Set Visit: The Making Of The James Brown Biopic ‘Get On Up’

Chadwick Boseman does not have a fear of cinematic heights. Following up his critically-acclaimed performance as the great Jackie Robinson in 2013’s 42, this summer the actor possesses himself with the spirit of another iconic black super hero in the James Brown biopic Get On Up. VIBE had the grand fortune of being invited to Natchez, Mississippi for a day on set. The experience wrought hours of insightful talks with a great portion of the cast and behind-the-scene creatives.

Assembled by the film’s director, Tate Taylor (The Help), the cast is as impressive as it is diverse—the Oscar-nominated Viola Davis plays Brown’s estranged mother, Oscar winner Octavia Spencer takes on his Madame of an Aunt Honey, songstress and actress Jill Scott is Brown’s second wife “DeeDee,” and Dan Akroyd is Ben Bart, Brown’s Jewish business partner and best friend.

A day on the set of Get On Up also gifted a viewing of Boseman nailing Brown’s infamous (as in superbad) 1964 T.A.M.I. Show performance—the one which he left the night’s headliners The Rolling Stones frightened to follow. The consensus was that Chad’s successful reflection of Soul’s Godfather was not him simply experiencing a good day at work. This celestial level of acting, according to everyone from costume to costars, was an everyday occurrence on set.

Excited awe wasn’t shared because Chadwick embodied James Brown, but instead how much the hardest working man in showbiz imbued the thespian (fun fact: both actor and legend were born in South Carolina). The 32-year-old would remain in character from the start of his morning makeup application to removal almost 14 hours later. Within those hours, Boseman could be heard eerily swallowing syllables and dragging words or rapidly spitting often incomprehensible sphinx-like parables. This is unmistakable JB speech.

Many will be skeptical of Boseman, in the most demanding role of his career (what genius shoes to fill), having the range and power to mirror a man who literally rose from dirt to simultaneously become a rhythm revolutionary and his own worst enemy in flashy fashion. Those who’ve seen Chad grow into the author of The Big Payback are a choir of witnesses. Read their testimonies. Then go see Get On Up on August 1.

“I love watching Chadwick turn into James in the middle of his fitting. He’s really going where he needs to go for the role. It’s so exciting.” —Sharen Davis, Costume Designer

“He’s got the voice, the walk, the mannerisms, the attitude, the paranoia. I knew James very well…and Chad has it nailed. The kid has done his homework.” —Dan Aykroyd

“He wants to look like James Brown so that’s what we make sure we give him” —Carla Farmer, Head of Hair Dept

“He wants to stay true, so we went a little overboard with [the Pompadour wig]. But we went overboard so when you see him you know that’s James Brown. We’re not trying to copy James Brown. We want people to see him and say that’s his look.” —Robert Stevenson, Wig Consultant

“When I cast, I cast on intuition so I don’t see a lot of people that I probably in my soul know won’t be the person. So I brought in probably about 15 or 20 people that I sought out that I thought could do it and Chad was just hands down.” —Tate Taylor

“He has James’ voice [so down pat that when] he wasn’t in character he still had James’ voice. He’s so dope with it. He’s killing this role.” —Craig Robinson, plays Maceo Parker

He introduced me to a work ethic that I’m familiar with but don’t normally see in other actors or singers for that matter.” —Aakomon Jones, Choreographer

“Chad is a beast. You gotta keep up with Chad like you gotta keep up with James Brown. I didn’t know his dance background but I remember the first rehearsal with him I was like ‘Ok I’m gonna have to catch up.” —Nelsan Ellis, plays Bobby Byrd