I want a player who’s got the guts not to
fight back… Your enemy will be out in force,
and you cannot meet him on his own low ground…
You give me a uniform,
you give me a number on my back,
and I’ll give you the guts.
On April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson emerged from the tunnel at Ebbets Field in a Brooklyn Dodgers’ uniform bearing the number 42. In that instant, he broke Major League Baseball’s infamous color line. Simply put, that is the extent of what most people know about him in the context of history. However, few today can fully comprehend what that meant in the context of human experience. And the whole of what he achieved was anything but simple.
Watching “42” on a giant movie screen feels surreal–like sitting in the crowded stands cheering for your hometown hero– but the reality of this epic masterpiece starring Chadwick Boseman, Nicole Beharie and Oscar nominee Harrison Ford, allows fans to relive the course of sports most iconic figure: Jackie Robinson and his emboldened triumph that ended segregation in major league baseball in the 1940s.
Helmed by Oscar winner, writer, director Brian Helgeland (L.A. Confidential, Man on Fire, Mystic River), “42” is told with a quality of realism rarely seen in contemporary films. Distributed and produced by Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures, the filmmakers chose to illuminate a snapshot of Robinson’s ascension to world renowned status, shepherded by Branch Rickey, then general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers.
“42” is more than a history lesson, bigger than a moment in time, more powerful than a Hall of Fame distinction. Arguably, “42” holds a mirror up to what America was and what she is capable of becoming, a nation able to right its wrongs and celebrate our collective success.
Further, “42” does not compromise its powerful message in an attempt to entertain. After all, baseball remains one of America’s favorite pastimes; the film’s beauty, athleticism and intensity are equal rivals and the cast seemed born to inhabit their portrayals.
Boseman (Daytime TV’s All My Children) as Jackie Robinson was a brilliant choice: his silhouette, stance and facial features are spot on; Beharie (American Violet, T.D. Jakes’ Woman Thou Art Loosed: the 7th Day) as Robinson’s devoted wife Rachel, bring resolute tenacity, intelligence, with quiet elegance and; Ford as Branch Rickey is the big surprise.
Dashing as ever, the successful box office star of film franchises Star Wars and Indiana Jones, Ford completely surrenders to a gruffer Rickey– the indomitable, power-wielding though sensitized real life hero– who by comparison looms larger than the aggregate of Ford’s onscreen heroic characters that have catapulted his movie career for decades.
Regarding this symbolic leading role Boseman explained that he had to meet the approval of Robinson’s widow, stating, “I had to prove to her the way I wanted to tell the story was the right way to tell the story. She had the rights and wasn’t going to just sell them. I had to go and meet with her to break down how I was going to tell the story.”
Boseman really wanted the role stating, “Well, I thought I wasn’t going to get it. I mean, I had a realization before I got it that I was going to get it but then doubt sets in. You have a baseball try out and you don’t do as well as you thought you should have done so I was worried about it. When Brian (Helgeland) called, he asked, ‘Do you want to play Jackie Robinson?’ I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. He went on to say, ‘if you want to play him, it’s yours, but if you don’t want to play him…’ and of course I said, ‘Yes, I want to play him.’”
Once the casting decision had been made, Boseman said the weight of the task set in, “This role a tremendous responsibility; I honestly celebrated. I had fun but kept it to myself. I didn’t even tell my mom until just before they announced it. I was just the happiest person in the world, walking around smiling at people and no one knew why.”
Hoping doors will open wider following “42,” the writer/producer/actor said, “I don’t necessarily know what it means in terms of my entire career. I just know it’s a fun thing to be part of and I know it’s a rare experience. I’m just going to cherish it and thank God for the experience and the people I got to work with. Finding out that I was working with Harrison Ford was amazing. It was like getting the role all over again.”
Far from the role he portrayed, Harrison Ford explained how he prepared for Branch Rickey. “There was actually more audio available tape of him than there was visual material. I studied all the photographs had the idea that the film would be much better served with a Branch Rickey look alike rather than a Harrison Ford look alike. I didn’t want the audience to go into the film thinking that they knew me from some previous experience in the movies. I invested a lot in process to try and figure out what I should do and what I shouldn’t do to achieve the look of the character. What helped more than anything else was the fat suit because it really did give me a sense of what it meant to maneuver at that size. I was given the opportunity to play a younger man (Branch Rickey was 65 in the movie, Ford is 70) which is not going to happen a lot anymore (laughter).