Remembering Chadwick Boseman's excellent portrayal of James Brown in Get On Up

9 September 2020, 16:00 | Updated: 9 September 2020, 16:06

By Tom Eames

The world was shocked to hear of actor Chadwick Boseman's death on August 28, 2020.

Best known for playing Black Panther in the Marvel films, Chadwick Boseman was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2016. However, he kept his condition private and continued his successful acting career while receiving treatment.

After a four-year battle, Boseman died, aged just 43.

While he became a household name to many thanks to his superhero character, his breakthrough came a few years earlier.

First, he played baseball player Jackie Robinson in 2013's 42, and then a year later he took on the role of one music's biggest names: James Brown.

Chadwick Boseman in 2018
Chadwick Boseman in 2018. Picture: Getty

In Get On Up, directed by Tate Taylor, Boseman played the soul legend in a nonlinear narrative as the late singer's stream of consciousness.

For the film, Chadwick Boseman had to go through months of gruelling training and rehearsals to take on the part, as he was not a trained singer or dancer.

“The dance training was extremely intense,” Boseman said. “It was five hours a day of official rehearsal, officially five days a week, but I would rehearse on the weekends and I would rehearse in addition to those five days. I would go home at night and sweat some more. We had two months of that and we started shooting.”

Boseman also worked with a vocal coach to help him perfect every element of the voice. He said this helped him “not only with the singing aspect but also changing the shape of the vocal cords to speak as well. It was a lot of work and a lot of research as well.”

Chadwick Boseman as James Brown
Chadwick Boseman as James Brown. Picture: Universal
James Brown in 1968
James Brown in 1968. Picture: Getty

When asked if he was a fan of James Brown, Boseman said at the time: “Was James Brown my favourite singer? No. I like so much music. I couldn’t pin it down to one person anyway. I appreciate him way more than I did before.”

Both Brown and Boseman came from rural South Carolina, with Brown being born in the town of Barnwell, while Boseman was from Anderson.

Paying tribute to Boseman after his death, director Taylor told Variety that the actor stayed in character as James Brown throughout filming Get On Up.

“He let himself go in his performance without any sense that people were watching him," he said. "It was unlike anything I’d ever seen. He stayed in character not because that was his method, but because he became James Brown.”

He continued: “In the beginning, he would ask for many takes because he had just discovered something else that he needed to try. 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.'”

The movie was well received, with Boseman's performance as the Godfather of Soul singled out for praise by many critics. Later in 2014, Boseman was announced to have landed the part of Black Panther in the upcoming Civil War movie, cementing him as one of the leading stars of Hollywood for the 2010s.