Actor Chadwick Boseman has played numerous historical figures in recent years, including legendary baseball player Jackie Robinson in the film 42. As we know, Robinson was the first Black athlete to play in the major leagues. He joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, and 42 depicts the player’s foray to the famous team. While it was generally well-received, the PG-13 film was criticized for being a highly sanitized depiction of real-life events. But Rachel Robinson, Jackie’s widow, was more than pleased with the final result. Seeing the film reminded her of the difficult times she and her husband went through, but also of the many joyful moments they experienced through all of the struggle. Here are some secrets behind the making of 42.
During Boseman’s audition for the role, writer and director Brian Helgeland knew within 30 seconds that the actor was the man for the job. Boseman chose a difficult scene to perform – the scene in which Robinson unleashed his anger in a tunnel. Helgeland thought it took a lot of courage to audition with such a tough scene.
Boseman, who played Little League baseball growing up, trained for five months with college and major league coaches. They taped his daily practices and played them for the actor against footage of Jackie Robinson so he could track his progress and grow into Robinson’s mannerisms, like his batting stance.
Doing Other Things
Boseman was visiting Los Angeles, taking a bit of a break from directing an off-Broadway play when he got a call from his agent about auditioning for 42. In fact, he was getting ready to return to New York when his agent informed him of the audition.
Playing a beloved hero like Jackie Robinson would prove challenging to any actor. But Boseman felt more of a responsibility to Rachel Robinson, Jackie’s widow, more than anyone else. Boseman knew that thinking of Jackie as a hero would be a pitfall and detriment to his performance, so he steered clear of that pressure.
Director Brian Helgeland wanted a character actor to play Branch Rickey, the Dodgers’ general manager who was instrumental in bringing Jackie Robinson to the team. Harrison Ford was not who Helgeland originally had in mind, but the actor was able to seal the deal.
Boseman recalled the time when Ford announced to nervous extras on set that he was wearing a fat suit (in addition to prosthetics) in order to play Branch Rickey. Needless to say, the extras felt a lot less nervous and more comfortable with the lighthearted actor.
Actress Nicole Beharie played Rachel Robinson in 42. To help her prepare for the role, Rachel gave Beharie some of the love letters she and her husband had written to one another. Beharie also spent a day with Rachel and communicated with her often via email.
In addition to visiting the 42 set, Rachel Robinson read different drafts of the script. While certain scenes were dramatized or written expressly for the big screen, Rachel, according to Boseman, signed off on everything. To Boseman, that meant that even the created moments were authentic to her.
The Script – Part II
Though Rachel Robinson was pleased with the final version of the script, she initially wanted the film to have a much wider scope when it came to her husband’s life. But Helgeland believed that focusing on a shorter span of time in Robinson’s life – from his time with the Kansas City Monarchs to the end of his rookie year with the Dodgers – would maximize dramatic tension. Rachel ended up agreeing with him.
If 42 had been made when Rachel Robinson first wanted to make a film about her husband’s life, Sidney Poitier would have played Jackie.
Chadwick had a stunt double, but a lot of the action shots in the film are of Boseman. The film’s producers didn’t want Boseman to get hurt, but he insisted on doing the heavy work and it paid off.
Many of the baseball scenes were filmed at both Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Alabama, and Engel Stadium in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
One thing that Rachel Robinson was adamant about was that her husband not be portrayed as angry, which he was often unfairly accused of being.
Wayne Isham composed the score for 42. Both Isham and director Helgeland wanted Jackie Robinson to have a distinct voice musically. That resulted in Isham using the French horn and the trumpet to musically depict Robinson’s courage and strength, both on and off the field.