D. Stevens
Karen Valby
April 21, 2014 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Get On Up

Current Status
In Season
138 minutes
Wide Release Date
Chadwick Boseman, Octavia Spencer, Viola Davis
Tate Taylor
Universal Pictures

We gave it a B-

When word got around that Hollywood was tackling the story of Godfather of Soul James Brown, Chadwick Boseman kept his head down. The actor had just taken on a giant with his stoic and elegant turn as Jackie Robinson in 42. ”Somebody said something to me about the script and I was like, ‘No, I’m not going to even read it,”’ says Boseman. ”It felt like one of those roles that nobody should try, ever. And I had just gone through so much scrutiny doing a biopic. Nope, I’m not doing that.”

But director Tate Taylor, who proved himself an agile storyteller on matters of race and regionality in The Help, was a winning pitchman. ”I never thought I would be doing a biopic because so often they’re by-the-numbers,” says Taylor. ”But when I dug in, I started to discover the good and bad of James Brown. A lot of the younger generation think of him as Eddie Murphy on SNL. But this guy was a stud!” Even so, Boseman wasn’t convinced until he watched his screen-test performance of ”Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud.” ”I needed to see the wig,” he says with a laugh. ”I needed to see myself on stage.”

The actor had no trouble tapping into his funky side. ”Oh my God, he’s sexy, let me tell you,” says Octavia Spencer, who won an Oscar as a feisty maid in The Help and plays Brown’s aunt Honey, the no-nonsense brothel owner who takes the young boy in after his mother (Viola Davis, another Help alum) abandons him. Spencer says she actually mistook Boseman’s screen test for documentary footage. ”Chad can do all of it,” she says. ”When he pops down in that split, he can pop right back up.”

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