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New Kang in Marvel Cinematic Universe? Jonathan Majors fired over reckless assault, harassment

It’s hard to mint a new movie star these days, which is why people in Hollywood were so high on Jonathan Majors. Cerebral and charismatic with the muscular build of an action hero, the 34-year-old actor had risen quickly from acclaimed indies to big blockbusters. This was supposed to be the year that would turn him into an A-lister, aided by the massive releases of Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania and Creed III, as well as an Oscar contender, the prestige drama Magazine Dreams.

Instead, Majors has flamed out in spectacular fashion. Charged in March with attacking his girlfriend at the time, Grace Jabbari, Majors was convicted Monday of reckless assault and harassment; sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 6. (He was acquitted on two further counts that involved acting with intent.)

Just after the verdict was read, Marvel Studios announced it would no longer continue with the actor, who had been cast as the supervillain Kang and was set to recur as that character in a number of the studio’s properties, including the next two megabudget Avengers movies. It’s further confirmation that this Hollywood up-and-comer has now become a persona non grata. Searchlight Pictures had already removed Magazine Dreams, in which Majors played a steroid-addled bodybuilder, from its year-end release calendar, though many who saw the intense drama during its Sundance Film Festival premiere in January had predicted that it could earn Majors his first Oscar nomination.

Few actors had been set up for superstardom as securely as Majors, and it’s hard to recall an ascent and fall as swift. Shortly after graduating from the Yale school of drama, Majors landed a breakout role in the acclaimed The Last Black Man in San Francisco (2019) as a sensitive playwright struggling to make art in his increasingly gentrified city. Dubbed a mournful heartbreaker by New York Times critic Manohla Dargis in her review of the film, Majors quickly leaped to the top of casting directors’ wish lists: Here was a brand-new character actor, capable of eccentric and compelling choices, with plenty of leading man upside.

Higher-profile projects followed the next year, as Majors starred in the HBO supernatural drama Lovecraft Country, which earned him an Emmy nomination, and appeared in the ensemble of Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods. In October 2020, Marvel Studios brought the actor on board to play Kang, a multiversal threat whose many variants would torment the leads of Ant-Man and the Disney+ series Loki before battling every other superhero in a big-screen two-parter, Avengers: The Kang Dynasty (set for 2026) and Avengers: Secret Wars (2027).

With that powerful co-sign, Majors’ future seemed assured: He would spend several years starring in Hollywood’s biggest comic-book blockbusters while continuing to establish his bona fides as a dramatic actor in films like the Western The Harder They Fall (2021) and the war drama Devotion (2022). Though he had not yet become a household name, Majors now had so much momentum that his presence could get a movie made, and he became attached to high-profile projects like 48 Hours in Vegas, a Lionsgate comedy about bad-boy basketball player Dennis Rodman, and Amazon’s Da Understudy, which was set to reunite Majors with his Da 5 Bloods director, Lee.

Fellow actors were eager to welcome him to the A-list. In March, when I spoke to Michael B. Jordan, the director-star of Creed III, he said that Majors’ ascent was “only a matter of time.” Majors arrived to that interview late, toting a portable speaker playing Kanye West’s Real Friends, and predicted that Creed III would be the first of many collaborations with Jordan. “De Niro and Pacino,” he said, setting his sights high.

Those dreams are now dashed: Though Majors may still find work in independent films, as some stars with checkered pasts have managed, the major studios that were once so eager to sign him are now certain to look elsewhere.

(Published 19 December 2023, 04:39 IST)

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