‘Get On Up’: Chadwick Boseman Steps Into James Brown’s Shoes

Chadwick Boseman hit it out the park with 42. Can he carry James Browns’ song and dance?

STORY: Keith Murphy | PHOTOGRAPHY: Erik Ian

CHADWICK BOSEMAN has heard the chatter: you think he’s Mr. Biopic, living vicariously through the lives of legends on film. But the South Carolina native—who first gained acclaim with his breakout performance as baseball giant Jackie Robinson in 42 and who now finds himself shadowing another American treasure, James Brown—is not afraid of a typecast curse.

He’s black, proud and ready to show a mass audience the sordid life of JB, cape and all. The much buzzed about Mick Jagger-produced biopic, Get On Up, follows the 16-year-old dance machine from a troubled youth who serves a three-year stint in prison for robbery to relentless change agent that propelled rhythm and blues to otherworldly rhythmic and cultural heights. And that’s great. But the elephant in the room: Can Boseman pull of the Godfather of Soul’s perm?

VIBE: First Jackie Robinson and now James Brown. What is it with you taking on these larger-than-life icons?

Chadwick Boseman: [Laughs] I mean, there’s a lot of things to worry about when you take on a role like James Brown. I don’t know if everyone is expecting me to have every single nuance of his dancing down, but I think we got a lot of it.

What was the hardest part about learning James’ moves?

The best way to describe it is the aggression that you have to come with is very complex. There’s a boxing element…like jabbing movement. But it’s also very sexual. There’s a reason why he screamed “Like a sex machine!” And that’s why everyone identifies with James Brown’s music. He taps into something innate.

James rocked hard-bottoms. Sneakers have to be more comfortable. What are your ultimate kicks?

Well, the classic is the Air Force 1. You can always put those on. But right now the shoe that I keep buying over and over is the Nike Flyknit just because you feel like you are barefoot. It’s so light and you can wear it with a lot of different stuff. And I like it also because it’s one of the best sneakers to dance like James without having to have on dress shoes.

Okay, now we have to get serious for a moment: how is your perm game?

[Laughs] The funny thing about it is there are so many different wigs from the pompadour, the slick back, the straight perm, the Afro, and then back to the perm to the ‘fro and back to the perm. It’s a lot.

Did you look into the mirror when you had the perm on and say, “Damn…I’m James Brown?”

Yeah. There were a couple of times when I contemplated wearing a perm in real life because it was so fly [laughs].

Watch Chadwick Boseman talk about James Brown being a superhero and always being “on”