In his follow-up to the four-time Academy Award-nominated blockbuster “The Help,” Tate Taylor directs “42’s” Chadwick Boseman as James Brown in “Get on Up.” Based on the incredible life story of the Godfather of Soul, the film will give a fearless look inside the music, moves and moods of Brown, taking audiences on the journey from his impoverished childhood to his evolution into one of the most influential figures of the 20th century. Boseman is joined in the drama by Nelsan Ellis, Dan Aykroyd, Viola Davis, Craig Robinson, Octavia Spencer, Lennie James, Tika Sumpter and Jill Scott.
Deidre “DeeDee” Jenkins (James Brown’s second wife) and her daughters, Dr. Yamma Brown and Deanna Brown-Thomas, as well as Deanna’s son, Jason Brown, attended the New York City premiere of James Brown’s biopic, “Get on Up.” You can watch the clip here:
Read our exclusive interview with Jill below.
How did you get involved with the film?
I got a script. I had been hearing about it. It was like a beat up script that somebody had been looking over and I was like ” Well, I heard there is a James Brown movie I gotta read this thing so I read it and I said, “Okay, what roles are open? Is anything open? Let me audition for it.” And he said “Oh, Viola” and I was like of course and then he said Octavia and I was like “Well, of course!”. Then I asked what’s left? Is there anything left? And he said you well know, there is a small role. It’s maybe about a days work, you can audition for that. I said okay, I’m in. So in the middle of our press junket for “Baggage Claim,” I ran out and auditioned for this film. Apparently, it went well and they wrote a new character into the movie that wasn’t there before and that’s DeeDee Brown. The second wife of James Brown.
Who is DeeDee Brown ?
DeeDee Brown is James Brown’s second wife. Mother of his children. She was completely and utterly devoted to the man. She basically saw him for the first time on stage and was done just like I was. I’ve never seen James Brown in person, but being a part of this film made me feel like I actually fell in love with James Brown through DeeDee.
[Jill begins to tear up] Are you getting emotional?
I can’t seem to help it. I miss him so much and I am talking about him all day. Today and tomorrow and the next day and I just miss him. Chad did such a wonderful job at channeling the essence of such an iconic, great man that I believe I knew James Brown. I know better. I’ve got good sense. I know that Chad had on makeup and I know that chad had on a wig … However, the essence was there. It was strong and it was true and I was in love with him and I miss him everyday. Chad is the kind of actor who goes in. He’s deep inside of it and when he put on that hair and makeup, he was James Brown. He spoke like James Brown, he ate like James brown, he sat like James Brown and he became James Brown to me and it was an incredible experience to see that happen. I saw Chad, I hung out with Chad, we had drinks, but when he was James Brown, I could not keep my hands off of him and he could not keep his hands off me. We were in love so in between takes, we’re kissing, in between takes we’re holding hands, and I’m serving his food and getting him something to drink, it wasn’t a question or a thought it was because I loved James and while he was James, I loved him. While he was James, I was DeeDee. Period.
Can you talk about the portraying the darker side of DeeDee’s relationship with James ?
Deedee understood James and accepted him. It was a part of their thing. Sometimes, he’s very passionate and loving and sometimes, the weight of being James Brown was taken out on her and she accepted it. She accepted it because she loved him and she wanted him. He is an extraordinary man. The kind of man that goes out and gives out dollars away to children on the holidays. The kind of man who would put himself in a midst of a great deal of trouble and calm people who are angry and hurt about the death of Martin Luther King. He’s a great man and she stayed as long as she could.
Tell me anything you remember about James Brown growing up?
