Ford stars as Branch Rickey, the general manager who initially signed Robinson to a minor league contract and later called him to the major leagues, making Robinson the first professional African-American baseball player in the modern era. Ford speaks to USA Today about playing Rickey and the challenge of playing a historical figure.
To begin with, Ford understands the magnitude of the historical importance of the man he is portraying. On Branch Rickey and the decision that changed professional sports in America forever, Ford notes, “The more research I did, the more impressed I was… This isn’t a history lesson or a Sunday school sermon. What interested me was their relationship. They had these indomitable spirits, but very disparate personalities.”
Because Ford usually stars as fictional characters, to play Rickey he approached the role differently than usual. First, he conducted extensive research. He explains, “Anything I could find, I used. I discovered he did things too numerous to count.”
He also consulted with Ben Kingsley, who plays real-life figures more often (and won an Oscar for his acting in the title role of 1982’s Gandhi). As a result, Ford believes there are two ways to approach acting as a historical figure, pointing out, “One way is to confine yourself to represent a real person in a narrow vein. The other is to use it as an opportunity.” He admits that Kingsley directed him to the second way, adding, “He said it’s an opportunity to use the (real) man as a mask that tells the truth. That’s what I wanted to do.”