GET ON UP
Say It Loud: Taylor and Brown's POV
Like Get on Up's other key players, Tate Taylor has
been grooving to James Brown since before he could
drive. "In the South, he's a legend, woven into our lives,"
the filmmaker says. "He was dangerous, sexy, fun. He
messed up, but who can say they haven't messed up, too?
He's always been part of Southern culture."
Considering that this marks his first project since
the success of The Help, which was nominated for four
Academy Awards including Best Motion Picture of the
Year, Taylor was naturally selective about his follow-up.
He offers: "There were a lot of jobs I could have taken,
but I needed something I loved."
There was also pressure to prove he wasn't a one-hit
wonder. "After getting some notoriety and success, I
think James Brown had a fear of it all going away," Taylor
reflects. "He didn't want to go back to how it was before,
and I can definitely relate to that."
As he began the immersion phase of his new project,
he had a realization. "You always hear what a control
freak James Brown was, but it's also true that he knew
how things should be done and insisted on them being
done right," Taylor reasons. "One day, it hit me that he's
probably watching us make this film from wherever he
is, and I started to wonder what his comments would be."
From those musings, Taylor made a leap. "The script
was unapologetic and had a lot of energy," he says. "But
I thought, if they're willing to go this far, maybe we can
take it even further. I wanted to break the fourth wall and
let him speak directly to us: tell the truth from the screen,
and let you make your own judgment."
The idea excited Taylor for several reasons. "James
Brown gets to give the audience the broad strokes of his
life, the way he saw it," he says. "And I'm free to break
the rules-go from 1968 to 1933 and back to '68 in about
10 minutes if I need to do it."
Letting Brown engage with the audience also freed
Taylor from tried-and-true biopic conventions, such as
news montages and scrolls of text. He wanted something
more dynamic and personal. Because James Brown was
in the public eye for decades, as both a showman and a
figure in the Civil Rights movement, Taylor was confident
that he could capture his voice.
"After saving the city of Boston from riots the night
after Dr. King was assassinated, and also recording
'Say It Loud-I'm Black and I'm
Proud,' he unexpectedly became
the voice of Black America," the
director explains. "He went to
Vietnam and met with soldiers; he
went to the White House and met
with presidents. He was recorded in
interviews everywhere and was asked
about everything. He even co-hosted
The Mike Douglas Show for a year."
Taylor crossed his fingers that
producers Grazer, Jagger, Pearman
and Imagine's Erica Huggins, who'd
been on the project since 2004,
would go for his idea.
They did. "Merging Tate's work with the Butterworths'
has given us a powerful, unorthodox and emotional film,"
Jagger adds: "Tate has a breadth of vision at developing
the characters, the drama and all the explanation of why
and how the moments of James' life happen. I found his
approach so refreshing. He opens the fourth wall and
takes us on a journey that is so unexpected. I imagine that
James would quite appreciate the sheer cheekiness of it."
The Get on Up team would grow to include people
who knew the man well, such as nephew DARREN
GLENN, in the music department, and grandson JASON
BROWN, a production assistant. Both men were on hand
for reality checks, and also appear in the film. "Octavia
Spencer is playing my grandmother," says Glenn. "Viola
Davis is playing my aunt. My dad's a character, too [Big
Junior], so everybody's come to me to get a little piece
of how they were. I'm happy to share because we want
to get it right."
Guitarist KEITH JENKINS, a member of James
Brown's band from 1994 until 2006, was a technical
advisor for the drama's musical performances and portrays
himself in a concert scene. "Those of us who worked
with James Brown always feel like he's still around," says
Jenkins. "His spirit is here. Being on stage with him all
those years, it was surreal to look at him, see the spotlight
create that iconic silhouette-and realize I was there, too,
standing with him. Now, working with Chad, seeing that
same silhouette...it's like being in the presence again."
Taylor adds a caveat, admitting that he doesn't
want to overlook the darker periods of James Brown's
life: "No one's trying to paint a picture of a perfect
man here, because anyone who's perfect is not going
to be very entertaining. James Brown had a crazy life,
and we want people to feel it."
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