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04/15/2013 08:59 am ET Updated Jun 15, 2013

Chadwick Boseman Talks Jackie Robinson in 42 Interview

This weekend at the movies, everyone's talking 42 and they should be. The new offering from Warner Brothers is a biopic covering the rookie year of baseball player Jackie Robinson. 42 hit theaters Friday and is celebrating a stellar opening weekend with early estimates claiming victory.

The film, an informative, inspirational and entertaining look at the life of Jackie Robinson while playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers, stars Chadwick Boseman (The Express) as the first African-American to play major league baseball, Nicole Beharie (The Express) as his wife Rachel, and Harrison Ford as Dodgers GM Branch Rickey, who signed Jackie Robinson.

I spoke with Chadwick Boseman a few weeks before the film's opening and discussed carrying the legacy of such a beloved sportsman, seeking the approval of both his family and living widow Rachel, and all he learned working opposite leading man Harrison Ford.

Danai P. Maraire:
Congratulations! You knocked it out of the park my friend.

Chadwick Boseman:
Thank you! Pun intended.

How do you think you sold [Director] Brian [Helgeland]? Why do you think you got the role?

Well, what he said -- I mean, I don't know. But what he said is that I was the most courageous. I actually didn't know that. I heard him saying it in an interview. And I was like, "Oh that's what it was. You know I thought I was the most handsome but --" (laughs)... I'm joking. I'm joking,

Seriously though, you're taking on the role of this legendary player. What kind of pressure is that on you?

It's a tremendous amount of pressure. But at the same time it was fun. I mean like I didn't think about it from that point of view. I mean like I tried to find ways of taking myself away from that way of thinking. And I felt pressure mostly from the family you know? Not that they said, "You better get this right." Or they were really over bearing at all. But I just wanted to do well by them. When I met Rachel Robinson for the first time, she is a regal woman, and she was like a grandmother in that first meeting. At certain moments along the way I felt that from her, and I just wanted to do well by her. That's it.

Yeah just to have her presence there and to have her blessing in this movie to everybody involved must have been phenomenal.

She came to the set. She was involved in -- she read the script, different drafts of the script, so you know you're getting it right. Nobody can say, "They didn't get this right about Jackie." I mean they could say it, but I felt like if she signed off on it then it must be legit. It must be authentic. And there were even moments where -- we don't necessarily know that the moment in the tunnel happened, but it had to happen. The fact that she didn't say, "You've got to take that out of the script. He never broke down like that. He never had a moment where he was weak, where he doubted." She didn't take that out. So it is important to have that moment in the movie and it sort of is the crux of the whole story. That he gets to that point and then goes on. For me that was one of the key elements of the story.

Well, I wanted to ask you about that. I was going to ask you a little later but now that we have a segue I'll ask you now. You're on that field, playing this amazing baseball player, yet you are a human being. You are standing there doing this scene where Alan Tudyk is screaming these racial slurs at you. How as a human being do you get past something like that?

Well you want it to happen as an actor. As a person you have to have your space. That's what you do. You have space before the scene. You have your space after the scene. You tell people to leave you alone, "don't come over here right now, (laughs) because it could be dangerous for you or it could be dangerous to me." So you have to have a set where you're given that protection and I think they provided that, so that you [as a viewer] could get the most real experience on screen.

Were you in shock reading the script when you saw the racial injustices that he had to deal with, especially in Philly?

I'm not surprised at all. I felt like, in some ways the film gives you the right amount of it all. I'm sure he experienced things that were even worse then that. I'm sure he did. But I felt like the film gave you the right amount of it so that you could enjoy the other parts. Because one of the things that Rachel Robinson said to me was that "you not only helped me to remember the darker moments of that time but also the joy that we found with each other." And sometimes that's the irony of life, that during the most difficult moments, you look back on it and you realize how much you enjoyed it. And how much you can celebrate it. And I think you needed to have both things in the movie.

Absolutely and what a great relationship they had and of course their Canadian connection of Montreal...?

Right. They feel good about Montreal.

Absolutely! I know [Montreal] embraced them. And they still have memorabilia there for Jackie that will go on forever. I have to ask you about Harrison Ford. I mean seriously dude you're working opposite Harrison Ford. What was that like?

I mean its like getting up for the big game. That's what it is. You circle those scenes on the schedule and say, "This is the big game. This is Lakers vs. Celtics. This is the Bulls vs. Detroit. This is Red Sox, vs. Yankees. That's what it is." So I just looked at it like, "this is why you play the game."

What do you learn from a man like that? I mean he has been around for a while.

Well you learn from his experience. There are certain things that you can ask him that you don't learn when you go to acting school. You don't learn those things in a classroom and you're not going to learn them on other sets, because he has played the lead before. I mean he is a leading man. And in this case I am playing the lead. It would be a foolish thing to not ask him certain things about how to do that. So I asked him small things at moments. And at other moments I just watched him on set. I watched his rapport with the crew. I watched the way that he understood how things moved around him. And [there were] little tricks of the trade and you just pick them up.

Well, you did an outstanding job in this movie. I so enjoyed it and I can't wait for people to see it because you did a great job so hats off to you.

Thank you.