There was a lot of dancing. Just hearing that music and how it makes your body move. It never occurred to me until just this moment how George Jefferson got all his moves from James Brown, as well as Prince, as well as Michael Jackson. Not all, but most. It’s the beginning of. I always loved that about James Brown. He’s the father of all the greatest musicians that I know. Michael Jackson, Prince, Fela. That’s their dad to a very big degree. He’s always been someone that I love to hear sing. He has a passionate voice, an honest voice and being a part of the film, watching how he rehearsed that band to damn near death, no vacation and sometimes no pay, it taught me a lot about how to handle my band. Not that I want to be mean to my band and of course I’ll pay them. I care about them too much to be rude, but I’ve learned that you have to watch me. You have to watch me so hard you have to see me before I see myself to catch what I am doing. I’ve got an incredible band and I have learned that for sure.
Have you covered any James Brown songs?
I have never covered a James Brown song. I would like to, but I don’t know which one. His jazz standards are amazing. I don’t even know if I could. That’s a big undertaking. I’m not opposed to it all.
Speak on working with the director, Tate.
Tate is pretty damn cool. I mean really cool. He allows his actors to do the work. He might have a word for you or two but he is kind of like a kid in a candy store. He gets an opportunity to watch actors work based on what’s been written and the scene. He just seems to enjoy it so much, so it’s a pleasant cool atmosphere. It’s not full of stress or yelling. I like directors like that, too cause they push you but this was something else. It was a very relaxed environment.
Speak about the musical numbers coming to life.
The production was incredible. Watching those shows live – people really were screaming. It was not just “action, now we are supposed to scream”. We had reasons to scream. The background dancers were amazing; the horn section was right on. It was a great show, so it wasn’t hard to do. They’re like “We are all going to do this again” and everyone is like “yaaaaaay”. That’s 200 extras in uncomfortable clothing with wigs. You have to turn the AC off so it’s hot. They were really excited to do it again as many times as it took and that says a lot for the performances. Even Chad had a chance to be inside James Brown. Seeing from his perspective. Who gets to do that? Not too many people. Nobody, except Chad.
How was it working with Chad?
I got a chance to hang out with Chad a little. A drink here, a drink there. A little conversation but mostly, I spent my time with James Brown. When I saw Chad, it was nice … He’s a cool guy. Very smart guy, nice to be around, easy personality but I really was more interested in seeing James. He’s the one I that have these feelings for. He’s the one that gives me butterflies and makes me melt. Typically, you do a role and you bury them and you say peaceful words over that character and you move on. I have not been able to let go of the relationship that DeeDee had with James. Even though I know that James is gone in real life, but I miss him. I miss him everyday. It is very strange. I am in love with the man that is being played by another man.
What was your favorite moment on set?
I really enjoyed the performance where they were dressed in these sweaters. There were parts of that you all didn’t see that we had a chance to see and it was crazy. I think he was on something or he was seeing things from a high person’s perspective or something. I don’t know what it was that was making him see it like this, but it was far out, it was really far out and that was my favorite. Just standing in the background and watching it happen. But for whatever reason, it did not make the film.
What surprised you about James Brown’s story?
What he had overcome. What he had to live with. People deal with things in all kinds of ways but to know that he was living with the fact that his mother left him, living with the fact that he saw her and she did not even claim him. That kind of hurt. I can’t imagine if my mother were to do something like that to me. I don’t know how I would feel and what kind of road that would lead me to. And for him to accomplish so much, the man had a plane for god sakes. Back in that time, it was not something that was done. For him to create such amazing music with all this soul power inside of it, was the most stirring part of what I learned about James Brown. The fact that he was living with it. Growing up in a whore house, he was living with it. All of those things created this amazing man. Him being able to find light in the dark consistently is just impressive. It just shows you that whatever it is that life has dealt you at this point, there is power even in that if you decide to choose it and claim it. It might make you a different person, it might not make you as nice as everybody else or popular but it could, you know. He’s a real motivational force.
I’m still working on my albums and they are coming together beautifully. I am more and more excited everyday. I had to make sure I wrote music that I want to sing for the rest of my life. People don’t really look at it from that perspective, but I want to sing things that I mean and I want to own them authentically. So it takes a little more time. Gotta do some soul searching and reevaluate yourself and pay attention to the world. So sometimes you gotta get quiet to get loud.