The one and only James Brown– proclaimed “Godfather of Soul” who forever changed the landscape of rhythm, blues, funk and dance around the world–was a composite of influences, mostly negative, as the story’s told in GET ON UP, the new film chronicling his life, directed by Tate Taylor (“The Help”). Chadwick Boseman stars as Mr. Brown.
Brokenfamily ties, numerous women, estranged offspring, a revolving door of musicians and backup singers, the one constant in his life was Bobby Byrd, the musician who endured the hardship, the pain and the fame in lock step with James Brown.
In GET ON UP, Bobby Byrd is portrayed by Alabama-born actor Nelsan Ellis, a star of the HBO series True Blood.
History reveals that Brown and Byrd met as teenagers in Toccoa, Georgia, where Brown was incarcerated. Byrd persuaded his mother to let the young prisoner live with them when he was paroled, which launched a 20-year musical collaboration.
Sandra Varner/Talk2SV: Every superstar star needs a wingman; Bobby Byrd was James Brown’s wingman. Who did you see this character as?
Nelsan Ellis: His rock, his anchor, his consistency…a lot of people came and went in the life of James Brown except Bobby. He was the brotherly love that James could depend on, all the time. It’s funny because part of me thought that Bobby gave James the father and the mother he needed. Bobby was that consistent thing in his life and he took care of so much stuff in James’ life.
Talk2SV: In several scenes, a two-way mirror best describes the relationship between Bobby Byrd and James Brown—Bobby could see himself within James and vice versa–the connective tissue was palpable.
Nelsan Ellis: We didn’t make a decision about how we’d approach the roles, the kinship; we just fell into each other’s rhythm and I must say it’s one of the most beautiful dances that I’ve ever had with another actor. I loved every second of working with Chadwick Boseman. We just sort of found the dance; he did his work, I did my work and it was marvelous.
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