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James Brown vs. Chadwick Boseman: A Dance-Off!

Meriah Doty
Editor
August 1, 2014
James Brown splits dancing
James Brown splits dancing

There are certain challenges to any actor who wants to give an accurate portrayal of James Brown. Beyond having to nail the distinctive speech patterns and mannerisms, there are, of course, those singular dance moves. Such were the obstacles facing Chadwick Boseman, who plays the Godfather of Soul in the just-released biopic Get On Up.

James Brown mic dancing
James Brown mic dancing

Boseman knows a thing or two about roles that demand a superior level of athleticism — he won praise for his portrayal of baseball legend Jackie Robinson in last year’s 42. Still, the 32-year-old actor, who had no prior dance training, learned that the concert stage could be even more challenging than a sports field. “No matter who is cast you know that it’s going to be a struggle to get this person to pull it off,” Get On Up choreographer Aakomon Jones told Yahoo Movies during a set visit.

James Brown dancing Chadwick Boseman
James Brown dancing Chadwick Boseman

Boseman had to work — and work hard. He also had to compensate for his height: At an even six feet, he stands four inches taller than Brown. “I don’t care how brilliant of a dancer you are — just the height difference — you move differently,” Jones pointed out. “You move at a slightly slower pace and your body language doesn’t really mirror that [of a shorter man].”

James Brown spin Get On Up
James Brown spin Get On Up

Jones made sure Boseman learned Brown’s more flashy moves — like his spins, splits, and the Mashed Potato. More than the stunts, Jones was concerned with “the body posture, the groove, how James Brown would stay locked into a beat. Top to bottom, just being able to keep that, being able to communicate with the band the way James does, was a challenge.”

James Brown mashed potato
James Brown mashed potato

Boseman was equal to the task — even allaying early concerns of one of the film’s producers, rock legend Mick Jagger, who knew Brown and saw him perform many times. “By the time Mick came in and saw Chadwick moving, his worries were put at ease,” said Jones. “His thing to me was, just make it as real and authentic and spot on as you can.”

James Brown cape
James Brown cape

Boseman came “an extremely long way,” Jones reported. “He is athletic and he works hard.” Do you think Boseman’s moves are up to snuff? Let us know in the comments!

Kevin Polowy contributed to this report.
GIFs made by Paul Rosales.