The filmmakers drafted a team of actors to play the 1947 Brooklyn Dodgers, led by Christopher Meloni as the famed player-turned-manager Leo Durocher, who utters his immortal words, "Nice guys finish last." When members of the Dodgers start a petition protesting the addition of Robinson to the team, Branch makes it Leo's responsibility to put them in their place. Meloni recounts, "Leo nips it in the bud by telling them they can like it or lump it, but they'd better get used to it or they can take the train. Color is a non-issue to Leo; he doesn't care if Robinson is black, white or whatever, as long as he can help the Dodgers win."
"Branch knew that team chemistry was crucial," asserts Helgeland. "A team that didn't have chemistry didn't win. For that reason, he hoped that the men would just accept Jackie Robinson based on his abilities, but his hopes were probably too high. For one thing, a lot of the players had grown up in the Jim Crow South, where segregation was a way of life, so that mindset had to be overcome, which was a massive uphill climb."
The petition drive is headed by Dodgers' right fielder Dixie Walker and pitcher Kirby Higbe, played by Ryan Merriman and Brad Beyer, respectively. Hamish Linklater portrays pitcher Ralph Branca, who is one of the first to extend his hand in welcome to Robinson. "All Ralph cares about is winning the pennant, so his only interest is if Jackie can play, not the color of his skin," says Linklater.
It takes more time for some of the other Dodgers to come around, and two of them do so in dramatic fashion. The first time is at a game against Philadelphia where the Phillies manager, Ben Chapman, hurls a merciless barrage of racial slurs and epithets at Robinson whenever he comes up to bat. The attack is so relentless, it finally breaks the silence of the Dodgers' dugout. Jesse Luken, who plays second baseman Eddie Stanky, describes, "When Eddie sees the ring of fire that Chapman is putting Jackie through, he finally says, 'That's enough.' He makes a moral decision to stand up to Chapman because he knows Jackie can't. And that signifies a change."
The second demonstration of support comes from Dodgers' shortstop Pee Wee Reese, played by Lucas Black. At a game in Cincinnati, Reese, a native of nearby Kentucky, reacts to the jeers from the crowd by going over to Robinson and, in a move that stuns everyone, puts his arm around his teammate's shoulders. In real life, that simple gesture -- especially coming from one of the day's most popular players -- was considered such a turning point that there is a statue commemorating it in Brooklyn.
Black says, "I felt honored to be playing Pee Wee Reese, who was such an awesome player and a cool guy. He's quoted as saying, 'You can hate a man for many reasons, but color is not one of them,' so that shows how he ultimately felt about Jackie being his teammate."
Also appearing as members of the Dodgers organization are: T.R. Knight as Harrold Parrott, the team's traveling secretary; Toby Huss as Clyde Sukeforth, a member of their scouting and coaching staff; Max Gail as the Dodgers' interim manager Burt Shotton; John C. McGinley as Dodgers play-by-play announcer Red Barber; and Brett Cullen as Montreal Royals manager Clay Hopper. The main cast also includes Alan Tudyk as Philadelphia Phillies manager Ben Chapman; Gino Anthony Pesi as Joe Garagiola; and James Pickens, Jr. as Mr. Brock, who declares Jackie "a hero."
Apart from the main cast, the production also needed actors to fill out the Dodgers' roster, as well as those of their opposing teams. "We wanted to have real baseball players," says Helgeland. "There's a lot of baseball going on and we wanted it to look natural."
Second unit director and stunt coordinator Allan Graf was responsible for scouting players for "42," including veterans of both the major and minor leagues and Division 1 college athletes.
Graf also oversaw the training of Chadwick Boseman, who had to learn to play in the unforgettable manner of his character. Helgeland, who had previously worked with Graf on "A Knight's Tale," notes, "Allan was a former football player and has done a lot of football films, so he brought a little bit of that mentality to the set. It was fitting because Jackie was a star running back at UCLA and ran bases more like a running back than a baseball player."
"Jackie had a very distinctive run," Graf elaborates. "He used his shoulders and arms like a locomotive chugging, so Chad worked hard to get that down. We also had him stealing and sliding into bases, diving for line drives, hitting the ground, turning and throwing the ball. He trained hard for four months and he ended up looking great."
Boseman reveals that another one of his biggest challenges was "emulating Jackie's batting stance because our body types are different, and the technique he used to hit was rather unorthodox. I practiced for hours every day. It was intense, but it was important because, as much as possible, I felt I had to do my own stunts. I couldn't separate the acting from the stunts because you need to see Jackie's face; you need to see the courage, the defiance, the fear and even the fun because, at the end of the day, he loves the game. That's an important aspect of the story."
For two months prior to filming, baseball trainers Dennis Reitz and David Iden coached Boseman exclusively. But as they got closer to shooting, he was not the only one in training. All of the men appearing as players were immersed in weeks of physical conditioning and practice at a training camp run by Graf and baseball coaches Peter J. Smith and Bradley C. Bouras. It wasn't enough for the actors to be convincing as professional baseball players; they had to adopt what Graf calls the "rock-n-sock" style of the game in the 1940s.
Helgeland explains, "I think in the '40s baseball was more of a contact sport than it is now, and we wanted to get that across. I told Allan I wanted to make it gritty and tough with a lot of impact. I didn't have to say another word. You say 'impact' to Allan and you're off and running," he laughs.
"I don't believe it could have been any more physical," Boseman attests. "I was jumping six feet in the air, sliding in the dirt, diving for balls, sprinting...and we never knew how many takes we were going to do. It was tough and there were times it took its toll on us. But on those days when I was running on fumes, what got me through was thinking about how hard it was for him. I told myself I had one, maybe two more in me because he would have had one, maybe two more in him."
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