Actor Nelsan Ellis, who is also the star of “True Blood,” discussed Playing Bobby Byrd In James Brown Biopic “Get On Up.”


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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.

Read our exclusive interview with Nelsan below:

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Can you tell me a little bit about your musical background, were you a musician before this or a singer?

No.

Really?

Not at all. I fancy myself one in the bathtub and in the shower. But not in public.

Tell me about immersing yourself in the world of music. What was your preparation? Cause you have to do singing and dancing. You have to do it all basically.

I just watched all the stuff that was on YouTube that Bobby Byrd did that’s how I immersed myself. The research and dance rehearsals, band rehearsals, piano rehearsals and the script.

Can you speak about you got involved with the film because I know you worked with Tate before on “The Help”.

We did. I auditioned for James Brown originally and that wasn’t the part for me. I looked like Bobby Byrd apparently so they thought that Bobby Byrd would be a better fit for me.

Can you speak about reuniting with Tate and collaborating with him for this film?

Marvelous! It’s always marvelous to work with Tate. It;s funny because his genius has gone to a new level on this film. His ability to tell a complex story so graceful, I think is marvelous. I mean a complex story that he tells so gracefully, I was like “wow, he is a great director”.

Obviously the film focuses James Brown’s relationship with Bobby. Can you speak about that relationship?

They were dudes, they were homies. Bobby Byrd was his supporter, his anchor, he was consistent, he was always there for him, loved the man, admired the man. They’d grown up together since they were teenagers, basically they were brothers. Bobby Byrd was his family. You know James Brown’s family abandoned him, Bobby never did.

I want to talk about working with Chadwick because you guys just do such a wonderful job bringing this relationship to life. Can you speak about collaborating with him and working with him on set, what that whole process was like?

Every single moment of working with him I loved, every single moment I loved working with him. He actually – and I never told him this – he actually changed me as an actor. My work ethic is much higher because he is a worker, he’s a mule, he gets in there and does it. The fact that he is so generous, he is never lazy with being generous, he is never sitting there and you see something blank in his eyes and you have to to create this moment all by yourself. Every single moment I loved working with this man.

As someone who was there can you speak about watching him transform? He does such an incredible job.

I got lost sometimes, I got lost. I’m not that dude that goes on set and is like I’m Bobby Byrd for real and you’re James Brown for real. No, you Chad I’m Nelsan, we’re hired to play pretend, but there were moments where I actually got lost cause he was James Brown at times. I told him one time I said “Dude, I actually got lost and thought you were James Brown in this moment”.

Jill told me the same thing. She said she fell in love with James Brown.

It’s funny because I fell in love with James Brown also through Chad. Fell in love of terms of ” You my brother dude, I love you, you my brother and I’m always going to be there.” It’s funny because I miss him everyday almost as if me and by brother we’ve divorced ourselves. I actually miss Chad, I’m sorry I miss James Brown every day as if he’s suppose to be there, he’s suppose to be my brother and we’ve been friends for forty years.

Can you speak about what you most connected with in the whole story of James Brown?

Well my job was to connect to Bobby Byrd and to James Brown in their relationship. For the most part I connected with was Bobby Byrd’s devotion, admiration and pure love for James Brown. The dude and how humble he was – to recognize “oh he’s the great one I’m going to take step back and I’m going to just learn from him, I know he’s better than me.” There is a line in the movie and he goes ” He’s the front man, I’m not.” Although Bobby Byrd was a accomplished all on his own with his albums, but he’s like I’m going to learn form this greatness.

Can you speak about your favorite musical number to perform.

SEX MACHINE!

You also played M.L.K. Jr. in “The Butler” can you speak about playing these biographical characters? Is that something you are interested in or attracted to or is it kind of a coincidence?

It was a coincidence. I’ll go wherever the work comes.

If you could collaborate with a musician the way Bobby collaborated with James, who would it be and why?

I would say Prince because “Purple Rain” is one of the best songs. I love “Purple Rain.” I would say James Brown but he’s no longer around or Bobby Byrd, but I would say Prince.

Did you get to connect with Bobby’s family in this process?

No. I didn’t. I wanted to.

This is a fabulous ensemble. You have so many great actors working together. Can you speak about working with the entire team?

Let me count the ways. Viola Davis, she makes me want to go back to school. Allison Janney, she makes me want to go back to school. Octavia Spencer makes me want to go back to school. Chad makes me want to go back to school.

So you’re going back to Juilliard?

Yeah, take some classes cause I’m like “I need so more training in my life.” These the big boys and the big girls. Viola Davis watching her scene, we’re all watching the monitor and everybody’s sitting there … and her scene got better and better and better every take …Yes when she came in there and did that little thing and she said “I aint know nothing I’m just country.” I’m lucky where I get to sit there and watch these great titans in acting to steel their shit.

You are in your final season of “True Blood” can you just reflect on that experience and what you will miss mostly about it?

It’s the same thing. You’re working with great actors and you learn from them. I’m a thief. I sit there and watch actors and I’m like I’m going to do what you do. I’m going to miss that you know? I’ve had he pleasure of watching Rutina, Anna Paquin, Steve Moyer and more importantly we’ve all created families during the show. I’m not going to see them no more. We bring our kids to set and we fall in love with our kids and our dogs and now we are not going to have that anymore, so I’m going to miss that. It is not so much that I will miss the show, I’m going to miss our families. Cause every show has to come to and end, but families that’s hard how often do families come to an end. So it’s hard.

“Get On Up” hits theaters this Friday, August 1.

To celebrate the film Crooks & Castles has created a “GET ON UP” Exclusive T-Shirt Line. The goal of this collaboration was to infuse the cultural impact of the James Brown legacy with the trendsetting lifestyle fashion brand to create a special gift for key influencers. Check out the shirts below:

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Shaina lives, breathes and sleeps entertainment.

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