A real American hero gets the big-screen treatment he deserves this weekend as the Jackie Robinson biopic "42" opens wide.
"42" encapsulates the hardships and triumphs Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) faces on his way to breaking Major League Baseball's color barrier in 1947. The drama unfolds when Brooklyn Dodgers GM Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford) -- looking to fill seats, win ball games, and perhaps make history -- signs Robinson to a minor league contract. As he works his way up, Robinson fights inside pitches, rampant racism, and his own desire to fight back, only to see all those challenges exponentially quantified when he finally breaks into the big leagues.
We all know that Robinson changed much more than the game of baseball, but here are Five Film Facts you may not know, but you definitely should.
1. Harrison Ford plays Brooklyn Dodgers GM Branch Rickey, the visionary executive who dreamed up the plan to sign Robinson in the first place. While Rickey has guts on par with Indiana Jones and Han Solo, this is Ford like you've never seen him before. The 70-year-old actor wore a "fat suit," applied facial prosthetics, and shaved his hairline in an effort to become unrecognizable. "What helped more than anything else was the fat suit, because it gave me the sense of what it meant to maneuver at that size. The 65 years of age at the telling of this story gave me the opportunity to play a younger man, which is not going to happen much anymore," Ford said at the "42" press conference. Ford spoke to us about hiding behind his "fat suit" in the Insider Access video below.
2. To fill Robinson's huge spikes, newcomer Chadwick Boseman researched extensively, including meeting with Robinson's widow, Rachel. He also dove head-first into baseball training, including practicing five days a week for five months. To help Boseman get Robinson's distinctive playing style down, the filmmakers would show the Oxford-educated actor split-screen footage of himself and of Robinson. Boseman discusses the challenge in our Insider Access video above.
3. One of the major challenges for the filmmakers is the fact that Ebbets Field, the storied home of the Brooklyn Dodgers, no longer exists. To re-create the legendary landmark, as well as the other historic ballparks captured in the film, the location managers traveled South, ultimately finding three parks that were not only intact, but also fields where Robinson had played. "Whenever I came up to bat, I always grabbed a little dirt and rubbed it in my hands as a way to pay homage to him," said Boseman. You can see how well the locations show up in the theatrical trailer above.
He Runs, Hits, Throws & Acts
4. While this is certainly the Robinson film with the biggest budget, it isn't the first biopic about the Hall of Famer. Just three years after his color-breaking season, Robinson played himself in United Artists' "The Jackie Robinson Story" (1950). While "42" focuses primarily on Robinson's 1946 minor league season and his 1947 rookie season with the Dodgers, "The Jackie Robinson Story" offers a much more inclusive picture of Robinson's life, including his childhood, college years, and relationship with older brother Mack (played by Joel Fluellen), a world-record-setting broad jumper who earned a silver medal at the 1936 Olympics and later worked as a street sweeper.
5. On April 15, 1997, the 50th anniversary of Robinson's first game in the bigs, his number was universally retired by Major League Baseball, a gesture never done before or since. Since 2004,, on April 15, the entire league celebrates Jackie Robinson Day with every player donning the No. 42 on his back. MLB allowed the 13 players already wearing the number in 1997 to continue to do so. Currently, the only active big-leaguer sporting No. 42 is Mariano Rivera, the New York Yankees future Hall of Fame closer, who is retiring after this season. "I carried the legacy of Mr. Jackie for all these years, and I tried to do my best to wear No. 42 and do it with class and honor," Rivera recently said at a press conference. "Being the last player for us to wear No. 42 is a privilege."
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