The biopic “Get on Up,” based on the life of the legendary James Brown, marks director Tate Taylor’s first project since the four-time Oscar-nominated film “The Help.” It stars Chadwick Boseman (“42”) in the title role.
The producing power behind the film includes Academy Award-winning producer Brian Grazer (“A Beautiful Mind”) and Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger.
In person, it would be accurate to describe the director as a “nice Southern gentlemen,” highlighting his polite nature and smooth charm. Taylor gives the impression that every question that’s directed at him is interesting and the person asking is sublime.
It might be a key reason that-—as a director—Taylor manages to finesse subtle performances from actors that turn into critical accolades, multiple nominations and industry awards. The possession of that vital skill distinguishes Taylor as much more than just charming in Hollywood circles, where narcissism is par for the course. It marks him as wonderfully “unique.”
“There were a lot of jobs I could have taken,” confessed Taylor. “I needed something I loved. I’ve been a fan of James Brown before I could drive. In the South, he’s a legend, woven into our lives.”
The film explores the nitty-gritty life of “The Godfather of Soul,” who grew up dirt poor in a South Carolina brothel in the middle of the Great Depression. He survived a searing life filled with abandonment, abuse, reform school and jail.
In short, the world discarded him, never bothering to instruct him about the rules, so he was destined, from the start, to break them. From amateur boxer to a street corner busker, he channeled misfortune into his own way of thriving.
In the end, forged by adversary, he became one of the most influential performers in the world, helped shape popular music and is the most sampled artist in history.
“He was dangerous and fun,” stated Taylor. “He also messed up, but who can say they haven’t messed up, too?”
Finding the right person for the lead, the director said it was a challenge but it was “Chadwick’s performance in ‘42’ that set him apart.”
Most people recall Brown’s snappy costumes and signature dance moves. However, much of the public doesn’t know that, as a child, he danced in the streets for pocket change.
“This was a man who was impulsive, which brought good and bad,” Taylor expressed. “He operated on sheer instinct, which is so hard to do, but I admire that. Chadwick’s commitment to getting Brown’s signature moves perfect had him working very hard. One day, he did 100 splits. That’s commitment to your craft.”
The theme of personal
excellence is peppered throughout the film because Brown had an internal pressure to prove he wasn’t a “one-hit wonder.”
Questioning the artist’s motivation, Taylor said, “After getting some notoriety and success, I think James Brown had a fear of it all going away. I can definitely relate to that.”
As Taylor began the immersion phase of his new project, he realized, “You always hear what a control freak James Brown was, but it’s also true that he knew how things should be done and insisted on them being done right.”
From those musings, Taylor made the leap. “The script was unapologetic and filled with energy,” he recalled. “I thought, if they’re willing to go this far, maybe we can take it even further. I wanted to break the fourth wall and let him speak directly to us: tell the truth from the screen and let you make your own judgment.”
The director concluded, “James Brown gets to give the audience the broad strokes of his life, the way he saw it. And I’m free to break the rules—go from 1968 to 1933 and back to ’68—when I choose. One day, it hit me that James was probably watching us make this film, and I started to wonder what his comments would be. He is a legend, and we approached that journey with truth.”
Rounding out the cast is Oscar nominee Viola Davis (“Doubt), Oscar winner Octavia Spencer (“Fruitvale Station”), Nelsan Ellis (television’s “True Blood”), Dan Aykroyd (“Driving Miss Daisy”) and Tika Sumpter (“Ride Along”).
“Get on Up” opens Aug. 1.