42 Star Chadwick Boseman to Play James Brown in Biopic; Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, and Nelsan Ellis Eyed for Supporting Roles

     August 26, 2013

chadwick boseman james brown

Producer Brian Grazer has been trying to make a James Brown biopic for over a decade.  Tate Taylor (The Help) signed on to direct and produce late last year, and Mick Jagger came to produce and lend his music cred, but there was no obvious candidate to play the Godfather of Soul.  One black actor surfaced in the last year and proved he could carry a period biopic: Chadwick Boseman.  Boseman played Jackie Robinson in 42, which premiered in April to solid reviews and went on to gross nearly $100 million domestic.  Variety reports Boseman was identified as the top choice weeks ago, but Universal and Imagine Entertainment needed to sort out the budget before an offer could be made.  Now, Boseman is Brown.

Another report suggests Taylor is eying a few members from the Help cast—Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Nelsan Ellis—for supporting roles.  More after the jump.

octavia spencer viola davisThe script by Jez and John-Henry Butterworth (Fair Game) opens on Brown’s early life of extreme poverty in Georgia and follows his rise to fame in the 60s and 70s.  Boseman is relatively young at 31, so I expect the majority of the movie to focus on Brown at his peak.  This sounds like an ashes-to-ashes biopic, though, so I imagine we will see Boseman in old-age makeup to portray the troubled later years—Brown struggled with drugs and domestic violence from the mid-80s until his death in 2006.  Brown was an immense talent and social activist with a hard life and a long record of criminal behavior.  I hope we get to see his amazing life from every angle in this biopic—at the very least, it will have a great soundtrack.

Davis, Spencer, and Ellis are under consideration for unspecified roles.  The Wrap stresses that no offers have been made, but the casting makes sense given the Help tie.

According to Variety, much of the production will be shot in Mississippi.

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