For one, the entire effort would ride on casting. But, given his love of casting actors (his favorite part of the director’s job) and how he scored in that department with The Help, he thought he might be able to find the perfect James Brown.
And he did in the form of 42 star Chadwick Boseman, who Taylor admitted to us was equally as unsure about tackling the music icon. So, how exactly did this dream director and dream lead come together to tell the story of the Godfather of Soul?
Read on and find out in our exclusive Get On Up interview!
Movie Fanatic: With so many aspects of James Brown’s life to talk about, was one of the challenges what to bring to life onscreen and what to leave out?
Tate Taylor: At first I was like, “What am I going to show?” Then, I realized that a lot of things I had in consideration were things we already knew. If you polled people on the street about James Brown, they would start by talking about his missteps. When I dug in, I was struck by how much I didn’t know. Then, I realized that people don’t know about 80 percent of his life. I looked at it this way, I said, “What is the most obscure information about him that I can bring to the screen?” I realized that that was my duty. You only have one chance to do someone’s life. That was my marching order and I was able to carefully select more popular and disgraceful moments and I wanted to come up with a clever way to craft it in a way that maybe you wouldn’t expect.
Movie Fanatic: I described Chadwick Boseman’s performance as James Brown as like a hurricane — that was evident even from that first Get On Up trailer. I was curious what you saw in him that you knew he was the guy to embody an icon?
Tate Taylor: Casting actors is my favorite part of making a film. It was so important for me on The Help to pick the right people and that’s what I do. I pick the best person for the job, not based on resumes or who’s on the cover of magazines. When I was thinking about who could be James Brown, everyone agreed if you don’t have the right James Brown, it would fail. I started thinking about what I should look for and I started thinking about him as the 63-year-old man, which potentially — if done poorly — is what people would snicker at. I needed real acting chops to pull this off and I thought of Viola Davis in The Help and like her, Chad’s work is very efficient. He’s brave, as we saw in 42.
Movie Fanatic: What was Chad’s reaction to being asked to play another icon in Get On Up?
Tate Taylor: He didn’t even want to talk about doing it. He was scared to death about the idea. I got him to come to LA and he was just playing around with the last scene with Bobby Byrd where they’re talking about the pool cleaner. Chad was like, “That one?” I said, “That one.” And this attractive, young, athletic guy started acting like a 63-year-old man. I said, “My God, that’s it. Please let him be able to learn to dance!” [Laughs] And as you saw, he clearly got that down.
Movie Fanatic: I was also wondering, and you just mentioned it, you just did — triumphantly — The Help – and now you’re doing the James Brown story. Is it a coincidence or something you sought out to do two films back-to-back about the struggles of African Americans in this country as the Civil Rights movement was beginning?
Tate Taylor: It’s the craziest coincidence! If you had ever told me that I would make a biopic of James Brown, I would have said you were crazy because I generally don’t like biopics. And then I would say you were crazy for tackling another African American story set in the south. That doesn’t make sense for my career.
Movie Fanatic: Then it came together more organically?
Tate Taylor: Yes, I did The Help because my friend wrote a very personal story which I shared with her. She wrote about my hometown! That automatically draws you in. I had to tell that story. I spent three years trying to figure out what I would do afterwards. I wanted my next film to have a sense of importance about it that people want to see it for that reason. Well, guess what? After The Help, I thought I was going to be taken to this secret vault where they were hiding all these stories. It doesn’t exist. [Laughs] When I was at Imagine Entertainment for an unrelated meeting and I understood they just got a script in for the biopic of James Brown, I immediately became protective. I got on a plane and in about an hour, I realized, this is the story. This checks every box. I landed in New York and called Imagine and said, “Can I direct James Brown?”
Check out Taylor’s previous work and watch The Help online. Also, click through our slideshow of all the Get On Up stills and don’t miss the James Brown story in theaters August 1.