Before “Black Panther,” Chadwick Boseman was James Brown

Image: Universal Pictures

Chadwick Boseman, star of the highly anticipated Marvel blockbuster “Black Panther, portrayed the late, great James Brown in the 2014 biopic “Get On Up.”

The movie filmed in Mississippi but Boseman spent time in Georgia to prepare.

“He and (director) Tate Taylor came down before they started filming,” said Dr. Yamma Brown Alexander, one of Brown’s daughters. “We took them past two houses where dad lived, gave them a history of the area. We culminated at dad’s home and got a chance to go through his clothes and look through pictures.”

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James Brown’s daughter Deanna Brown Thomas helped Chadwick Boseman prepare for the role as her dad. Photo: Jennifer Brett

She and her sister Deanna Brown Thomas shared stories their dad would tell them of his childhood. He was born in rural South Carolina, but at age 6 he moved to Augusta, where he was raised by his great-aunt in a brothel. The future Godfather started perfecting his dance moves as a youngster, performing on the streets for pocket change.

“Chad did a great job,” Yamma said. “I could tell he took what we said to heart.”

 

Yamma lives in the Atlanta area while her sister still lives in the Augusta area. The tour the sisters arranged for Taylor and Boseman inspired the James Brown Family Historical Tour. (Headed to the 2018 Masters? Visit the James Brown exhibit at the Augusta Museum of History, check out Funky Friday with George Clinton and the James Brown Band or take the tour).

“Chadwick is from Anderson, S.C. so he’s a Southern guy. It was just like being with cousins,” Deanna recalled. “We stopped at my restaurant and got him some fish and shrimp. When he ate that fried fish sandwich he was in heaven!”

We interviewed Boseman and Taylor during a promotional tour stop in Atlanta.

“I just danced,” Boseman said of the physically demanding role. “I danced all the time. We shot dance numbers throughout. I was constantly moving. I had an amazing choreographer.”

“He had studied Jazzercise,” Taylor broke in with a laugh.

“I didn’t study Jazzercise!” Boseman responded.

On a serious note, he talked about how much he enjoyed meeting Brown’s family.

“They’re just regular people, which let me know he was a regular person as well,” he said. “I just appreciate his individual experience. I understand it more looking at his childhood and his background.”

Here’s a quick video clip from our interview:

Boseman’s diligent preparation was apparent on the big screen. Yamma and Deanna both praised his mastery of their dad’s dance steps and mannerisms.

“His splits were spot on,” Deanna said. “He should have gotten an Oscar just for that!”

“The scene where he is walking down the hallway and they were chanting his name and you just saw the back of him, with that red suit on,” she continued. “Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God. I walked behind my father a lot on the road. That walk – he just had it. It touches me every time I see it. Even now, just talking about it, I can feel myself getting emotional.”

This building in Augusta is where James Brown attended elementary school. Photo: Jennifer Brett

Her son and cousin worked on the set and Boseman would check in with them during production.

“He’s such a humble young man,” Deanna said. “I was like, your mamma raised you right. He wanted to be right when it came to Dad. He knew drama and Hollywood and all that, but he wanted what he did to be right by Dad’s spirit and by the family. He wanted to do it in such a respectful way.”

She and her sister got to visit with Boseman again during the Augusta premiere of “Get On Up” and can’t wait for “Black Panther.”

“I remember him talking about wanting to do something bigger, maybe playing a superhero,” Yamma recalled. “Seeing him go to new heights like this has been amazing. Dad would have been singing his praises.”

She laments that her dad didn’t live to see it.

“Seeing our faces on the big screen would have been something important. Dad grew up in an era where you didn’t see that,” she said. “He definitely would say this young man is a super star. He is headed for even more phenomenal things.”

 

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1 comments
leo315
leo315

It is a shame that the James Brown biopic, "Get On Up" did not get more praise and recognition. It was excellent, and Chadwick Boseman was channeling Brown throughout his performance. He definitely should have gotten an Oscar nod. Watch it if you get a chance!