“Sometimes, you will play a character who is the complete opposite of you in real life,” Chanté Adams says. “When it comes to baseball skills, that’s me and Max.”
Adams is talking about Max Chapman, the character she plays in A League of Their Own, the new series (premiering August 12 on Prime Video) about life in and around the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League in the 1940s. And while there are many things about Max—a preternaturally gifted athlete who’s kept out of the league because she’s Black—with which Adams can identify, a knack for baseball isn’t among them.
Before the series, which was co-created by Abbi Jacobson and Will Graham, began filming in Pittsburgh, the cast went through a boot camp in Los Angeles, working with Justine Siegal, the first female coach to be employed by a Major League Baseball team. “Did I get better? Sure,” Adams admits. “Did I get good enough not to need a double? No. But I feel good about where I am.”
It's a feeling she must have about more than just baseball. Over the past few years, Adams has seen her star rise steadily; in 2017, her role in the biopic Roxanne, Roxanne earned her the Special Jury Prize for Breakthrough performance at the Sundance Film Festival, she’s appeared in films including The Photograph, Bad Hair, and the Denzel Washington-directed A Journal for Jordan, and earlier this year she made her Broadway debut opposite Phylicia Rashad in the Ruben Santiago-Hudson directed play Skeleton Crew. It’s a stacked resume for any actor, let alone one who never thought she’d get into show business.
“Growing up, I didn’t think I’d be an actor,” Adams explains. “I was a competitive cheerleader and dancer, and my father is a coir and musical director, so I was always in the choir. Performing wasn’t new to me, but when I was in high school I met an amazing drama teacher, Marilyn McCormick, who introduced me to the world of theater and showed all of these Black kids from Detroit that a career in the arts was possible. Freshman year, I auditioned for a play and never looked back.”
After attending a summer performance program at Carnegie Mellon, Adams enrolled in the university’s drama school and after graduation, she moved to New York City to find work in the theater. “The dream was always to be on stage,” she explains. “I couldn’t have predicted a film and television career; I moved to do theater and possibly be girl number three on Law & Order SVU, which is your right of passage as an actor in New York. I didn’t know film and television would take off for me.”
A League of Their Own marks a turning point for Adams. It’s the first time she’s leading a series—and that wasn’t a choice she made lightly. When she was asked to audition for the role, she says, “My first though was A League of Their Own? Of course! I’m a fan of the movie, everyone’s a fan of the movie, but honestly I was a bit confused. I remember the movie very well, and I don’t remember seeing women who look like me on that team, besides one iconic scene when a Black woman gets the baseball and throws it back to Geena Davis.” The series, however, isn’t just a rehash of the hit 1992 movie.
While A League of Their Own shares a name and some broad strokes with the film, it finds more to explore about its characters than just their time on the field. Issues around race, sexuality, class, and gender are all front and center, but so is the comic heart that made the film a classic. “I looked at the script and realized this wasn’t the movie we saw in the ’90s but was an expansion that would dive deeper,” Adams says. “And then I got really excited. This was something we hadn’t seen before, and I really wanted to be a part of that.”
The series really wanted her as well. “It was 2019 when we cast the pilot,” explains Jacobson, who also stars in the series. “We were all blown away by Chanté’s self tape, and back when there were in-person callbacks, she came in for one. This is a two-hander, it’s [my character] Carson and Max, and when Chanté left the audition room, we were all like, ‘that has to be Max.’”
It was a gut feeling Jacobson’s glad she followed. “I was blown away by Chanté’s audition and over the past three years, I’ve been blown away by her again and again,” she says. “I’ve seen her kill it and not just in our show, and I feel so lucky that she decided to work with us.”
Who is Adams going to make lucky next? In the short term, it’s David E. Kelly and Regina King, who’ve cast her in an adaptation of Tom Wolfe’s A Man in Full for Netflix, but beyond that she says she hopes to start producing her own projects and using her star power to bring the kind of stories she wants to see into the world.
“Something I’ve come to love about what I can do with my career is bring stories about Black women to the forefront, especially when it involves stories that have been forgotten or were never known,” she says, noting she learned about underappreciated Black baseball players like Toni Stone, Mamie Johnson, and Connie Morgan for her role in League. That’s her mission, whether she’s spending time in front of the camera or behind it.
“I hope people, especially people of color and queer people, are inspired not only by Max’s story but by all of the characters in A League of Their Own,” she says. “Max is a person who has everything going against her when it comes to what she wants to do; there are so many obstacles in her way, but nothing’s going to stop her from going after her dream because she believes in herself. She understands that hearing no can wear you down, but if you keep trying you will get to the point when yes comes along.”
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