Despite the interview being for the 20th anniversary of his 2001 film A Knight’s Tale, filmmaker Brian Helgeland took the time to talk to Variety about casting the late-Chadwick Baseoman in his 2013 film 42. He began by pointing out that he'd never met Boseman beforehand and that it was the film's casting director Victoria Thomas who brought the then-unknown actor to read for the film's lead part of Jackie Robinson. Hedgeland recalled, “She brought him in early, he was the second person I saw. 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.’” Helgeland also said Boseman’s talent won everyone over, admitting, “I mean it wasn’t like I said, ‘Here’s Chad!’ and everyone was like, ‘Great!’ 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.” Helgeland even joked that he and Thomas were Boseman’s “movie step-parents” after casting him in his breakthrough role.
Helgeland is no stranger to casting unknowns, having cast both Heath Ledger and Paul Bettany in A Knight's Tale. As to why he wanted an unknown to begin with, Helgeland said, “I wasn’t interested in having an icon play an icon, so to speak. Like when Will Smith is playing Muhammad Ali, it takes a while to forget you’re watching Will Smith. Chad just was Jackie Robinson.”
And as a true testament to how much Boseman impacted him, Helgeland added an interesting story:
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 was not surprised that Boseman went onto great success, quoted saying, “He had done his homework, he was just waiting for his chance. He was ready. He arrived ready.” Sadly, Boseman passed last August at the age of 43 from stage IV colon cancer. Ultimately, Boseman would finish on a career high, not only starring as T'Challa/Black Panther in the MCU, but also co-starring in the critically-acclaimed films Da 5 Bloods and Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, the latter of which saw Boseman posthumously receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. Despite his early death, Boseman has clearly cemented himself among the greats. Stay tuned!