Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : July 31st 2014 Contents A year after playing Jackie Robinson
in 42, Chadwick Boseman was back
in biopic spring training.
To become James Brown for the film
Get on Up, Boseman needed to rely on
an entirely different skill set. But the
preparation necessary to transform into
a tireless performer like Brown---"the
hardest working man in show business,"
after all---was oddly reminiscent of
working out on the baseball diamond.
"I was like, This is deja vu, " says
Boseman. "I m waking up in the morn-
ing and lacing them up. Doesn t matter
whether it s cleats or if it s leather shoes."
For the second time, Boseman has
stepped into some very big ones. A
largely unknown actor previously, the
32-year-old Boseman has emerged with
back-to-back biopics of 20th century
titans: one the revolutionary breaker of
baseball s colour line, the other the
Godfather of Soul. Both were unstop-
pable forces that blazed across civil
rights-era America. One could steal
home; the other could do the Mashed
Tackling one such historical figure is
daring; two is audacious. It wasn t Bose-
man s idea.
"There s no way in the world," Bose-
man says was his initial reaction to
playing Brown, still sounding genuinely
resistant to the idea. Not only was play-
ing such a complicated, iconic person-
ality like Brown a fearsome challenge,
it also could potentially typecast Bose-
man in a biopic bubble.
"I felt like if I keep doing this biopic
thing, then all I m going to get is
biopics," says Boseman. "I was already
getting all biopic scripts."
But director Tate Taylor (The Help)
pressed. He brought Boseman in to read
a scene in the movie of Brown at 63
and was immediately won over by the
fresh-faced Boseman s ability to trans-
form into the legend late in life.
"I thought: This is the guy. Please
let him be able to learn how to dance,"
said Taylor. But it took weeks of coaxing:
"Chad s point of view was, Nobody
should do this. It s just not even pos-
Get on Up, produced by Brian Grazer,
had gone through other iterations. At
one time, Spike Lee was to direct. Later,
Mick Jagger, who frequently crossed
paths with Brown and took much inspi-
ration from him, came aboard as a pro-
ducer. (Jagger is also producing an
upcoming documentary about
Brown, directed by Alex Gibney.)
The film, which opens in
theatres last Friday, skips
across Brown s expansive life,
from the Georgia poverty of
his hard upbringing to his
more cartoonish and violent
later years. (James died in
2006.) Get on Up, written
by the brothers Jez and John-
Henry Butterworth, attempts
to synthesise all of James
many dimensions: tyrannical
bandleader, musical visionary, funk
preacher, domestic abuser.
Brown s vocals are used dur-
ing performances in the movie,
but the part required Boseman to
play Brown across time and pom-
padours. He had to find the voice, the
moves, the posture and the persona,
and hope somewhere in there was the
"It was all daunting, to be honest
with you," sighs Boseman.
With so much research and dance
training to fit into two months before
shooting began, Boseman had to make
a quick study. "They gave me the whole
catalog of music and I just sat and lis-
tened to every song," he says. "I started
with the music because it was so vis-
Whereas most biopics travel a familiar
path, Brown s life resists a typical arc.
One memorable early scene shows
James, at his label s request, accepting
top billing over his early band, the
"There is a certain amount of cut-
throat-ness to him," says Boseman. "But
it s like what Little Richard says in the
movie: When you see the moment, you
have to seize it."
It took some time for Boseman s
moment to come. He first got into the-
atre, acting and writing plays, as an
undergrad at Howard University. Bose-
man had roles on little-seen TV shows
like ABC Family s Lincoln Heights and
NBC s Persons Unknown, but before
42 he had only acted in one film (2008 s
football drama The Express). Boseman
still attracted notice in Hollywood, often
just missing out on big parts.
"(The) 2011 was a rough year," he
says. "I was up for everything that was
happening that year, really good roles.
None of them came through for me. I
would get down to the end and then
it would go to someone else."
Now Boseman is seen as a rising star.
"The cream eventually rises to the top,"
says Taylor. The actor recently shot a
supporting role in the big-budget fantasy
adventure Gods of Egypt and has been
rumoured as a possibility to play Mar-
vel s Black Panther. One thing he
says he won t be
soon again: a
Thursday, July 31, 2014 www.guardian.co.tt Guardian
Chadwick Boseman, left, and Nelsan Ellis in a scene from Get On Up. AP PHOTO.
A double-header of biopics
for Chadwick Boseman
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