Filmmakers Behind "42" Had To Make Sure Film Was Done Right By Robinson's Widow
There have been "numerous failed efforts" to re-tell the story of Baseball HOFer Jackie Robinson in a major motion picture, but Legendary Films' "42" hits theaters Friday with the backing of Robinson's widow, Rachel, who "wanted to make sure it was done right," according to Thom Loverro of the WASHINGTON EXAMINER. Director Brian Helgeland "recognized that tremendous responsibility" as he made the film. He said, "I was very aware of that from the start and was game to do it. You have to set your own ego aside as a filmmaker and writer to serve the story" (WASHINGTON EXAMINER, 4/11). Robinson said, "We waited so long to have this film done. It is so important to me, and to our family and to our foundation and to everybody who cares about Jack, that I wasn’t sure what they could do with the period they had chosen. But I think they did a marvelous job with that period. As soon as I sat down and watched it, I was relieved. And excited" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 4/8). REUTERS' Eric Kelsey wrote actor Chadwick Boseman, who plays Jackie Robinson, said that he "wanted to remake the iconic image" of the HOFer into an "emotionally complex man who privately raged against racist taunting." He said, "I was just able to sort of put myself in (Robinson’s) shoes and breathe his life in any situation and try to search for those dark moments and the type of person he was, based upon what he said and what other people said." Boseman said that he "sought insight into Robinson’s personality and emotions at that time" from Rachel. He met with her "several times to prepare for the role" (REUTERS, 4/9).
FINDING THE RIGHT FITS: USA TODAY’s Randy Williams reported scouting "locations, assembling the cast and training them to be game-ready -- in the truest sense of the term -- took on greater importance” for Helgeland and producer Thomas Tull. The list of “secondary roles and extras is largely filled out by former professional and collegiate baseball players, most with modest credentials” (USA TODAY, 4/12). Helgeland discussed the process of casting roles in the film and said, "You need to have guys who can play baseball. So we met a lot of actors for all of the different parts and had a baseball tryout and they came and showed what they could do." Helgeland: "If there were two actors that were equal I picked the guy who could play baseball. After casting the actors we had a big tryout down south. All of those guys on the Dodgers throwing the ball, they were all former Division I players who had been on Georgia Tech or played at Tennessee and they were all ball players" (STAR-TELEGRAM.com, 4/4). In New Jersey, Kara Yorio noted former MLBer C.J. Nitkowski plays Phillies P Dutch Leonard. Despite playing the right-handed Leonard and "throwing as the lefty he is, Nitkowski hopes the baseball scenes ring true" (BERGEN RECORD, 4/9). In Boston, Stephen Schaefer wrote Boseman's physical challenges for the movie were "formidable." Boseman: "I played Little League Baseball but looking like a Hall of Famer is a different thing" (BOSTON HERALD, 4/10). In St. Louis, Joe Williams writes along with the "realistic complexity of the racial dynamic, there’s an admirable attention to detail in the midcentury sets and costumes." And "not incidentally, the actors are believable baseball players" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 4/12). Meanwhile, in N.Y., Marshall Fine noted most of the interior shots of the stadium shown in the movie were "shot at Engel Stadium in Chattanooga, home to Tennessee Temple University's baseball team and former home to the Chattanooga Lookouts, a minor league club." The facility "serves as '42's' interior stand-in" for Ebbets Field, where the Dodgers used to play, though it actually is "smaller than the original" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 4/7).
GETTING INTO THE ROLE: Actor Harrison Ford plays Dodgers President & GM Branch Rickey, who signed Robinson, in the film and said he really did not draw upon anyone to help him craft the character. Ford: "I frankly depended less on that than a really good book by Jimmy Breslin written about Branch Rickey. There was a little bit of film, some recorded television appearances and speeches and a lot of audio tape" (L.A. DAILY NEWS, 4/5). POSTMEDIA NEWS' Bob Thompson reported after Ford researched the Robinson-Rickey story, he confessed that he was "astounded by their commitment and impressed with Helgeland’s screenplay and its single-minded dedication" (NATIONAL POST, 4/11). Actor John C. McGinley, who plays announcer Red Barber in the film, said, "It was important to elevate to Red's sound." ESPN's Keith Law said everybody "looked the part," and the baseball sequences "looked right" ("Behind The Dish with Keith Law," ESPN.com, 4/9).
HOW ACCURATE IS IT? Dodgers historian Mark Langill said film producers were "right on the mark ... as far as the accuracy of the story." Langill: "That’s right down to the wording on the press release when the Dodgers purchased Jackie Robinson’s contract (from the minor league Montreal Royals). The details of Ebbets Field, the timeline of the story, all of those things were right on. Nothing was out of order. There was nothing that didn’t ring true the way it happened. I was very impressed by that” (ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 4/12). Sharon Robinson, Jackie and Rachel's daughter, said that the movie does a "good job of highlighting the resistance and prejudice her father faced during that first season" in '47 (STAMFORD ADVOCATE, 4/12). In Philadelphia, Stan Hochman notes the movie says it is "based on a true story." Hochman: "So why must the screenwriter twist the truth so often?" The Dodgers trained in Havana, Cuba in the spring of '47, "not in Panama City, as the movie proclaims" (PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, 4/12).