JD Dillard on the Devotion & Rise of Jonathan Majors

ComingSoon Editor-in-Chief Tyler Treese spoke with director JD Dillard about his latest film, devotion, which is now available in 4K, Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital. The director discussed his involvement in moving stories and the rising career of Jonathan Majors.

“Jonathan Majors (Creed III) and Glen Powell (Top Gun: Maverick) stars in the epic and inspiring true story of two elite US Navy pilots who helped turn the tide of the Korean War’s most brutal battle: Jesse Brown, the first Black aviator in Navy history and the his fellow fighter pilot and friend, Tom Hudner,” reads the film’s synopsis. “Their heroic sacrifices and enduring friendships will ultimately make them the most famous wingmen in the Navy.”

Tyler Treese: I know your father was a Naval flight officer, so you seem like the perfect choice to direct this movie. Growing up around aviation and the Navy, how personal is this project for you?

JD Dillard: terrible. Look, you always try to put a personal part of yourself into the thing you’re working on, you know? but devotion gave me this unique opportunity to, obviously, not only share the incredible story of Jesse and Tom, but in a unique way to also kind of make a movie about my father. Even though she and Jesse are 30 years apart, there are so many parts of their journeys that are so similar, you know? So, it just gave me a certain point of view of Jesse’s experience and the world he was in, through a lot of things that I heard from my father growing up.

Jonathan Majors makes me happy at every show I see. The scene where he reflects on himself in the mirror by saying racist language to himself – I thought it was a powerful moment in the film and it was true. How was that scene filmed? Because it really sets the emotional tone for the next film.

Yes. I mean, devotion It’s always a movie where we keep it in the moment, you know? But since Jesse is the first Black aviator in the Navy, you have to honor his journey until the film begins. I think that mirror scene is a way to do that. It’s a way to know the cost of his journey so far and how difficult it was and what he faced. Jonathan is the guy who can do it with that nuance and that sadness.

It was a tough scene to watch and it was a tough scene to watch on set. Watching someone you care about dig themselves out, about to hurt themselves again, is…yeah, I mean, it’s a sad thing to experience, but you know the dark psychology of using that as motivation, you know? But yeah, when I read that scene for the first time, it was kind of the piece that compelled me to tell this story.

One thing that’s really appealing about Jonathan is that, like you said, he brings such nuance to the show. He brings this vulnerability, and I think it’s great that he’s in this series of big projects, Creed III, Ant-Man, that exposes him to a wider audience. So when you’re working with him, what’s the most remarkable thing about watching his approach and how he’s able to bring that heart and bring these characters to life on screen?

Yes, I saw him last night at creed premiere, and I gave him a hard time, “I don’t think I’ve been to three premieres with a friend in six weeks.” Because I went to Sundance for Magazine Dreamsand I went to Ant manand then I went to creed. I said, “Okay, you’ve used up all your cards for the year.” But no, I mean, look, I think Jonathan is and will continue to be one of our greats, and I think a lot of that resides in his relentless pursuit of the truth of a character, you know ? And I think when you look at his work, what’s always clear is that the character that he inhabits is very alive and has a history and has different characteristics, and has a point of view.

And very quickly Jonathan Majors, the actor, is gone, and you’re left with Kang, you’re left with Damian, you’re left with Montgomery Allen. And it’s an amazing thing to watch, because he approaches it with such humanity, that these characters … they’re fully alive, and fully formed. And, yes, it doesn’t matter what genre or what space he is. That truth, I think, is reflected in all of his work.

What’s great about Devotion is that it’s not just a character, you’re dealing with the real legacies of Jesse Brown and Tom Hudner. There was a great book with a ton of research that the script was based on, but did you talk to the families before filming?

Yes. The families have been wonderful on this journey with us the whole time, or at least since I started my involvement with the film. They came to set Glenn [Powell] and Jonathan spent time with them. I’ve said this many times in our journey with the film, but I think it’s important for all of us on the filmmaking side to remember that, yes, these are real people. Their families are here. This is their legacy and we are just here to spread the word and introduce more people to these guys. It also constantly reminds you of the real-life stakes in all of this because the families are still here, completely affected and united by the actions of these men in 1951. love and care because these are true stories of people and continues today.

One thing I really enjoy about your career is that all your movies are so different from each other, and I think that speaks to a willingness to challenge yourself. As a creative, how important is it to do something unique and not settle for the same standards and do things like you’ve done?

Yes, man. People should be kept guessing. I don’t have a period war drama pegged as my third movie but you read something, you are moved by it, you see the truth in it and have a point of view on how to do it. I mean, look, my brain – nine times out of 10 – defaults to genre. I like science fiction and light fantasy, which I have never done fantasy. But yeah, I’ve become kind of genre-agnostic and just want to tell the stories that make sense to me. To your point, it’s really fun to come to a set and not know exactly how to do it but know how you’re going to do it.

There is definitely a lot of growth in the devotion. On the one hand, I’ve never worked on such a scope, but on the other hand, I’ve never worked on such a quiet one, and both living in the same film certainly gave me a lot of room to grow. I don’t know what’s next, but I want to change the scope of devotion with the trusted genre story of Sleight and I want to recreate a creature, finally. So we’ll bring that part to sweetheart go back inside [laughs].

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