The LATE, GREAT, Chadwick Boseman graces the latest edition of ‘Vanity Fair’.
In the glossy, Viola Davis, Denzel Washington, and more discuss how the beloved actor prepared for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom—and gave the performance of his career.
The band room where much of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom unfolds was designed to look like a boxing ring, a place August Wilson’s dialogue could really cut and blow. It was in this space that Chadwick Boseman transformed into Levee, a hotheaded cornet player who was always ready to fight.
In the film, based on Wilson’s 1982 play, the titular blues star’s band members—Levee, Cutler, Slow Drag, and Toledo—hang around the room during a daylong recording session, trading barbs that oscillate between playful and lethal. Many of the production’s hardest scenes are set there and, in a twist of scheduling fate, were shot during the final week of filming. For Boseman, this meant tackling a series of increasingly difficult moments—from Levee’s emotional five-minute monologue about his traumatic childhood to his outburst at God.
Neither director George C. Wolfe nor Boseman’s castmates knew it, but the actor was also deep into a four-year battle with colon cancer. After big scenes, he’d retreat to a nearby stairwell. “He would go over on those steps and literally collapse to rest his energy,” Wolfe says. He would approach his star there to give him notes; at other points during filming, Boseman’s team—including his future wife, Simone Ledward, and his hair and makeup artists—would pray and meditate over him. But when it was time to shoot his scenes, Boseman sprang into action. [Vanity Fair]
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