The making of the new drama “Just Mercy” was a highly personal experience for Jamie Foxx, who plays a real-life Alabama logger named Walter McMillian wrongly convicted of murder and sentenced to death in the 1980s.
“For me as a black man, I felt a responsibility of all of us saying, ‘OK, take a look at what can happen to you,’” Foxx said in a moving conversation about the film with his co-star Michael B. Jordan, who plays defense lawyer Bryan Stevenson and is also the film’s co-producer.
Stevenson, the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, fought to get McMillian off death row and exonerated.
Foxx, who grew up in Texas, felt a strong connection to the film’s story of a miscarriage of justice because his own father, a teacher in south Dallas for 25 years, was convicted and sent to jail when he was still a child.
“I’m from the South,” Foxx told Jordan. “My father was put in jail for $25 worth of illegal substance. … The very judge that he would have come visit the school and talk to the kids was the judge that presided in this case, putting him in jail for seven years. Now he’s sitting in jail with people who he used to teach.”
Foxx said he drew on that emotion to portray McMillian in his frustration, confusion and despair.
Jordan said that he felt a need to bring a broad audience to this story. There are “so many people I know that are great people that just had a s—ty deck of cards,” he said. “People need to see this story, they need to know this exists.”
He also credited Stevenson’s inspiration for him — and potentially for others as well. “Listening to him speak, it is a call to action,” Jordan said. “He puts things in such layman’s terms — you feel you can do anything. The big issue doesn’t feel so paralyzing. I can vote, I can be part of the solution.”
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