Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods, coming to Netflix June 12, tells the story of four black veterans — Delroy Lindo, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Clarke Peters, and Norm Lewis — who return to Vietnam to recover the remains of their commander (Chadwick Boseman) plus a trunk full of gold that they found and buried during combat five decades ago. But they have a stowaway: Jonathan Majors, who plays Lindo’s son, David. Majors, whom you’ve seen before in 2019’s The Last Black Man in San Francisco, and will see again soon in HBO’s Jordan Peele–produced Lovecraft Country, spoke with us about why Lee cast him, going to bootcamp with his co-stars, and when he hopes to get back to work.
How did you wind up in this movie? What had Spike seen you in?
I don’t know what Spike had seen me in — maybe The Last Black Man in San Francisco? It was a casting agent who connected us. I biked down from Harlem to Brooklyn to meet him at his office. We went to his editing studio, and he showed me a music video he’d made for the Killers dealing with the border wall. And I’m watching it, fool that I am, and I just start crying. And then Spike tells me about the film: “Delroy Lindo’s going to play your dad. We shoot in Thailand. You got a passport?” I go, “What? That’s it?” I walked my bike 14 miles back to Harlem, just kind of like, Holy fuck, and then I called my team: “Guys, I got it.” And they were like, “What do you mean you got it?”
What happened next? Doesn’t your agent usually get a call when something like this happens?
I had a whole day of sweating, because I’d told my team I got this job, but Spike hadn’t said anything to anyone. But he’s a man of his word. I got a call about 40 hours later. He said, “Hey, you’re in. You should have dinner with a few of the guys.” So I had dinner with Delroy Lindo, Isiah Whitlock, and Norm Lewis.
Spike held a boot camp for the cast, to prepare them for war scenes but mostly to help them acclimate to the 100-plus-degree temperatures in Thailand, where most of the movie was shot. Your character, David, wasn’t born yet when the Vietnam War happened, so did you have to go?
Yeah, and that was the coolest part about the whole experience for me. David is not in the flashbacks — it would have been chronologically impossible — but I was there every day. I stood in for Chadwick before he got there, because we needed the right numbers, so Spike threw me in with the Bloods. He was getting us ready, and I could see my body, and the bodies of the gentleman I was working with, change. And so did our mentality — you’ve got to keep the gun up and you’ve got to protect the fellow next to you. It was nice for me, as an actor, to do that type of training, to see what these other characters went through, to even some small degree. That’s the reason David joins the others in Vietnam. [To understand what they went through]. It’s directly connected to David’s relationship with his dad, Paul, Delroy’s character.
I was doing the gun training, the formation training. I ripped a lot of pants. I’m 30 to 40 years younger than these other folks, but regardless of age or athletic ability, it was a bitch. We shot this movie on rough terrain. There’s one scene in the movie where I’m coming down a hill. I was mic’d up and speaking to myself, “Do not bust your ass.” That wasn’t scripted.
David and Paul have a difficult relationship in the movie. Did you and Delroy work through your backstories together?
Spike was very adamant about me and Delroy having each other’s numbers. I’m a young, anxious actor, and I called him, and he said, “Let’s do it. Let’s work.” Delroy and I share backgrounds — he went to American Conservatory Theater, and I’m a graduate of the North Carolina School of the Arts and the Yale School of Drama, and there’s a great crossover in the pedagogy. He did a lot of August Wilson, and so did I. We met, and I studied him and tried to figure him out: Okay, what are the mannerisms? What is his temperament like? We began to bond. It’s a bit complicated in the film. Our characters are not buddy-buddy. There’s conflict.
In part because Delroy’s character is a Trump voter.
Yeah. My character, David, is an African-American Studies teacher, and for him to see anybody, especially his father, wear the hat of 45, that’s a bit jarring.
Spike told me that as soon as he yelled cut, Delroy would take the hat off.
But when he had it on, he had it on. He doesn’t wear it the entire film, but when he puts it on, it symbolizes something — that he’s in a certain mind space, and his energy has shifted. But then it didn’t surprise me that Delroy, being the man he is, would want to take it off and not take that energy with him.
Where have you been quarantining?
I’m in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
You’re in Lovecraft Country, which is on HBO in August — luckily that’s already wrapped. But what about The Harder They Fall, the Western you’re making with Idris Elba?
That’s why I’m here. The idea is to try to start shooting again in August, at the latest. I think June or July could benefit us. We’re in such an isolated place here. Spike and I spoke last night, actually, and he was asking the same question, because we’re cooking up some stuff too. So yeah, we hope to go soon.
Da 5 Bloods was supposed to play in theaters alongside stuff like Wonder Woman 1984 and Fast and Furious 9 before premiering on Netflix. But almost every other major summer movie is in limbo for now, which means you’ll have viewers’ undivided attention.
If there is any silver lining to this, it’s that we get to bring the story of some actual real-life heroes to everybody’s homes.