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Jonathan Majors' career hangs in limbo as assault trial begins

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Jonathan Majors seemed on the verge of superstardom when he was cast as the next major villain in the Marvel Cinematic Universe a few years ago. Here's a clip from his debut as one version of that character, called He Who Remains, in an episode of the Disney+ series "Loki" back in 2021.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LOKI")

JONATHAN MAJORS: (As Kang the Conqueror) I've been dubbed many names by many people - a ruler, a conqueror, He Who Remains, a jerk. But it's not as simple as a name.

SUMMERS: But Majors' career is now in question after charges he assaulted his girlfriend during an argument. His trial began jury selection yesterday after several delays. And here to talk about the impact on the actor's career and Hollywood itself is NPR TV critic and media analyst Eric Deggans. Hey there.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Hi.

SUMMERS: So, Eric, I understand that Majors faces four misdemeanor charges of assault and aggravated harassment. That right?

DEGGANS: Yeah, and the circumstances are murky. I mean, the woman involved in this altercation, Grace Jabbari, was also arrested for assault. But the Manhattan district attorney decided not to pursue the case. So Rolling Stone magazine published an investigation earlier this year suggesting that Majors had a pattern of physically and emotionally abusing partners that stretched back more than 10 years to his time at Yale University. His supporters may be hoping that a victory in court can maybe rescue his reputation.

SUMMERS: OK. And how has all of this impacted his career so far?

DEGGANS: Well, I think there's a sense that many things involving his career are kind of in a holding pattern right now pending the outcome of this trial. I mean, Majors has insisted he's innocent of the charges. For a time, people thought he might be comparable to Denzel Washington as a Black leading man with impressive acting skill on screen charisma, physicality thanks to his work in movies like "Creed III" and the last "Ant-Man" film. But when he was arrested back in March, Majors was dropped by his management and publicist and was removed from an ad campaign.

SUMMERS: Right. And as we were talking about, he was cast as the next big villain in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. What can you tell us about his future acting roles?

DEGGANS: Well, Majors was cited as one of the few bright spots in this mostly disappointing Marvel film, "Ant-Man And The Wasp: Quantumania." Marvel's already struggling with sagging box office and an audience that seems to be tiring of superheroes. Another version of Majors' character was also in the second season of "Loki" on Disney+, and he was scheduled to be featured in an "Avengers" movie. So far, Marvel hasn't moved to recast him, but it could be a real problem for them if they have to replace him.

SUMMERS: Right. And there's also another movie that he's had that's been delayed from being released. Is that right?

DEGGANS: Yeah. He also starred in a film that got a lot of attention during the Sundance Festival this year called "Magazine Dreams" about an aspiring dysfunctional bodybuilder. Now, I saw that movie, and his physical transformation for it was jaw-dropping. He played this character that was like a cross between Arnold Schwarzenegger and Travis Bickle from "Taxi Driver." But Disney, which owns Marvel, has removed "Magazine Dreams" from its release schedule and delayed it indefinitely.

SUMMERS: So, Eric, obviously jury selection is just beginning in this trial. So there's a lot that we're still going to learn here. But do you think it will be possible for Jonathan Majors to continue with his career as an actor after this trial ends?

DEGGANS: It's going to be a challenge. I might compare his situation to Johnny Depp, who faced a bruising defamation trial against his ex-wife Amber Heard, but a verdict there that seemed to be largely in his favor helped his public image. It's tough to know if a younger Black actor will have the same shot at rehabilitation if Majors has a successful verdict in his trial. But I think regardless of the verdict, Majors is going to have to work hard to restore his image to the point where he can play leads in these big blockbuster movies.

SUMMERS: NPR TV critic and media analyst Eric Deggans. Eric, thank you.

DEGGANS: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF BADBADNOTGOOD AND GHOSTFACE KILLAH'S "EXPERIENCE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.
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