Wednesday, 10 April 2013 10:31 Written by  iamrogue
Rate this item
(0 votes)

42, hitting theaters nationwide this Friday, April 12th, is a film that not only presents a historical story with vitality and emotion, but it is a cinematic testament to real life courage and true heroism.

There's no shortage of heroes at our multiplexes, but more often than not our onscreen heroes wear spandex costumes and perform acts of elaborate, visual effects-aided derring-do. 

The new drama 42 focuses on the heroism of Jackie Robinson, who in 1947 broke the color barrier, becoming the first African American to play Major League Baseball.  42 isn't simply a biopic tracing Robinson's life story, however.  It takes place over several years and focuses on both Robinson and Branch Rickey, the General Manager with the vision and wherewithal to sign Robinson to the Brooklyn Dodgers.  Facing opposition and entrenched racism from the public, the press, and even other players, Number 42 and the coach met their critics with grace, humility, talent, and endurance.  In the process, the two men changed not just the game, but the country.

Chadwick Boseman (TV's Persons Unknown and Lincoln Heights) stars as Jackie Robinson, with Harrison Ford (Raiders of the Lost Ark) as Branch Rickey.  Oscar-winning LA Confidential screenwriter Brian Helgeland (A Knight's Tale, Payback) directs the film from his own script.

At the Los Angeles press day for 42, Boseman, Ford, and Helgeland were all hand to share their enthusiasm for the film.  All three members of this trio were happy to discuss the real life history, how 42 developed at Legendary Pictures, casting Boseman in the role of a lifetime, playing against a star of Ford's caliber, and collaborating with Rachel Robinson.

Jackie Robinson's stats alone are legendary.  He was the first MLB player to earn the title of Rookie of the Year, and he went on to be MVP, six-time All-Star, and a player in six World Series.  But Robinson's name is in the history books not just for his tremendous play, but for becoming a symbol of hard-won progress and equality.

"There was Negro League baseball and there had always been pretty much Negro League baseball. There were barnstorming games in which the white players played the black players, and most of the time the black players won," Boseman explained, putting the film into the proper historical context. "Maybe out of 400 games, the black players won 300. So, there was already a competition or a competitive spirit, and a desire for the game to become integrated on both sides, like there were white people who wanted it to become integrated too. Branch Rickey was not the only person who desired this, but he was the maverick because he had already been an innovator in baseball before. He created the farm system that we now know of. The minor leagues, and also some of the drills of the minor leagues. So, he was the type of person that would take the lead on this, so it probably would have happened, but maybe it wouldn’t have happened for another ten years, twenty years. We don’t know, but there would have been someone at some point that would have done it, and thank God it was somebody that could not only play baseball, but could handle the pressure on the field and the politics and the social responsibility."

Robinson's story seems tailor made for the movies, but Helgeland found his way to 42 via a circuitous route. "Well, in the few years leading into this, I had oddly worked on a couple of biopics that didn’t get made. I had written up a movie about Cortez at Universal, and I had done a Cleopatra biography at Sony. And so I had my research chops down from those films, and nothing ever happened with them. And this came along," he said. "I’m just kind of telling this backwards a little bit, but I knew that I knew how to get in there and sort it all out and figure it out and try to let the history and the truth of it.  Put it this way, I had learned from those other movies how to get out of my own way and not include myself and my own ego in the process of writing them. But it came from Thomas Tull at Legendary. He was pursuing the rights, and he had run into a similar situation with Mrs. Robinson, of her wanting to know how he was going to, how things were going to progress and how the film was going to be made, and I came in as kind of partners with Thomas to do that. And in my research, just struck by the kind of, the bravery of Robinson that you could never invent. You could write all the superhero movies there were in the world and you wouldn’t come close."

"And so," he continued, "wanting to try to tell that story got me interested, and then you have to find the guy to pull it off."

"I didn’t want a really well-known actor to play Jackie, because I think it’s always strange when someone really well-known plays someone else who’s really famous, so it’s always, it makes it hard to suspend your disbelief. But Chad came in and he picked the most difficult scene of the three or four scenes that I was asking people to read," Helgeland recalled. "He picked the hardest one and did that first. And, I think, really went for it. It’s the scene when he’s in the tunnel, when he’s breaking the bat, and he did that scene in the room with a waffle ball bat and a chair in almost exactly the way he did it in the film, and it was a really brave choice, and it was a place where a lot of actors would go down the middle of the road and try to do something that they couldn’t be judged negatively for, and he went for it, and in thirty seconds of walking in the room, he had put himself in a position of being rejected or 'That’s pretty great.' So I thought that was brave, and he had to play a brave guy, so it just seemed all I needed to know about him. And also, not to go on, but it’s like they talk about baseball players having five tools, like the ultimate baseball player can hit, field, run, I forget, hit for power, hit to all fields, and Chad was sort of a three-tool actor, as far as intellectually and emotionally and physically, so it was like a blessing when he walked through the door."

