Netflix unveiled the first trailer and preview for the upcoming “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” Monday morning along with a conversation with co-star Viola Davis and director George C. Wolfe. The movie version premieres Dec. 18 on Netflix.
The acclaimed August Wilson play “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” is set in the late 1920s around the pioneering “queen of the blues” (played by Davis) and her band members.
Boseman, who died of colon cancer in August, plays Levee, a talented but troubled trumpet player who has an eye for Rainey’s girlfriend and is determined to stake his own claim on the music industry. Davis, who had played Boseman’s mother in “Get on Up,” said, “Chadwick was just an artist. That’s just who he was.”
Davis went on to say, “I don’t know that people understand the absolute impact of that statement. We are in the business, that a lot of times people have business conversations that masquerade themselves as artistic conversations. They don’t understand the difference between getting on set and demanding their vegan food being brought to them or their vegetarian dishes, or the dietary concerns, having that car ready. They don’t know the difference between that and making choices as an actor and getting down and dirty and doing the work and leaving your ego and your vanity at the door. He loved it. He demanded it.” Davis added, “He demanded it in every single way.”
Wolfe said of casting Boseman, “Chadwick put his entire being into Levee and Levee demands that because of the scale of the role. He put every ounce of his heart and passion into it.”
Prior to filming, Wolfe revealed he had a two-week rehearsal period with the cast and shared that Boseman would frequently come to him and say, ‘I’m so glad we had that two-week rehearsal.’ Wolfe called the experience a joyful one and said, “When he needed another take, “it was just as ferocious and just as intense.”
Davis closely collaborated with the costume designer on the padding for the character. “I was going for a specific body structure and going for the structure of my aunt Joyce because, other than my mom, she was the first beautiful woman that I knew growing up and she was a woman of a certain size. I wanted that body because that is how Ma Rainey is described.”
Davis made sure she had a “mouthful of gold teeth” and enhanced her appearance with sweat. “I did what an actor does all the time, they call it ‘the given circumstances.’ If they say a character is a certain way, then that’s who they are, you don’t change it to meet your comfort level,” said Davis.
Washington, who produced “Fences” and “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” plans to work on producing nine of Wilson’s plays. Davis praised his commitment to honoring Wilson’s legacy. She added, “August lets us talk as people of color. I think other people may look at it and say, ‘Why do they go on and on and on?’ My whole thing is why not? We have a lot to say. There has been a muzzle placed on those for so long. This work has got to be in the hands of a great artist.”