NEW YORK – Actor Chadwick Boseman, who received great reviews for his portrayal of Jackie Robinson in “42,” is back again with another “bio-pic,” playing music legend James Brown in “Get On Up,” opening Friday.
Recently, I sat down with Boseman at the famous Apollo Theater in New York’s Harlem to talk about the challenges of portraying such a musical icon.
Q: They could have named this movie a number of things, including “Mr. Dynamite,” that popular nickname for James Brown. But don’t you think “Get On Up,” while the title of a famous Brown song, is also the perfect way to describe his life?
A: Yes I do. We were able to fit in the chapters of his life, so there is a ‘Mr. Dynamite’ and a ‘Mr. Please, Please’ in there. There’s chapters, or sub-titles that do capture that as well, along with the ‘Get On Up.’
Q: You obviously had a lot of material for research, but if you could have met James Brown himself — what would you like to have asked him?
A: Oh wow. You know what, I probably would want to know a few things. I’d want to know about the women [Laughs]. When you’re playing a character, you have to know about those parts.
I would want to know just what his philosophy was in terms of his manipulation of his band. To try and get inside his head, when it comes to that, because that was one of the most important parts — the way he conducted everything in his life and on stage.
Q: I understand you were a little reluctant to tackle this, partly because you had just done ‘42’ and played Jackie Robinson, but also because the enormity of playing such a well-known entertainer like James Brown, right?
A: Having just played Jackie Robinson was part of it, but I also knew that James Brown was so complicated. Obviously it was capturing the real person that I knew was going to be a tremendous challenge. But then, there was so much that was projected about him in the public eye. There were the parodies and all the imitators. So I didn’t know how we would walk the line and negotiate all those things. That’s what made me initially hesitant.
Because in some ways you have to acknowledge that, but the most important thing was to find the truth of who the man was.
How’s the script going to work? How’s the director going to do it? How am I going to look, doing it? Those were all important questions.
Q: I understand you stayed in character while you were on the set, yes? That you fellow cast members addressed you as ‘Mr. Brown,’ like the real band members always did for James?
A: I think it’s dangerous to completely stay in character day and night. You don’t want to take it home when you’re done with the day’s shooting, that’s for sure. It would be weird to spend time with the people in your real life — the people you know and love — in a character. It’s just dangerous and not cool. But, you always want to stay in the mind frame — no matter what the role is, when you’re on the set. In this case, we all conspired to be part of it. The people on the set, too, they wanted to be part of this thing where James Brown was being brought back into the world. So they were complicit in it.
Q: Mick Jagger helped produce this film — what was it like working with him in that role?
A: It’s amazing. He’s just so much a down-to-earth cat. He was as giving as much as he could. He was so totally cool to have around. He’s just as cool as you’d think he’d be.