Jaden Michael on Working With Colin Kaepernick and Ava DuVernay for ‘Colin in Black & White’

Jaden Michael
Marcus Smith/Netflix

Jaden Michael was well aware of Colin Kaepernick before he ever auditioned to play him in “Colin in Black & White.” The actor, perhaps best known for his lead role in 2020’s “Vampires vs. the Bronx,” respected Kaepernick not only as an athlete but also for his advocacy. Created by Kaepernick and Ava DuVernay, “Colin in Black & White” hits Netflix on Oct. 29 and details Kaepernick’s life as a teenager striving to become an NFL player, well before he famously began kneeling during the national anthem before San Francisco 49ers games to protest police brutality and systemic racism in the U.S.

I heard you found out you got the role of Colin on or around your 17th birthday.

My birthday is always really lucky. Last year I was celebrating “Vampires vs. the Bronx” coming out and secretly celebrating getting Colin. The year before, I was celebrating my birthday at BAFTA. I don’t know why, but it’s a really lucky day for me.

At what point in the process did you meet Colin?

It was actually part of the audition process. I was told I was going to have a Zoom meeting with him. It was supposed to be 30 minutes, and it ended up being an hour and a half because we just started talking about music, our childhoods, what it means to be Black in America. I learned so much about him and how he came to this point where he is the legend he is today. I was so nervous. I really never fan out over people, but Colin is so much more than an athlete to me. It was nerve-racking but truly amazing and humbling.

What was it like working with Ava DuVernay?

I’d seen a lot of her work even before auditioning. You could tell she’s an incredible thinker and director. She’s taught me so much about acting and the industry, but also, just by being her, she’s taught me so much about standing up for yourself and speaking up for what you think is important. She demands attention when she walks into a room, and when she says something, it gets done. I just love her so much as both an artist and a person.

How did you go about playing Colin over several years?

I did several things in order to make Young Colin appear as though he was truly growing up through the years. I played around with my weight by fasting, slimming myself down at first to appear smaller and younger. As we continued to work on the episodes, I started eating more and working out in order to become bigger, more athletic and appear older. I also worked with several trainers to become a believable professional athlete, not just in one competitive sport but three. Hair is a big theme in the show, and in Colin’s life, so I rock a few different styles throughout the series as well. 

Did you keep track of his vocal changes or physical changes?

Vocally, I worked with Liz Himelstein to help me replicate Colin’s speech and cadence — I wanted to use every mannerism I could to tell this story of growth, both physical and mental. Each time I felt Colin was faced with major adversity that he was able to conquer and learn from, I changed the way that I spoke to sound a bit more like the Colin’s present-day voice. The end of the very last episode is the closest to how he speaks today. 

One of your first film roles was in “Paterson” with Adam Driver. What was that experience like?

He’s really something. I don’t know many actors who can play Kylo Ren and make it one of the most moving performances on the silver screen. That was such a fantastic experience in every way. When I auditioned for [“Paterson”] and saw the director was Jim Jarmusch, I told the casting people that “Ghost Dog” was one of my favorite films. I was, like, 14. They were like, “Wait, you’ve seen ‘Ghost Dog’?!”

Actors don’t always have control over what they’re offered, but it seems like you have been passionate about your previous roles and looking for meaningful messages.

I want to tell stories that empower and support people and communities. I have seen some auditions for things and felt it wasn’t right for me, so I didn’t even audition. It’s hard turning something down when you’re a young actor, but ultimately, I don’t regret it. Because so far I’ve built a career that I’m pretty proud of. I like the stories and messages I tell, even if I don’t always do the greatest job. • Do you not like watching yourself on the screen? I hate it. I try because I think it’s important to see what you did wrong and learn from your mistakes. But I really don’t like it

Things you didn’t know about Jaden Michael:
Age: 18
Birthplace: New York City
Previous roles: “The Get Down,” “Paterson,” “Wonderstruck”
Currently shooting: He’s playing the lead in the adaptation of Harlan Coben’s YA novel “Shelter.”