ShortList's Sam Rowe shuffles on to the dancefloor of forthcoming James Brown biopic Get On Up
“WAAAAAAAAOH! I feel good… !” The inimitable screech of James Brown fills the air, for what must be the 50th time today. Here, deep inside a studio in drizzly Jackson, Mississippi, the Godfather Of Soul is being resurrected. Not literally – that’d be awful – but for Get On Up, a biopic of his extraordinary life by Tate Taylor, the director of Oscar-winning drama The Help.
The film covers all aspects of the soul legend’s life, from impoverished beginnings to his release from prison for assault and weapons charges in 1991 – but unlike most film biographies, Get On Up will be entirely non-linear.
“James Brown had a crazy life, so the editing and the way you tell the story has to be that way, too,” says Taylor. “We go from 1988 to 1933, then back to 1968 in 10 minutes.”
Back on set, and true to form for someone portraying ‘The Hardest Working Man In Showbusiness’, leading man Chadwick Boseman is doing his utmost to emulate James Brown’s industrious reputation – sweat pouring from beneath his foot-high ‘pompadour’ wig as he jerks his limbs through another dance. Not that he’s complaining. In fact, Boseman’s gone full Daniel Day-Lewis, refusing to drop character or Brown’s signature voice at any point throughout the 15-hour day – cast and crew even address him as “Mr Brown”.
“I have a short amount of time to do this,” the 32-year-old actor tells ShortList. “James Brown was singing and dancing as himself for his entire life. I don’t wanna do an imitation of him, it has to be an interpretation. So I can’t afford to come out of that practice.”
The likeness to Brown’s moves is staggering, but little wonder, given that Boseman endured a gruelling three-month bootcamp before shooting started.
“It was intense,” admits the film’s choreographer, Aakomon Jones. “Chadwick’s lost weight – we’ve had to up his diet because he’s burning calories so fast.”
“I think [the dancing] is one of the most intimidating things about the role,” confirms Boseman. “James Brown is one of the best dancers in the history of the world. Ultimately that’s one of the main things people will judge you on – can you get the footwork down?”
Dance lessons aside, playing a musical legend does have perks. Boseman adds, “We’ve had to get up and perform. So I’ve sung in some places in Jackson. It helps because you’re taking it beyond just work.” Gruelling 15-hour film shoots followed by James Brown karaoke? With a work rate like that, you’ll end up with a reputation...
Get On Up is at cinemas nationwide from 26 September