In a few short moments, Chadwick Boseman will be a household name. Why? Because he landed the role that he’s been preparing for his entire life—baseball legend Jackie Robinson in the upcoming biopic, 42. How interesting that the Howard University graduate’s trek from television (Lincoln Heights) to movie stardom reflects Robinson’s move to the major leagues: slow and deliberate.
Like Robinson, who was known for exercising great humility, Boseman is too humble to state why he landed perhaps the most coveted sports icon role for a Black actor since Ali. As I enter a hotel lobby to meet Boseman for the interview, the 30-year-old doesn’t seem aware that these are quite possibly the last days he’ll be able to move about the country with such anonymity.
This isn’t Boseman’s first time playing a Hall of Famer (he portrayed football running back Floyd Little in The Express); but this is his first time in the lead role as a sports legend. Not bad for the South Carolina native who hadn’t planned on a career in acting. As Boseman steps up to the plate for the biggest game of his career, he discusses with EBONY.com how he prepared for the role of a lifetime.
EBONY: What inspired you or motivated you to become an actor?
Chadwick Boseman: I was crazy. I originally wanted to write and direct. I think as a director, it is important to understand the actor’s process. At Howard, I took the actor’s courses that went along with the process, and then continued because I caught the acting bug and realized it was something I could actually do. For me, they go hand in hand. It was a gradual process of me acting for a living, but I didn’t intend on it from the beginning.
EBONY: What is it like playing someone of this stature in his particular realm?
CB: You try not to think about it like that. There are clutch moments in every sport. Jackie Robinson had to live his entire life in the clutch. Every time he stepped on the field it was a clutch situation; it was never mundane because he was always getting judged on a different level. It’s not unlike regular life. You’re living it moment by moment, but you have to cherish life in a different way when you’re in the clutch. You know this is important, you know the clock is ticking, you know that you’re under pressure. The way you play the character is still human, still subtle, still detailed like any other character. But the context that is around that character elevates it.
EBONY: How did you prepare for this role?
CB: We played baseball. I had baseball practice five days a week, and then they felt like I was going too hard, so they reduced it. We also had conditioning five days a week, and then again it was reduced, for the same reason. That’s the physical part, but there was also a mental part of it too. While you’re out there failing and succeeding, you get a sense of the type of pressure that he really was under. You can’t play the role unless you know what it’s like to have a ball coming to you and it’s your assignment. You have to kind of play it to understand how much pressure this person is under and how is that personally affecting them.
The director gave me Hall of Fame footage and documentaries. I watched Ken Burns’ Baseball, the whole thing, because I knew I would be out there on the field with baseball players who would be judging me, real players. And if I didn’t really understand what the game was to them, then I wouldn’t understand what the game was to him. This is part of the pressure he was under too.
EBONY: Why did this role speak to you?
CB: This role speaks to me because he’s a well-rounded, complex character. The thing about him is that he lived the type of life that you know is going to go past his temporal years, his physical years. The choices that you get to make are those heroic, courageous choices that we want to show our kids, that we want to pass down, so he’s like an ancestor you want to emulate, that you want to become. You’re not just playing a character, you’re playing someone you would like to be like. You can learn something from every character that you play but you’ll be aspiring to the things that he did for the rest of your life. So that’s why you play this role, because you get to literally walk in his path.