“Get On Up” is the propulsive, musical, highly entertaining, yet no-bullshit James Brown biopic we’ve all been waiting for. If you don’t walk outta this thing with some serious funk playing in your head, you are dead inside. The film stars Viola Davis (“Ender’s Game,” “The Help”), Octavia Spencer (“The Help, “Snowpiercer,” television’s “30 Rock”), and Jill Scott (“Why Did I Get Married?”, HBO’s “The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency”). Director Tate Taylor (“The Help,” nice suit and hip sneakers) and star Chadwick Boseman (“42,” a pile of TV shows, nice trousers and T-shirt) met with City Paper (schlumpy shorts and soaked-through-with-sweat BALTIMORE SHAMELESS T-shirt, flip-flops) in the ballroom with a glass wall and a bunch of movie people sitting 10 feet away from us at the fancy hotel in Georgetown where they do all the Press Opportunities. (Joe Macleod)
TATE TAYLOR: [enters ballroom] Hey, I'm Tate.
City Paper: [shakes hand] Howyadoin.
TT: How are ya?
MOVIE PERSON: This is Joe, he's from the Baltimore City Paper.
TT: [installs himself onto couch] Hi Joe.
[CHADWICK BOSEMAN enters, settles onto couch]
MP: That's Joe, from Baltimore City Paper.
CP: [Claps hands together in sign of Beginning] I saw the movie yesterday, it was great.
TT: You liked it, that's a start, we're off to a good start.
CP: I try to do this thing where I talk about the movie during the interview so that I don't have to write a review on the side.
CP: This had all the potential to be a stiff, corny biopic, and it wasn't. It was like, every time you got into one of those moments—
TT: Dangerous territory—
CP: One of those biopic moments, those coulda-been-mediocre moments, you guys went in a completely different direction, and you never stopped, you know, long enough for anything to weigh down the velocity of the movie. Anyway.
TT: Screw the interview, go write the review! Love it.
CP: This is a huge movie, I'm an average movie goer, I walk into a movie and I kinda have preconceived notions of what I'm gonna see, you know, I was just kinda like, "alright, let's see how this movie goes.”
TT: But you went in thinking it was gonna be montages—
CP: I went in thinking it was gonna be kind of a stiff biopic, and it was anything but, and this movie is more of a musical than a lot of musical movies that I've seen. Movies that were supposed to be musicals.
TT: It's funny you said that. I wanted it to be, I didn't want the narrative to stop so you could insert one of your favorite James Brown hits; I wanted the lyrics of the song, and I picked the songs, and where I placed them, so that it was bookended by two scenes that were relevant, and propelled the other—
CP: That absolutely, it was fuckin' seamless, there's never that moment. [And] the voice, the James Brown sing-song, the musicality in the voice, what struck me about your [Chadwick Boseman’s] voice was that [makes horrible screechy up-and-down sounds] that raspy thing, how did you work on that, did you just listen to him, and listen and listen, or did you practice it on somebody?
CB: I listened to him talk a lot, and I was given some outtakes of him. I based most of it on the outtakes of him, from the studio . . . His persona, who he is in the persona of James Brown, you know, Mick [Jagger, a producer for “Get On Up”] will talk about this too, it's much different than the man when you catch him in an intimate moment. I wanted to pay attention to the fact that, you know, yeah, you're seeing him in personal moments, you know, “I am: The Performer,” but you're also seeing him . . . talk like he does, maybe to his wife or his best friend, you know—how does he talk to Bobby [Byrd, Brown’s longtime friend, played by Nelsan Ellis] is the real question in the movie.
CP: That guy was great. He was great.
TT: Nelsan [Ellis]? Wow.
CP: "Mick”? You were talking about the voice and you were saying "Mick”?
CB: Yeah, I think Mick, Mick's used some of what he knows just from great performers in general and some of what he knew for himself, from James Brown himself, he talked about all those different things.
CP: First-name basis with Mick Jagger, I like that. I shook the hand that shook the hand, I like that. Was he all like on top of you guys because he was a big part of it, did he work with you guys ahead of time?
TT: We had discussions. Mick's a proper English gentleman, and he had a definite point of view of the film and the story . . . and he and Chad, they spent a lot of time together, more than Mick and I did, listening to music—[to Chadwick] I'll let you get into that.
CB: This weekend, somebody was asking him, "were you in rehearsals with them, did you make sure did they do this step right and that step,” and he was like, “nah, I didn't do any of that.” He was more so, it was a very, you know, relaxed environment when we talked, you know, he invited me over for tea, biscuits, we'd sit and listen to music for like two or three hours, just different songs and pick out stuff he felt was important to know as a performer. He would go to James Brown shows, even before “The T.A.M.I. Show,” he had sat in audiences and watched James Brown and gone backstage to talk to him, so you know, he sat there and studied James Brown, and went back to try and get a little understanding for himself of what this man was doing and who he was.
CP: Well guys, thank you—
TT: [Laughs] Thank you.
CP: [Another round of handshaking, to Tate] Thanks again.
TT: Thanks so much, appreciate it.
CP: [To Chadwick] Thank you one more time.
CB: Thank you, man.
CP: I shook the hand that shook the hand, so my hand shook your hand, your hand shook Mick Jagger's hand, Mick Jagger's hand shook James Brown's hand.
CB: That's right.
TT: Think of all the other hands Mick Jagger shook.
Get On Up
Directed by Tate Taylor