GET ON UP
Try Me: Get on Up's Supporting Cast
Although they share just one scene, Viola
Davis, who plays Susie Brown, recognized the
showman's famed work ethic in Boseman's
portrayal. "I believe Chadwick will surprise
people, and I love it when that happens," says
Davis. "He stayed in character the whole time. It
was an absolute, courageous, beautiful, magical
performance, and a perfect transformation."
Their scene takes place backstage at the
Apollo during a night of triumph that takes on a different
tone when their characters come together. "It was a
difficult scene emotionally, but easier to do because
Viola made it so real," Boseman explains. "She was so
comfortable walking into that moment. So much nerve! I
felt like I was there, and I was him, feeling what he felt."
Oscar winner Octavia Spencer felt a kinship to her
character, the woman who took in young James when he
had nowhere else to go. "She plays Aunt Honey, and she
actually reminded me of one of my aunts. She was simply
a joy," says Boseman. "I also love her scenes with the two
kids [twins JORDAN SCOTT and JAMARION SCOTT]
who play James Brown as a boy. Those scenes are a great
base for the movie."
Get on Up visits Brown's tempestuous relationships
with other women-including those played by actresses
Tika Sumpter and Jill Scott-at various stages of his
life. However, his most enduring life relationship was
with musician Bobby Byrd, portrayed by Alabama-born
actor Nelsan Ellis, a star of the HBO series True Blood.
Commends Boseman: "I've admired Nelsan as an actor for
a long time, so it was great to be able to bounce off him."
Brown and Byrd met as teenagers in Toccoa, Georgia,
where Brown was incarcerated. Byrd persuaded his mother
to let the young prisoner live with them when he was
paroled, which launched a 20-year musical collaboration.
"Bobby Byrd was his best friend and basically discovered
him," says Ellis. "He was the person most in his life until
he was ultimately pushed away."
In fact, Taylor originally considered the performer
for the role of Brown. After Ellis' audition, both actor
and director agreed he was meant to play Bobby Byrd.
"Having watched Chad these two-and-a-half months, I
can't see anyone else playing him," Ellis says. "He is so in
the James Brown zone."
Taylor recalls the conversation: "Nelsan said, 'I'm
sorry, I'm not James Brown. I'm Bobby.' I said, 'That's
what I want, too,' and that was it. His performance speaks
for itself. Much as with Viola, you feel what Nelsan is
feeling. You see it and relate to it."
Ellis, who had a featured role in The Help, was glad
to work with Taylor again and fill the shoes of a bigger
character, even when those shoes hurt. "Tate's personality
sets a tone," says Ellis. "We worked hard, but had fun
every single day. I'd say it's the best set I've ever been on."
Boseman concurs: "Tate has a familiarity with his
people on set that makes everyone want to do their best:
grip, gaffer, PA. It's partially because he's done a lot of
the jobs. He worked himself up through the ranks, and
now he deserves to sit in that seat. And he's an actor, so
he knows what it's like to go from point A to point Z, and
can create the atmosphere for you to get there."
Fellow Southerner Spencer agrees. "Tate has a
personality that fills the room, no matter the size," she says.
"I made him give me a role in Get on Up, and feel great that
I strong-armed my way in. He's my best friend, and he's an
amazing actor. Amazing actors
make tremendous directors
because they understand our
process. Tate's also a Southern
man, like James Brown, and
understands those sensibilities.
He knows that a story like this
must include the pathos, the
humor, the grit, the glamour-
all of it."
Actor Dan Aykroyd, who
portrays manager and booking
agent Ben Bart, also knew the
performer well, and counted
him as a friend. They shared
the screen in 1980's The Blues
Brothers-one of Taylor's
favorite films-which featured Brown in a show-stopping
sequence as Reverend Cleophus James. They teamed up
again in Doctor Detroit and Blues Brothers 2000.
"I'd seen him many times before all that, starting as
a teenager, at the Esquire Show Bar in Montreal," says
the Canadian-born performer. "He had his complications
and difficulties as a human being, but he loved people. I
think the filmmakers are reflecting that love, and he'd be
happy with the way he's being portrayed. Especially with
Chad's performance, which is on the verge of spiritually
"He's got the voice right, and the look-that little
edge of paranoia," Aykroyd continues. "Although James
Brown got close to people, there was always a bit of
distance. He was almost regal. Chad catches all of that
in his performance."
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