"I had to keep it a secret for a little bit of time," Boseman remembered of his casting. "Because it wasn’t announced yet. I didn’t even tell my mom until just before they announced it. And so, I was just kinda like the happiest person in the world, walking around smiling, and people were like, 'What is he smiling about? What is it?' But it was definitely something that, I don’t necessarily know what it means in terms of my entire career. I just know it’s a fun thing to, and a proud thing to be a part of. And I know it’s a rare experience, so I’m just gonna cherish it in this moment, and thank God for the experience and the people I got to work with. Even finding out that I was working with Harrison Ford, it was amazing, like, it was like getting the role all over again, so I just, I cherish the experience."

For Boseman, 42 marks his first performance as a leading man in a major motion-picture.  He does have support from an established international movie star in Ford, though.  The Academy Award-nominated actor plays Rickey, the innovative manager.  Helgeland saw an interesting parallel between Ford and his character, saying, "Branch Rickey, when he got involved in this whole thing, sixty-five, and he had a Hall of Fame career. At that point, he had won the World Series with the Cardinals, and he had invented the farm system and things Chad mentioned. And he had nothing to prove. And Harrison came into this film in similar circumstances, with nothing to prove, and he decided that he wanted to prove something, and I think he did, and I am forever grateful to him, and I just want to thank him very much."

Unlike Rickey, a former pro ballplayer himself, Ford doesn't have much history playing baseball.  "I didn’t play much ball. I wasn’t much of a ball fan," he said. "I did, I went to Wrigley Field with my family. I remember, actually, Wrigley Field more than I remember the game or anybody in it. It was such a vivid visual image in my mind, still, of that square of improbable grass in the middle of the city. But I never followed baseball very much, as a kid never followed sports, I played a little Little League.  We moved to the suburbs when I was about twelve years old and I played maybe one and a half games of little league."

It wasn't an affinity for the sport that attracted Ford to 42, but the material itself, as he explained, "The thing that attracted me to this project was the quality of the script that I read, and the understanding, and the sheer capacity to know where success lives in the business of making movies. And I don’t mean box-office success. I mean, in terms of the quality of the writing and the ambition of the writing. And the thing that attracted to me to this was, I never even thought about doing something that I’d never done before or proving anything. What I thought about was, this was such an ambitious and well-qualified recipe for the opportunity to be part of something great, and I think it is. With his commitment, and his commitment, all of the actors’ commitment to the ideas that Brian illuminated, and then in a very disciplined and incredibly, with an incredible light touch, continued to nurture and focus and point and adjust, for all of us, and for himself, we wouldn’t have this piece of work."

42 is also a love story, with Nicole Beharie (Shame) playing Jackie Robinson's wife Rachel Robinson.  Though her husband passed away in 1972, Robinson continues to ensure that her husband's legacy is active in the world through the Jackie Robinson Foundation.  An insightful living link to the real people and events, Rachel Robinson was very much involved in creating 42.

"I had to prove to her that the way I wanted to tell the story was the right way to tell the story," said Helgeland.  "She had the rights and wasn’t just going sell them. So I had to go meet with her and break down for her how I was gonna tell the story, and she told me her concerns. I think initially she wanted a greater breadth to the story, as far as the time of, you know, seeing him after baseball and before baseball. And you can make movies about both those also, and I convinced her that, what I said was, kind of, the passage of time in a movie is the enemy of the drama of the movie, and talked to her about focusing on ’46 and ’47, which she agreed to. And had her read the script and got feedback from her.  So she was involved all the way."

Boseman recalled that his conversations with Robinson were instrumental in playing the part, saying, "It was such a big, a daunting task, that I didn’t even know how to start it until I talked to her.  It is what she said, but it’s more so just her presence. And her spirit, her persona, essence, is like a puzzle, and he’s still part of it. They say, “Flesh of my flesh, blood of my blood.” You know, they’re joined as one. I believe that when I think of them, because she’s carrying on his legacy, so his spirit is still present with her, and I can feel the edges of him when I meet her. I can sort of see what type of man could stand beside her, and so that’s part of what I used. And to her credit, she’s not a filmmaker or an actor, but she sat me down, and sat right beside me and had a heart-to-heart. She wanted to know who I was. And there’s something about that intimacy that allowed me to sorta get a sense of him as well."

"She told me honestly about some physical things, hands, hand gestures or hand movements, and his feet, and being pigeon-toed, and how disciplined he was, how adamant he was about not drinking, him being opinionated," he continued.  "And then even when you hear a wife, I mean, talk about a husband, you see certain moments, well she really loved that about him, and she loved, or she hated this about him, or whatever it is, and so I just got a sense of who he was from that conversation, and from the books that she told me to read. And I asked her about their relationship, because that is a big part of him being able to achieve this. He had a teammate in her. And so what were the rules of that relationship? How did they differ when they were communicating versus when he communicated with other people? Like, he’s two different people in those moments, and so I wanted to know what that was."

42 opens in theaters on Friday, April 12th.

More in this category

Follow ROGUE

Latest Trailers

view more »