‘Get On Up’ Director Shares Set Stories of Chadwick Boseman’s James Brown Method Acting

"He stayed in character not because that was his method," Tate Taylor writes in a new tribute, "but because he became James Brown."
Chadwick Boseman, "Get On Up"
Chadwick Boseman, "Get On Up"
Stevens/©Universal Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection

While Chadwick Boseman’s role in “Black Panther” will forever be his most iconic, the late actor’s most acclaimed work might just be in the James Brown biographical drama “Get On Up.” Boseman was coming off his Jackie Robinson movie “42” when he landed the role of James Brown, just his second leading role in a feature film. “Get On Up” was also the second feature for director Tate Taylor, best known for helming Oscar winner “The Help.” Taylor remembers his deep collaboration with Boseman that formed the backbone of “Get On Up” in a new tribute to the late actor published by Variety.

As Taylor explains it, Boseman stayed in character as James Brown throughout the majority of filming “Get On Up.” The director writes, “He let himself go in his performance without any sense that people were watching him. It was unlike anything I’d ever seen. He stayed in character not because that was his method, but because he became James Brown.”

By staying in character as James Brown at all times, Boseman’s presence on set proved unforgettable for the “Get On Up” crew. Taylor writes of one moment where Boseman strutted up to the first assistant director on the movie and “pulled her into his arms and as Mr. Brown said, ‘Hey pretty white lady, Mr. Brown needs a sandwich’ then gave her a gentle kiss on the cheek. At one point my AD looked at him and begged Mr. Brown to never leave her.”

“In the beginning, he would ask for many takes because he had just discovered something else that he needed to try,” Taylor continues. “In all seriousness, Chadwick explained to me that when he was acting in a scene, the real James Brown would talk to him from heaven. I would oblige him, and each take wasn’t better, but it would be completely different and equally as wonderful. I told him that we’d never finish the film under our limited time and budget. In character he said, ‘Mr. Taylor, Mr. Brown needs to do it again.'”

Because Boseman was eager to try as many takes possible, Taylor implemented a system in which he gave the actor a plastic red card that Boseman could use to request one scene each day to do as many takes as needed. The film’s budget and tight schedule meant not every scene could be performed multiple times, but Taylor still wanted to give Boseman a lot of freedom.

“With curlers in his wig, he turned to me in character and very sternly said, ‘Mr. Taylor, you gonna tell the Sex Machine he needs a card to do his thing?!” Taylor remembers of first telling Boseman about the card rule. “I immediately worried that I had done wrong. Not by Chadwick but by Mr. Brown. Then he burst out laughing and Chadwick, threw his arms around me and said that it was a good idea.”

Taylor adds, “We used that card for the rest of the shoot and once a day, usually at the end, he would present it to me. It wasn’t because he thought he could do better. It was because we were having so much fun together. How I wish I could go to him now and give him the red card and say, ‘Please do it again.'”

Read Taylor’s full tribute to Boseman on the Variety website.

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