James Brown Story Comes to the Big Screen

Get On UpHOLLYWOOD – Time and again we’ve heard the expression, “Behind every great man is a strong woman.” Such is inferred of DeeDee Brown perhaps the better known second wife of entertainment legend, James Brown–in “Get On Up”–the new film that presents a behind-the-scenes portrayal of Brown’s interpersonal relationships.

Starring Chadwick Boseman (“Draft Day, 42”) as Brown, the film boasts a lauded cast of women, among them: Oscar winner Octavia Spencer (“The Help”), Oscar nominee Viola Davis (“Doubt”, “The Help”), Tika Sumpter (“Ride Along”, Tyler Perry’s “The Haves And Have Nots”), Aunjanue Ellis (“Freedomland”, “Undercover Brother”) and four-time EMMY winner Allison Janney (TV’s “The West Wing”, “The Help” and “Juno”).
Along with these costarring ladies of “Get On Up” is Ms. Jill Scott in the role of DeeDee Brown.
I sat with the exquisitely dressed Jill Scott in Manhattan at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel to discuss her luminous career, celebrity status and interpretation of DeeDee Brown–
Sandra Varner: The expression tour de force is used to describe many talented individuals but, when said of you, it rings especially true.  How does Jill Scott describe Jill Scott?
Scott: Creative, I’m a loner… there’s a yearning for more that matters to me; I’m going to go as far as to say gifted and a lover of all things delicious.  It’s so much to describe.
Q: I love your choice of words. Now,  as we discuss your current film role as DeeDee Brown, given the volatile nature of their relationship, it suggests that DeeDee grew into loving her man albeit the abuse and extramarital affairs.  The film insinuates that she flipped the abuse and forced James into facing his deep seated feelings from witnessing his mother’smistreatment, confusing it for romantic love.  How did you approach DeeDee, the character?
A: The most important thing that I was told by Tate (Taylor, the film’s director) is that she was still in love with him. They divorced, he had other wives, other women, moved different places, lost money, he went to jail, subsequently died and she was still in love with him.
When DeeDee saw James perform she was done! When he saw her with whatever it was, whether it was the glimmer in her eye or he saw a certain spirit, he was done!  He married her but, DeeDee in many ways, is the same woman; she’s like his mother but not as cold so they had the same experiences.  What he saw happen between his mother and father was violent but it was also very passionate and that’s the understanding he grew up with. I think DeeDee just accepted him as he was whether it was good for her or not. Eventually she had to make a hard decision and they divorced.  But, who can stop loving James Brown? I know I can’t.
Chad (Boseman) was playing James Brown but Chad ‘was’ James Brown to me; I found myself doing things that surprised me but I didn’t fight it.  I served his food at lunch, I bought him drinks, I patted his head when he was sweating, I encouraged him when he didn’t even need it… just James.
Chad and I are cool, you know. I like Chad, Chad likes me, and we’re cool.  But playing DeeDee alongside him –as those characters–we kissed a lot, we cuddled a lot, often we had to be stopped during taping.  There was something about that man that I don’t know if I’ll ever get out of my system: when you meet a man who is that powerful, that self-assured, that talented, that unafraid, unabashed, it’s hard to get that thing out of your system.
The man is gone.  He has passed on and DeeDee is still in love with him.  I understand because I’m still in love with James Brown and I never even met the man.
Talk2SV: Wow. What was the shorthand between you and Chad beyond the obvious?  What led you into that whole creative space where you could release yourself to him?
Scott: Well, Chad had been rehearsing and they had been shooting by the time I got there [on set].  Once my shooting schedule began, I’d be sitting in makeup, would see Chad and we exchanged pleasantries–hey, what’s going on, nice to see you, congratulations on your work, I really enjoyed you in 42, this and that–all good.  I thought he was very gracious as an actor, very generous.  When they put make up on that man and he got up as James Brown–he sang, he studied, he practiced the songs during make up–he became the man in front of my very eyes; in front of all of our eyes.  We called him Mr. Brown all day long. No one called Chad, Chad.  We all called him Mr. Brown and I loved him like Mr. Brown all day long.
Talk2SV: Similar to James Brown whose music became an anthem for many men, many say that your music, your lyrics have become an anthem for women.  Do you embrace it as such?
Scott: Well, yeah, I like the thought of that; I like to know that I speak for some women.  It wouldn’t be good to say that I spoke for all women because I don’t know all women.   I’m only one multi-dimensional being.  But, yeah, I like the thought of that.
I think I have a pretty good idea about women, growing up in a house full of them, having aunts–watching them love and lose and fight and struggle and win.  I’m more introverted than people might think because I’m a voyeur.  I live to watch other people be–that’s where these stories come from, that’s where the lyrics come from, that’s where the characters come from–from watching people be people.  They’re all so interesting to me; it’s a show every day if you just sit and look out your window.  I’m glad to know that I managed to write a couple things that speak to women’s hearts, minds, bodies, spirits…that’s good.
Talk2SV: And with watching others be themselves, we get to see you as yourself: beautiful, talented and successful, never reflecting the need to suppress your gifts.
Scott: Cool.
Talk2SV: Have you ever felt the need to deflect to make somebody else feel comfortable in your presence?
Scott: No…I never thought about it, you know.  When I feel women are slightly uncomfortable around me for whatever reason, I just shine light on them; I compliment them on what I see. My mother has said that I could find beauty in a troll and I believe I can.
There’s beauty in every single person even if they may not see it.  I’m a freckle fan so I think people with freckles are fantastic and lucky.  I like idiosyncrasies, I like gaps between teeth, I like dimples in chins, and I like scars.  There’s always something beautiful in someone, somewhere, I just look for it and enjoy it.  If there are times when I feel someone is slightly intimidated by me, I’ll just leave them alone, it’s not my problem, it’s not my worry, it’s not even my business.  As my grandmother would say, I can’t “cow tow” for somebody else.   I wish you happiness within yourself.
When I see beautiful women, instead of getting angry or feeling insecure and inferior, I compliment them and it just eases whatever it is.  We’re all really on the same team whether we’re natural haired or wigged or relaxed or weaved or bald–we’re still black women, period.
Read more at www.Talk2SV.com.
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By  Sandra Varner
Observer Correspondent