Editor’s Note: This interview was first conducted and published in April 2014. Shadow and Act has republished it in tribute of the late Chadwick Boseman, who died in August 2020. Boseman spoke with Shadow and Act about his role in the film Draft Day, among other things.
In the upcoming sports drama Draft Day, Chadwick Boseman plays Vontae Mack, a linebacker looking to secure his family’s future by earning a spot with the Cleveland Browns. On the day of the draft, Mack and a series of other NFL hopefuls plead their case to general manager Sonny Weaver Jr. (Kevin Costner) as he wheels and deals to put together the lineup that will save his team.
Boseman’s star is on the rise after starring in Jackie Robinson biopic 42 last year. We’ll next see him in Draft Day, Universal’s James Brown biopic Get On Up, adventure fantasy Gods of Egypt, and there’s still buzz of him entering the comics arena as Black Panther or Green Lantern. While promoting Draft Day, Boseman made time to talk about what’s next for his career.
JAI TIGGETT: With this film, I can’t help but think of William Rhoden’s Forty Million Dollar Slaves and the power dynamic between young black athletes and the owners, managers and coaches that run the teams. Here you have your character, who’s trying to take some power back for himself and be active in deciding his fate.
CHADWICK BOSEMAN: What I love about his actions in the movie is that he’s knowledgeable about the draft in a way that the other characters are not. He doesn’t even have the prototype agent that [favorite pick] Bo Callahan has.
JT: He’s the underdog.
CB: Right, but he knows his stuff. He knows what he needs in his life, more so than what other people project for him. The fact that he’s calling out what he needs and there’s a sort of prophetic, even Muhammad Ali type aspect, that was appealing to me along with the fact that he is this family guy.
His sister has passed and he’s taken on the responsibility of taking care of her kids. And so he’s dealing with Sonny not like a boy, but as a full-grown man who has responsibilities. They have these conversations one on one, it’s not the agent passing the phone back and forth telling him what to say. And it’s striking that he’s strong enough and savvy enough, and sometimes when he’s not savvy, his heart still wins over. Those things stood out to me.
JT: Coming from the Jackie Robinson biopic to Draft Day, you had a pretty big change in appearance. Tell me about how you prepared.
CB: I had lost a little weight [for 42] so I actually had to gain a considerable amount of weight. I was up to 215, close to 220 pounds, and I’ve never been that heavy. So it was at least 25 pounds in three weeks. I ate things that I wouldn’t normally eat. I put beef in my diet, I started eating steak, a lot of carbs, protein shakes, and I was lifting heavy weights. So I just did that for the month prior and then I continued to gain weight as we shot it.
The only specific football preparation that we had was a couple [of] days before [filming] when we ran through the plays that we would be doing. When Sonny is looking at the scrimmages from the year, we had to actually do those plays. They picked them from actual games and we reproduced them. That was it.
JT: It’s an interesting time in your career. You’ve been acting for a while and you’ve also directed, but now you’re starting to book larger roles and get more of the world’s attention. How are you handling that transition?
CB: Lord have mercy. It’s two different things. With the films, you’re doing what you always have done. You’re doing the research, going through whatever the obstacle is for that film, getting into the character. None of that changes because it’s Harrison Ford in front of you or Kevin Costner on the phone with you. It doesn’t matter who it is, you still have to do your work.
In terms of people recognizing and being aware, that is constantly a battle. Because you also have to make time for the art, and you have to decide how much you want to do it and how much you let it intrude on your personal life. That’s just something you’re learning each day, by trial and error.
JT: You’ve played Jackie Robinson, and now you have Get On Up coming up where you play James Brown. What sort of pressure do you feel to do these characters justice as icons in American history?
CB: There’s a lot of weight that goes with it, some sleepless nights. There’s a lot that comes into play with these kinds of roles. You don’t have to talk to the family when it’s a fantasy character. You don’t have to deal with differing autobiographies. You don’t have to deal with people who think they know the person and they really don’t, or their opinions about who the person is, what they’re supposed to sound like. You don’t have to worry about any of that stuff.
For instance, with James Brown, there are a lot of people who only know the old James Brown. They’ve never seen him perform at Olympia or T.A.M.I. Show or any of that stuff. They don’t know anything about his influences. And so they’re judging you based on the one or two things they know or the one interview they saw. All those things, you sort of have to put out of your mind because you’ve studied it on a different level than them, and you have to be at peace with that.
JT: In terms of finding a balance between the true events and fictional story, do you feel you’ve achieved that?
CB: There’s always the battle between the truth and the movie, and there has to be some venturing from the truth just because you’re compressing it into such a short amount of time. There’s no possible way that you can show it exactly how it happened.
But you feel responsible for things being as authentic as they can be. You don’t want to show the sugarcoated version of the person. You’re not free unless you can show the good and the bad, all sides of them. So to me, when I play a character it’s important that I can show every aspect of them. And I feel like I’ve definitely found the truth.
Photo: VALERIE MACON/AFP via Getty Images