on it. We’re shooting everything with the same lens. Everything is being shot in the same way and you get to see the texture of the whole world. It doesn’t matter where they come from, it’s where they are now.
You’re in San Francisco.
What was the first thing he said to you about Mont?
The interesting part is that Mont didn’t exist. It was Prentiss. In the breakdown, everyone was auditioning for Prentiss and there was this description. I remember Joe said to me; he always saw Prentiss as someone who isn’t a dork. He isn’t a nerd. He’s not those things. I didn’t play those things. I saw an eclectic artist. His heart is on his sleeve and in his eyes. He thinks a lot. He’s not what others think he is.
What is it like to read a script or how refreshing is it to see this great friendship between two African- American men? You don’t always get great roles like that nowadays. Even as you’re watching, you’re waiting for some turn.
Reading it, I remember sitting in the middle of my apartment. I was reading it. As I was reading it, I was like, “I get this.” My brother is called Cameron and his best friend is Dennis. I remember thinking, this was Dennis and Cameron. These are boys who have grown up together. No matter what the world says to them, they can’t betray that friendship. It’s ancient. It wasn’t that he was going to hurt him, or there’s going to be a girl involved. There was none of that. They were fighting for their friendship. I’m tethered to that for life, that’s how that role was right between those two. I loved the role so much I flew myself to San Francisco.
I was broke. I flew out there. I was jet-lagged and the next day I was making sure I knew it. I showed up and I got in there and I was on. We were all brothers working the same way.
I see you’re carrying a notebook. I really loved that touch to him. Did you put that in?
I’m a poet and you also do that in drama school. In the script, Mont was an artist and a creative man. We knew he had a notebook. I started putting my pencil in, and that’s where it lived. I loved that the notebook was always with him.
I loved that touch. It’s everywhere.
It doesn’t go anywhere.
I loved that scene at the end of the movie where he’s just standing on the docks.
It was a moment. It really was. My house that Mont lives in is across the street. That scene, we shot twice. The final image of the film was shot twice. The first time we shot it; I don’t even want to talk about. The footage was too dark. We were praying to the sun Gods to give us light. It was unusable. We had shot the entire movie by then so it was really in my bones. I stayed in the house while they set up and I thought about Jimmy. I thought about the time we spent together. I thought about the opportunity that I’d had to play the role. You know that feeling where your best friend moves away.
We’ve all been there.
We’ve all been there. In some cases, we’ve been there pre-pubescent. It’s all something we’ve been through; seeing the U-Haul drive away. It’s hard. It’s ancient and something we can all relate to.
That friendship and chemistry is so genuine. Did you two spend much time together?
I was on a movie before this. Joey was in LA. I don’t live on the West Coast, but I was shooting. Joey wanted me to up early to San Francisco and wanted me to come up to hang out with Jimmy. He told me, “I know who you are as an artist. I know who Jimmy is as an artist.” We ended up living together in a hotel. He’d sleep on the floor. I would. sleep on the floor. We took turns. We just lived right there in the Phoenix Hotel for weeks and we were inseparable. In many ways, Jimmy is so much of my best friend.