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The "42" director talks Jackie, Harrison & making baseball real for the reel

42-posterMr. Brian Helgeland has film credits that include writing "The Green Zone", "Man on Fire", and "Payback." His new film is the eagerly anticipated bio of the late Jackie Robinson in "42" which opens in theaters on April 12.

The film stars Chadwick Boseman as Jackie and Harrison Ford as Brooklyn Dodgers exec Branch Rickey who signed him.

Click here for the film's website.

Helgeland was nice enough for a 10-minute interview about his new film.

The Big Mac Blog: This story has been told many times before, so how, as a writer and director, did you approach this to try to tell it differently or re-tell it for this audience?
Brian Helgeland: Looking at it as a movie he becomes a movie character, he’s a guy you can’t invent. If you made him up you would not believe it. There is an attraction there. Some people are like, 'Why hear it again?' which I think the answer is because people haven’t figured it out yet. It’s that old expression that people that don’t learn their history are doomed to repeat it. This story behooves repeating. Also for Branch Rickey, too. Much less known. He deserves people to know about him and to be held up as examples of the way brave people behave and act. Sports can be a selfish world and it doesn’t hurt to remind you of the people who weren't.

The Big Mac Blog: In your research what was the most appalling thing that you came across that you made sure it was included in the movie and did not hit the cutting room floor?
Brian Helgeland: It was there and a lot of it was day to day, small stuff. Day after day in the grind of a baseball season takes on its own horrific quality. It was the sequence with (Phillies manager) Ben Chapman. (There was a famous confrontation between the two that is covered in the film)
Because it was so unrelenting, at home, in his own stadium. I didn’t want to sugar coat it, but I didn’t want to leave it to a few comments. It felt like it had to have, 'Enough already. Just stop.' And hopefully that came across.
And oddly it’s a movie that you associated with the main characters and ride shotgun with them so to speak. In the screeners with people it felt like it – audiences were rooting for him and feel what it felt like and the unnamed executive wanted me to cut back on it because it made them very uncomfortable. That was the thing we wanted to get across. We didn’t want it to be a parody.

Harrison-ford-branch-rickey-42-600x400The Big Mac Blog: You have directed some established stars before, like Mel Gibson, is it intimidating at all to tell an actor as decorated as Harrison Ford what to do?
Brian Helgeland: The thing is most actors know what they are doing. A director is really there to say, 'A little to your right or your left.' If you have an 180 degree difference with an actor there is something wrong. These guys get to be who they are because they are good.
"Harrison was out of his comfort zone as far as the movie star persona. He was becoming a character actor for the first time that I can think of. He was looking for some help from the director. He wanted it. Those guys are movie stars because they play themselves and they love that.

The Big Mac Blog: Do you see any parallels between integration with blacks in baseball and gays, or is this a totally different situation?
Brian Helgeland: Yeah I think there are certainly parallels. I guess it has its own wickedness to it; you can be a gay player and still play and live this secret, which is never healthy. I guess the only slight difference is that it’s obvious that you can’t hide that he is black but there is a parallel to the lack of acceptance and the attiude by some players on a team that a gay player is unacceptable and that a gay player would not be free to be himself. 

42-brian-helgeland-chadwick-boseman-600x400The Big Mac Blog: Making sports movies is historically hard because the sport looks so forced; how do you make the baseball in this film look authentic?
Brian Helgeland: I think the easiest thing is 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. 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. That was the easy part, and having some good coaches who could help the guys out that on a grounder to second to cover this base or how to stand and things like that and always defer to them. A coach came to me and said, 'Don’t pitch out of the stretch here', so I would defer to them and encouraged them when I making this.

The Big Mac Blog: Thanks for your time and hope the film works out well.
Brian Helgeland: Thanks and I'm happy to do this.  

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