When moviegoers go see 42 this weekend, many will be seeing star Chadwick Boseman for the first time. Though Boseman has been acting for a decade, starring as the iconic baseball hero Jackie Robinson is by far his most high-profile role.
In an interview with NPR, Boseman spoke about how he prepared to play Robinson, what he learned from the role, and how he felt about hearing the racism directed at Robinson as he became the first African-American to play major league baseball.
For Boseman, it was so important that he played baseball the way Robinson did. He explains, “I watched tape on him, and I had baseball coaches who also watched that footage. So we not only had baseball practice everyday, but it was baseball practice to sort of emulate his style of batting and his style of base-running, which you know was a really, really exciting and exhilarating thing to come to the ballpark to see. So if you don’t steal bases like him and put pressure on the pitcher in the same way that he did, then you’re not playing Jackie Robinson.”
Nevertheless, despite 42 being a film Boseman admits that hearing the racial slurs thrown at Robinson during his career on set fired him up. He says, “It does become difficult and embarrassing, and you do get angry. And you do feel, in a slice of that reality, somewhat like he would feel. And it’s an incredible amount of courage to deal with that. And even the games that you may play in your mind about how you should respond become part of the performance.”
Boseman is not only grateful for the leading role, but he also believes that the experience of starring as such a significant African-American civil rights figure will stick with his for the rest of his career. He says, “I think it’s a good thing to carry around. And I think you learn something from every character, every character you play. As you do that, you find parts of yourself that you didn’t know. So in order to find those characters, you dig into yourself, and say, ‘Jackie Robinson was a courageous man, so what is courage to me?’ and ‘What is discipline to me? What is commitment to family? What is love to me?’ If you do that with every character you play, I think it definitely helps you — it carries you into the next role.”