Mick Jagger has a long history with Hollywood – starting with the nearly 400 Rolling Stones songs used in movies or TV shows over the years (Martin Scorsese isn’t the only one who has them under his thumb). Jagger has also acted from time to time (his highest profile role, aside from The Simpsons, being 1970’s Performance) and has served as a producer on a number of music documentaries.
But Get On Up, the new James Brown biopic directed by Tate Taylor (The Help) and starring Chadwick Boseman as the legendary funkster, marks Jagger’s arrival as a major movie producer. He teamed up with Hollywood vet Brian Grazer in 2012 to revive a Brown project that once had Spike Lee set to direct and first Wesley Snipes, then Eddie Murphy attached to star, but had been left dead in the water.
Yahoo Movies talked to Sir Mick on the Jackson, Mississippi set of Get On Up to find out how the Rock God helped bring The Godfather of Soul’s story to the big screen.
The Rolling Stones and James Brown are often mentioned in the same breath. It’s said you were old friends. What was your history together?
It’s a bit of an exaggeration to say I was great friends with James Brown [laughs]. I knew him pretty good. I met him when I was very, very young. When I first came to America, on the first trip I made to America. I was very young and green. And I went to see James Brown a lot of times, over and over and over, because I thought it was fascinating. He never came to England at that time. And he’d never been on TV. So I had heard about him but never seen him. It was a bit of an education getting to see him. And I saw him on and off throughout the years.
Were you involved the film in the mid-2000s when it looked like Eddie Murphy was going to play James Brown?
No, I didn’t know anything about it. It came to me because this guy that I worked with who’s also a friend of mine asked me to produce this documentary, because I produced two Rolling Stones documentaries, Stones in Exile and Crossfire Hurricane, and he said to me, ‘Well would you produce a documentary on James Brown?’ I said, ‘Yeah, that’s interesting.’ And then I thought about it and said, ‘Well why don’t we make a feature about James Brown? James Brown should have a feature movie made about him.’ And then I went to look around and of course there was a feature movie, with a whole long history and all kinds of problems, and of course it never got made.
It started when James Brown was still alive. It had a whole different emphasis and different people, and Eddie Murphy, who I admire greatly, was going to play James Brown. But it never happened.
What are the most important things you need to get right when telling the story of a great like James Brown?
In a feature movie, you can go one of two ways: You can either show the breadth of their life, or [you focus on] one thing, like take the Boston Garden concert [in 1968 where Brown famously squashed a riot]… with all those things going on [at the time] like the death of Martin Luther King. You could’ve taken that and done it as a whole movie… Because it’s very hard to tell the whole story of someone’s life in a movie, it’s not like a huge 600-page book where you’ve got plenty of time. But we didn’t, we chose the alternate route which is we show some of the childhood, which obviously speaks to the adolescence, which speaks to later on in his life. We cover a lot of bases.
And also the drama of it, you can’t have a feature movie like this without the drama, conflict and all these things that you normally expect in a drama. It has to all be included, and we don’t have to manufacture that… In the end, I hope we’ve produced a movie that’s worthy of James Brown, but also so someone who’s never heard of James Brown can come and find it fascinating and exciting.
And then there’s that most critical bit of casting, finding your James Brown. How actively involved were you in Chadwick Boseman’s casting? Had you seen him as Jackie Robinson in 42?
Yeah I had seen 42, I actually saw it before I was even talking about him. We watched it as a family movie. That was the only thing I’d seen with him… But yeah I was pretty active. Everyone was saying to me, ‘I heard you were doing a James Brown movie, who on Earth are you going to get to play James Brown? That’s impossible!’ Of course it isn’t impossible, but it’s not easy. There were several routes to go, you could’ve gotten someone from Broadway, and dancing-and-singing person. Or an actor like Chad.
In the end we went the dramatic route, because there are so many dramatic scenes. There’s a lot of music on stage as well. But Chad wanted so bad to envelope himself in this. And of course it is leap of faith with the major roles in a movie, you don’t know how it’s going to work out. There’s so many unknowns. But I did know that he was going to work really hard at it, and I knew he really wanted to do it badly. And we had lots of really interesting chats about it. So I was confident about it, but I think Chad’s exceeded everyone’s expectations in the way he’s performed in this movie.
And how involved were you in the casting of a young Mick Jagger?
I watched quite a few of them [laughs]. It’s not a big part in the movie. It’s not even integral. It’s only a small scene.
If it works out will we see the Mick Jagger biopic?
Uh, no. [laughs]
I heard from the cast of this movie that you started a dance party one night after shooting. What does a Mick Jagger dance party look like?
Yeah in Natchez [Mississippi]? We were a bit bored one night in our hotel. And we and everyone in the cast, we were all just dancing. We just put our playlists on and just started dancing after dinner in a funny, interesting, beautiful old-mansion-like hotel.
What have you learned or what has surprised about James Brown throughout this whole experience?
I know quite a lot more about James Brown than I did [laughs]. And I knew a bit already, but I know a lot now. It just shows how people are very complicated. They’ve got so many layers to them, and the successes that they have and the work they put into their lives, and then the tragedy that they have, and the down moments that everybody has to go through, and he certainly had that. I wasn’t really aware of that, he was just this indestructible stage performer. I didn’t know all these things about his life.
I knew he was difficult, because I personally saw he was difficult in front of me, not with me but with other people. He wasn’t the easiest taskmaster. But that part of your character comes from somewhere, someone has to organize people [laughs]. So I have some sympathy with him. But you learn a lot about people, and you want to respect their memory without sugarcoating it.
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Photo: APTags: actor, concert, film, movie, music, producer, tv