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During an interview with Variety earlier this week celebrating the 20 year anniversary of “A Knight’s Tale,” filmmaker Brian Helgeland also reminisced about casting late actor Chadwick Boseman in his first lead film role in 2013’s “42.” Helgeland has long had an eye for casting — Heath Ledger was on the rise when he gave him the lead in “A Knight’s Tale,” which also featured Paul Bettany in his first Hollywood film (a role Helgeland had to fight for him to get.)

Helgeland had never met Boseman before when casting director Victoria Thomas brought him in to read for the role of Jackie Robinson. “She brought him in early, he was the second person I saw,” recalls Helgeland. “He walked in the door, he read, he left. And I said to Vicki, ‘A movie star just walked out of the room.’ She said, ‘Yeah, that’s why I brought him in.’”

When asked if he had to convince anyone to let him cast an unknown actor, Helgeland said Boseman’s talent won everyone over. “I mean it wasn’t like I said, ‘Here’s Chad!’ and everyone was like, ‘Great!’” Helgeland admits. “I had to see a lot of people — some that I saw a bit disingenuously because I knew it was going to be Chad. He was just the guy. He was fantastic.”

In fact, Helgeland says there was an advantage to casting someone not well-known. “I wasn’t interested in having an icon play an icon, so to speak,” he notes. “Like when Will Smith is playing Muhammad Ali, it takes a while to forget you’re watching Will Smith. Chad just was Jackie Robinson.”

So much so, that Helgeland was confused when a fan recently sent him a baseball card of Jackie Robinson. “It was weird, this person said, ‘I’m a baseball fanatic. I have a card of Jackie Robinson, would you sign it?’ And I take out the card and look at it and I said, ‘This isn’t even Jackie Robinson! This is a picture of some guy and they want me to sign it.’” Helgeland’s son was next to him, and asked to see the card. “He was looking at it and I’m railing about how strange this is and my son says, ‘Dad, this is Jackie Robinson.’ And he hands it back to me. I realized it’s because I was looking for Chad’s face.”

Helgeland adds that he and Thomas joke about being Boseman’s “movie step-parents” after casting him in his breakthrough role. And he was not surprised to see Boseman go on to such success. “He had done his homework, he was just waiting for his chance,” Helgeland says. “He was ready. He arrived ready.”