When Chadwick Boseman died earlier this year Hollywood mourned one of its most versatile leading men.
The 43-year-old star‘s final performance in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom sees him teaming up with Viola Davis who described him to Sky News as a “character actor trapped in a leading man’s body”.
The Oscar winning actress said: “He came to the set with one purpose and you could tell he felt very comfortable with it, and that is just to do great work, that’s it.
“You’re talking to a man who easily could have had the entourage, you know, the constant requests, the food, the trailers, all of that, the whole hoopla that comes into the room before him.
“He was not interested – Chad was left at the door and this actor came in.”
The Black Panther actor plays trumpet player Levee, who is in Ma Rainey’s band but wants to make his own mark on the music industry. The dapper young musician also has designs on the singer’s girlfriend.
Throughout the film the audience will see Boseman take Levee from upbeat and optimistic, into wounded but determined and ending on frustrated and destructive.
Davis goes on: “He was interested in the artistry in the process of the work and always getting better and he was also someone who had great respect for the other actors in the room.
“I think it was very calculated that he never wanted to feel like all the attention and focus was on him, never.
“It was beautiful.”
Boseman and Davis are both predicted to get Oscar nods for their roles in the adaptation of the August Wilson play.
It’s the second time Davis has taken on one of the iconic writer’s characters – the first was in Fences for which she won an Academy Award in 2017.
In this film she plays the eponymous Ma Rainey, a real singer who recorded during the 1920s, but was ahead of her time.
She’s a woman Davis thinks many today could learn from: “Someone who’s unapologetic, someone who doesn’t say ‘I’m sorry’, someone who knows her worth and her value and not afraid to fight for it and own it, someone who listens to her heart which is the centre of your authenticity, absolutely.
“We have a lot of noise in 2020, the sort of noise that we didn’t have in 1927, which is social media, all the images that are constantly being thrown at us of perfectionism – she did not have that, all she had was herself and her own voice.
“But yeah, absolutely everything, you can learn everything from Ma Rainey.”
The movie may well help Netflix to dominate come awards season.
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In a year where many films have been held back from release due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the streaming service is expected to account for a large number of the nominations.
It seems Ma Rainey’s impact on the entertainment industry is being felt, even today.
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is available on Netflix from Friday 18 December.
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