Based on an epic true story, WHITE BOY RICK tells the story of Richard Wershe Jr, the FBI’s 14-year-old informant turned drug dealer from the rough streets of Detroit. After living the high life of endless money and narcotics, he is eventually abandoned by the FBI and sentenced to life in prison.
The Source sat down with Jonathan Majors who plays notorious gang leader Johnny Curry in the new film and we discussed stereotypes, growing up as a pastor’s kid and his favorite rapper of all time.
How did you prepare to play the role of a gangsta like Johnny ‘Lil Man’ Curry In WHITE BOY RICK?
So Johnny ‘Lil Man’ Curry is the head of the Curry family and head of the Curry Gang. Primarily, my preparation was getting as close to (no pun intended) the source as I could and I watched as much video on it as I could find. The film takes place in the 80’s so I studied black culture in the 80’s, and also…specifically…the war on drugs, what people were talking about in the 80’s, what people were afraid of during that time and if you were a black man and a black man on dope… and a black man essentially building an empire on the dope game, your biggest preoccupation was the Reagan administration. So I began researching all of that and what that was like during that time.
Did you have any special soundtrack you listened to while getting into character?
Awwww man! I did, it’s not appropriate because the song was made in the 90’s, but I listened to Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems on repeat—all the time. We were in Vegas, coming back from lunch and I was just sitting at the table, in my fur coat…I was just playing it. That’s all in that. As the film progresses you see an extension of the Curry family and they get to this very high point and they let Rick in and Rick kind of… in his way…ends up bringing them down. So Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems… that was the theme.
You mentioned in an interview that there were many layers to your character Johnny Curry. What were some of the attributes you admired about Johnny?
What I really like about Johnny he was so warm, such a loving man and so sensitive. And that was a cheat sheet for me. He’s sensitive. That’s why he’s the toughest. He doesn’t want to feel love or betrayal that way because it’s gonna soften him and take him off his job of providing security for his family. But he recognized something in Ricky.
Your mom was a pastor. We often hear about how strict those households are while growing up. Did that affect your acting career at all?
I think what my mother offered me in addition to love and love… love…. love… was boundaries and limitations on certain things. I got to find out why. Sometimes it was, “Because the Bible says so,” or “Because I say so”. But as I grew up, I saw that she was always asking ‘why’ and she’d go to the word or to her dad to figure it out and that sense of structure that was giving to me via going to church 3 times a week and that question ‘why’ kind of includes the creative arts. You have to have structure. Shakespeare… you have to have structure but then you have to figure out why that’s there.
How do you think this movie will affect the way we view ‘drug dealers’ ?
The cool part about that is, it’s an occupation. Being a kingpin means you’re a good drug dealer. I think it humanizes the stereotype. When you watch, hopefully people will say, “Johnny is a lot like my big brother, or my past president, 44.” He has all those attributes. He’s a leader of men. And that’s something we miss when we’re dealing with African-American drug dealers. It’s an occupation. He could be a lawyer or doctor and have the same attributes, it’s just the fact that he’s a drug dealer it’s easy to write him off.
So you said you listened to ‘Mo Money, Mo Problems’ to get in character, I have to ask. Who is your favorite rapper and why? You can only pick one.
My favorite MC of all time. I gotta go with Pac. I was born in California (laughs) I know that doesn’t matter. (laughs) I say Pac because he was unabashedly himself. He had a big mouth also I love the fact that he was an art kid out in Baltimore before he went out west. There’s something in his music, he’s angry…he’s a small guy… he’s been hurt… and he had a poetry to him and saw the world through poetry and in that way he was a prophet. That’s something I really respect about him. His rage, his vulnerability when it comes down to his music…pretty iconic to me.
WHITE BOY RICK also stars Bel Powley, Bruce Dern, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Brian Tyree Henry, and Matthew McConaughey as Rick’s father.