Michael B. Jordan's big shot at stardom comes Nov. 25 when Creed, the seventh chapter in the Rocky saga, hits theaters. The movie reteams Jordan with his Fruitvale Station director Ryan Coogler for a new look at the storied boxing franchise, this time from the perspective of Adonis, the son of Rocky Balboa rival Apollo Creed. Adonis (Jordan) seeks out Balboa, played by Sylvester Stallone himself, in hopes that Balboa will train him.
It's Jordan's first solo lead in a mainstream film. "It'd be foolish of me not to recognize that there's pressure from everybody. And I feel that, but I also welcome it," he says, breaking into a smile.
But under his jovial exterior, Jordan is unabashedly ambitious. The actor—who earned raves for his roles on critically acclaimed TV dramas The Wire and Friday Night Lights, as well as the indie Fruitvale Station—carefully studies the work of actors he admires: Leonardo DiCaprio, Denzel Washington, Edward Norton.
"I look at their resumes—when did they do this blockbuster, that indie? There's a loose science to it, a basic template you can tailor to yourself," he says. "I always thought about what I would say when someone finally asked me, 'What do you want to do?' Tom Cruise, he's doing it. People all over the world come out to see art he's made. That's my aspiration."
Jordan attributes his competitive nature in part to his name, which he shares with the basketball icon. "I hated my name. I wanted to change it," Jordan says. "But it gave me a healthy chip on my shoulder. One of my goals is when people hear 'Michael Jordan,' it's not clear which one's being talked about—because I can't be the guy who was almost the famous Michael Jordan."
Read TIME's full profile of Michael B. Jordan here.