“No.” That’s the first reaction Chadwick Boseman had when the opportunity to be in Draft Day came. Not excited by the need to play a role in yet another sports film after receiving so much acclaim for his work as baseball great Jackie Robinson in 42, Boseman wasn’t interested in doing a football movie. He didn’t even play the game growing up. Chadwick was a basketball guy. “Like when you take on a role. You’re that for a period of time. That’s what you are. And that teaches you something about the human experience,” he says. “Like [actors] all have the ability to change. And to take on different realities and to adjust to our surroundings and become something in a given moment. Different than what you thought you were. So it teaches you something. I hate to be metaphysical, but…”
Basically, this brother wanted to learn something that he initially didn't see possible by doing Draft Day. But this all changed. Moved by conversations with director Ivan Reitman (Ghostbusters, Disturbia, Up in the Air) about Draft Day’s behind the scenes story of dreams and hopes, Boseman finally accepted the role only after Kevin Costner agreed to share phone scenes with him. Playing college football star Vontae Mac, Boseman gained 25 pounds and took on a NFL workout to become the southern ball player who adopts his sister’s children after she dies. “We started filming three weeks after I got the role. So I probably kept gaining during the course of it. Just eating everything. Protein shakes. Lifting weights. Which I don’t usually normally do,” says the 6’0 perfectionist. “But I like a high powered workout that a football player would do as opposed to, for baseball. [For] 42, it was like isometrics, like body control and you create your own resistance.”
But Draft Day wasn’t the only film Boseman initially turned down. He also said, “No,” when offered the starring role of James Brown in this summer’s musical bio-pic about the Godfather of Soul, Get on Up. Featuring everyone from Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer to Jill Scott and Dan Aykroyd, Boseman initially balked at playing yet another larger than life historical figure. “For me, it’s to be an innovator. To do things in a different way than they’ve previously been done. And to find my own way,” says the South Carolina born thespian. “Like I certainly listen to the advice of people who have come before me. Whether they’re black or white, I listen to everybody. But in the end, I think you have to follow your own heart.”
To play James Brown, things had to feel right. And Boseman only said “Yes,” after talking to director Tate Taylor, seeing his screen test, checking out the intended wardrobe, the wigs, the shoes, and meeting the dance choreographer and coach. For Boseman, everything about playing James Brown had to feel real and make sense. “I think you [act] ‘cause you sort of have this opportunity to live out a thousand lives. And that’s something that you have to cherish,” he says. “Like when you take on a role, you’re that for a period of time. That’s what you are. And that teaches you something about the human experience.”
Emotional, intellectual, and passionate about his craft, Boseman trained at Washington DC’s Howard University, where he studied directing. Calling himself “a writer first,” his greatest success to date has obviously come in acting. And he attributes where he is today, largely to his HBCU studies. “I think Howard has a perspective of telling stories about black people and black writers. So you’re gonna have your Ed Bullins and August Wilsons and Ntozake Shanges. And you’re gonna read those plays and have a sense of, in my opinion, when you go to other schools and they teach you Chekhov and Shakespeare and Pinter. Which is cool. I did that too. And you do that at Howard. But that’s not what you’re gonna be playing when you step into the real world for the most part,” says Boseman, who in 2016 will star along with Gerald Butler in God’s of Egypt as the God of Wisdom, Thoth. “There’s a sense of truth and reality that you accept when you’re taught the importance of their stories and those [black] playwrights and actors that come out of that pantheon of art. Not saying anything against any other program, like the Julliards. I feel like because of [Howard's] history, it makes you appreciate a James Brown or Jackie Robinson in a different way than if you didn’t go to that school. So you want to get it right because you had to go to the library and do research on some of these people. And you know they came to your university at certain times in their lives. So there’s a certain connection to those things. So yeah… I could probably keep going. [But] that’s enough.”
Draft Day hits theaters Friday, April 11.