James Brown biopic 'Get On Up' revels in drama and dance moves

Tue Jul 29, 2014 2:06pm EDT
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By Patricia Reaney

NEW YORK (Reuters) - At first Oscar-winning actress Octavia Spencer thought she was seeing early concert footage of James Brown but then was told it was a screen test by Chadwick Boseman to play the "Godfather of Soul" in the new biopic "Get On Up."

From the gliding, intricate footwork to the hunched shoulders and fluid movements, Boseman had nailed Brown's singular mannerisms and raspy voice.

"It was just him from the back, and then from the side, and it was all in silhouette with the hair. I could not believe it, and he had only been learning the dance for three days," said Spencer, 44, who plays Brown's no-nonsense, knife-wielding Aunt Honey in the film, which opens in U.S. theaters on Friday.

Spencer, the 2012 Academy Award winner for "The Help," said Boseman immersed himself in the role of the three-time Grammy winner, who died on Christmas Day in 2006 at the age of 73.

"Things happen when they are supposed to. This was supposed to be Chadwick Boseman's role," Spencer said.

"Get On Up" follows the man and his music in flashbacks from his impoverished early years in a shack in rural South Carolina, to living in a brothel run by Aunt Honey and singing in a local church, to his early career performing with the Famous Flames and later international stardom.

Behind the glitzy costumes, pompadours and showman's bravura, the film, produced by Mick Jagger and Brian Grazer, shows Brown as an industrious teen scrounging a living, a troubled, perfectionist musician, an egotistical performer and a shrewd businessman.


Musician Mick Jagger attends the premiere of 'Get on Up' in New York in this file photo taken July 21, 2014. REUTERS/Eric Thayer/Files