Actors who portray professional baseball players are not themselves professional baseball players. So hitting home runs—or just making contact with the ball—isn’t automatic.
“There [were] some times when I struck out. Struck out over and over again,” says Chadwick Boseman, who stars as legendary Brooklyn Dodger Jackie Robinson in “42.” “At a certain point you wonder, ‘Oh, I hope I really can do this.’ ”
He absolutely did it. The relatively unknown actor (seen previously on TV shows such as “Lincoln Heights” and “Persons Unknown”) is fantastic as the baseball great, who in the late 1940s strives to break baseball’s color barrier with support from his wife (Nicole Beharie) and Dodgers president Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford).
At Wrigley Field—a place where Boseman notes Robinson was booed—the 36-year-old South Carolina native talked about how “42” could have gone wrong, similarities between Jackie Robinson and President Obama, and the kid-friendly sports movie he does and doesn’t prefer.
Why do you think you got the role in “42”?
I don’t know. I really don’t know. I know that [writer-director] Brian Helgeland and I, I think we realized that we would be making the same movie. I think when you’re a director, it’s kind of like being a coach. You need those players on the team that are coaches on the floor, and I think he felt secure in the fact that I had the passion for it. That I believed in it.
During filming, did he direct you by twirling his arm and shouting, “Go home!” like a third-base coach?
No, no. [Laughs.] That’s a funny joke, though. We actually didn’t have to talk that much. We would just kind of look at each other sometimes. People have talked about that before, how we had an uncanny connection in moments. He would be like, “I think I want you to ...” I would be like, “I gotcha, I gotcha.” He’d be like, “Yeah, that’s what I meant right there.”
There’s so much obvious inspiration in the story. What’s a way this could have been done wrong?
To play it like you already knew what was going to happen. And to do it passively. And to also do it like a victim. He’s not a victim; he’s a hero. For it to be a more paternal relationship between Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson. They were two men who saw eye-to-eye on something, who made an agreement to achieve a goal and to perform a different task to achieve that goal. I feel like those pitfalls have been made in movies like this, and I don’t think we did. I don’t think we did any of that stuff.
I appreciated that both in the way the character is drawn and in your performance, the emphasis is on Jackie. I was thinking about “The Blind Side,” which is much more about Sandra Bullock’s character and, also, by the way, Michael Oher had some good stuff happen to him too.
Right, right. The true story is his story. Again, that was one of the things, Brian Helgeland and I—nothing against “The Blind Side,” it’s a great movie—we knew that wasn’t this movie. The iconic character is Jackie Robinson, and we had to follow that.
I think a lot of younger viewers are living in a “Jersey Shore” world where if someone yells something at you, people are much more likely to emulate that, starting a fight--this notion that’s the opposite of what Jackie had to do. How many people out there have the attitude that Jackie had to have—that it takes more strength not to fight back? Or is it that if people say something to them, they’re more inclined to react?
I think he is a special individual. [Laughs.] What you just described, that’s not anything to fight for anyway, but we still fight for it. To be put in his situation where the essence of who you are is being questioned and undermined and belittled and your family is being belittled and your wife, your manhood is being challenged, in most cases people would think that is something to fight for.
What do you mean that what I described is not something to fight for?
Meaning reality TV sometimes stages fights. And you look at it like, “Why are they fighting over that?”
“Because somebody shouted at me across the bar!”
“Yeah! You got a problem with me?” None of that. To me it sensationalizes that response, and there’s a glorification of that response. I think this movie, it’s definitely a messianic idea. “I can sacrifice that for something greater.”