Chadwick and I were on our way to Augusta, Georgia to meet James Brown’s family. We were hopeful the Browns would give our unlikely pairing the blessing to tell the story of the Godfather of Soul. Chad was relatively unknown at the time, having just played Jackie Robinson in “42” and I had just come off “The Help.”
We were both anxious about putting what would be our sophomore films into the world. We talked openly about fear and what part it had played in our lives up until now. Chad turned to me and said, “What we’re really anxious about is proving to ourselves we can do it again.”
At that moment I got a glimpse of how wise Chad was, and I wanted more. We won over the Browns that day and then as Chad put it with his intoxicating grin, “This s—’s about to get very, very real.” Later at the airport, we pledged to each other that if one of us thought the film wasn’t working in any way due to him or myself thinking that one, both or the other wasn’t up to the challenge, we could be truthful about it and stop the whole damn thing. I don’t know what the studio would have done if that had happened but we didn’t care.
Establishing that level of love, honesty, trust and commitment between two men was the only way we were going to pull it off. We embraced and in that moment became friends and brothers for life.
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Chadwick was a perfectionist and a consummate professional. He shared my love of collaboration. He believed, like me, that good ideas can come from anybody anytime, anywhere. But he also taught me about dedication, resilience and so much about love. He listened to me as a partner, not as a critic. If he or I questioned the other’s opinion, we talked about it openly and deeply and always ended up with a solution neither of us saw coming. He let himself go in his performance without any sense that people were watching him. It was unlike anything I’d ever seen. He stayed in character not because that was his method, but because he became James Brown. He would strut up to my first AD (a beautiful blonde from Mississippi) pull her into his arms and as Mr. Brown says, “Hey pretty white lady, Mr. Brown needs a sandwich” then give her a gentle kiss on the cheek. At one point my AD looked at him and begged Mr. Brown to never leave her.
That is just how talented and charming Chadwick was.
The love and respect he had for the crew, the extras, the caterers was sincere and felt by all. In the beginning, he would ask for many takes because he had just discovered something else that he needed to try. In all seriousness, Chadwick explained to me that when he was acting in a scene, the real James Brown would talk to him from heaven. I would oblige him, and each take wasn’t better, but it would be completely different and equally as wonderful. I told him that we’d never finish the film under our limited time and budget. In character he said, “Mr. Taylor, Mr. Brown needs to do it again.”
Under the spell of that grin, we go again. The next morning, I came to his trailer and I handed Chadwick a plastic red card.
I told him that when I was happy with a take he needed to trust it as we promised each other in Georgia. When he wanted another take, he could present this card to me and I’d do it his new way as many times as he needed until he was satisfied but he only got one card each day, so he better save it and choose wisely when to use it.
With curlers in his wig, he turned to me in character and very sternly said “Mr. Taylor, you gonna tell the Sex Machine he needs a card to do his thing?!” I immediately worried that I had done wrong. Not by Chadwick but by Mr. Brown. Then he burst out laughing and Chadwick, threw his arms around me and said that it was a good idea.
We used that card for the rest of the shoot and once a day, usually at the end, he would present it to me. It wasn’t because he thought he could do better. It was because we were having so much fun together. How I wish I could go to him now and give him the red card and say “Please do it again.”
This past March I checked on my friend, as we did, asking if he was in South Carolina with his family riding out 2020. He told me he was sick and not comfortable traveling, but he’d promised himself as a little boy he wouldn’t be in California when the world came to an end.
Even as a little boy Chadwick knew his purpose and where his life was headed and where he was going to take it. Chadwick got what he wanted. He didn’t die in California because South Carolina went to him and his wife and family were with him until the end. Chadwick told me he loved me that day and that was the last time we spoke. He never shared his illness with me. I now realize he was telling me goodbye the only way he could.
Chadwick Boseman wasn’t just a talented actor, dancer, writer or superhero, he was a beautiful, majestic creature put on this earth to help people. He changed everyone he ever met or worked with. I am one of those fortunate people. I’ll be talking to Chadwick just like Mr. Brown did with him because as James Brown always said, “You can’t stop the funk.”
I miss and love you my friend.
Tate Taylor is a writer, actor and director whose credits include “The Help” (2011), “Get on Up” (2014) and “The Girl on the Train” (2016)
(Pictured: Chadwick Boseman in “Get on Up”)