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‘The Last Black Man in San Francisco’ Star Jonathan Majors Reflects on His Breakout Year

Jonathan Majors is on a roll.

Not only did the 30-year-old actor recently earn a Gotham Award nomination for his performance as Montgomery Allen in “The Last Black Man in San Francisco,” he’s now filming the Jordan Peele and J.J. Abrams-produced “Lovecraft Country.”

“I’ve done the math,” Majors said. “Eight years of steady acting training nonstop [he studied at the North Carolina School of the Arts and the Yale School of Drama] … three years in the profession. And I’m still in the apprentice mode and I’m still watching everybody and learning.”

But even the most trained actor can’t have success without finding the right vehicle — and that’s exactly what happened when Majors read the script for “The Last Black Man in San Francisco,” a story that follows a young man named Jimmie (Jimmie Fails) and his sweet and eccentric best friend Montgomery as they navigate their way around their rapidly changing and gentrifying Bay Area hometown.

Determined to get the part, he flew from New York to San Francisco to audition for writer-director Joe Talbot and screenwriter-star Fails [Majors lovingly calls the trio “Jimmie, Joey and Jonnie”], but the trip got off to a bumpy start.

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“I was exhausted for one,” he recalled, adding that though he’d already done a few films, “I was so broke, I couldn’t pay for a hotel that I thought I could pay for. I’m like f— it, I’ll just walk around San Francisco at night running lines. [But] my new manager called them and somehow convinces these guys to let me stay and give me a room, puts her credit card down. And so I go in [for the audition] and there’s nothing but love.”

Speaking about a scene where Monty’s monologue mirrors the rhythm of a sermon, Majors said he related because his mother is a pastor. “I know this rhythm, this melody. I know this pain, I know this hurt. I grew up with it, you know, it’s in my blood line … and an artist [like Montgomery], I’ve been that since birth.”

Alex Gitman for Variety

After the film picked up the grand jury prize at Sundance, awards buzz started building. But Majors is keeping it all in perspective.

“I’ve had to kind of grapple with it and meditate on it. And what I’ve come to and what I’m very happy about is, what an award means, what a trophy means is that people of your community [are] saying this year, this time, you contributed to the art form at large,” he explained. “That is something that is quite moving for me. And if you think this young boy, from Dallas, Texas, is adding to the canon of theater arts, of performing arts, of cinema, well I’m humbled and I’m very excited.”

In “Lovecraft Country,” Majors stars as Atticus Black, a 25-year-old Korean War veteran who travels through 1950s Jim Crow America to find his missing father. Majors describes the series as “heartfelt, genre-bending, genre-defining” and his character as “everything from a soldier, a bibliophile, to a geek, to a nerd, to an action hero. It’s like Romeo and Macbeth and Hamlet all at once.”

“Up to this point, I’ve not taken a job or done a job, you know, to pay my rent or anything like that, or to feed my daughter,” Majors said. “I’ve just been able to do things I really, really like and I’m really, really passionate about. So even when it does feel hard, or it feels like labor, when I get done with this labor, I know I’m going to have something beautiful.”

“The Last Black Man in San Francisco” is available for streaming and on DVD and Blu-Ray.

Alex Gitman for Variety

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