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Why the 'superhero origin' story of Thurgood Marshall is 'important,' but still 'entertaining'

Josh Gad and Chadwick Boseman talk to Metro about Marshall, making a movie for everyone, and avoiding being self-righteous
Chadwick Boseman, Josh Gad in Marshall
[Image: Open Road Films]

Despite being obviously timely, Marshall actors Chadwick Boseman and Josh Gad are reticent to talk up the film’s importance. Instead, after I asked them of its timeliness, the pair were quick to insist the number of other reasons why they were initially attracted to the film.

“Important? I wouldn’t necessarily jump to those words. I did it because I enjoyed the script, and enjoyed who I got to work with,” Boseman explains. “I wanted to work with Reggie [Hudlin, director], and I wanted to tell the story about Thurgood Marshall. Yes, he’s important. But I also think he’s a cool dude. He was cool for what he did. He was cool because he fought for justice. He was cool because he was courageous, arrogant, and selfless. When you start talking about how important movies are, it’s like, ‘You have to see the movie!’ But you don’t want to see it. And I knew this was a movie people would want to see.”

Josh Gad, who plays lawyer Sam Friedman to Boseman’s Marshall, was much more open about the importance of the film. But he still insisted that it covers this terrain without ever becoming overbearing.

“I think it is important without being self-righteous. And that’s what I really respect about it. This really is a movie for everybody. At the same time it is covering this incredible period of history and this incredible journey before he is the man in the robes. It’s the origin movie of a superhero basically.”

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“But there’s something entertaining about it, and if there’s a takeaway it’s that even in the darkest hours, when there’s great adversity, you can be empowered to do great things. You can go out and fight for justice. That’s what I hope people leave with. A sense of hope and empowerment.”

You can read the rest of my interview with Josh Gad and Chadwick Boseman below.

What stood out for you about the script?

Chadwick Boseman: “Biopics is what people pitch to me. And when I was told to read the script I was like, ‘This is my third. I don’t know.’ But when I eventually read it I just saw a Western. This is Marshall coming into town to implement justice. I saw a buddy, not cop movie, but buddy attorney movie. I saw a who dunnit. I could forget that it was about Thurgood Marshall, and then suddenly remember, ‘Oh, yeah. Thurgood Marshall, that’s who he was.’ That’s what really attracted me to the film.”

Josh Gad: “The script really was a page turner, and you just couldn’t put it away. There’s alway a fear in doing a biopic that it will feel pedantic and like medicine, but this isn’t like that. It has flavors from all these different genres, and hopefully it makes it feel like a very unique viewing experience. It takes place in 1941, but it could just as easily take place in 2017. There’s something eerily familiar about it, especially when it comes to some of the issues that we are dealing with today.”

As you say it is your third biopic, talk about bringing the humanity out of these icons.

CB: “I feel the pressure initially. I feel the pressure when I am considering. Once I have taken it on I am somehow able to push that pressure off and then dive into the process and do the part. I always just try to find the things that are human, and that I can identify with. Then I look for things that aren’t like me, and that I need to really, really hone in on. It’s just making sure that I have a plethora of information that’s available to me that if it comes up I can use it. I don’t depend heavily on those facts until they’re needed. To me, if you do that initial work, it always ends up paying off in ways you didn’t even expect.”

Does Hollywood have a responsibility to tell stories like these?

JG: “Yeah to a certain extent. One of the things that makes art so powerful is that it can be a reflection of the times and humanity, and of who we are at any given time. Now there are definitely issues to be reflected back at us so we can have the difficult discussions. It’s tricky, though, because you never want to be preachy about it. You always want to be respectful and do your job, which is to simultaneously entertain while giving the audience something to chew on. So I think that if you achieve that you are ahead of the game.”

Did you speak to the family of Thurgood Marshall?

CB: “I eventually decided to join the film after I received a letter from John Marshall (Thurgood’s son) saying he wanted me to take the role. That was very instrumental, and it broke down some barriers. Because part of my reservations was that I thought I didn’t look like Thurgood. At that point me and Reggie discussed the appearance of the character. ‘Do we change the complexion of the character? Should I wear a moustache?’ We decided that stuff wasn’t important, and we decided to try and bring the essence of the man out of me. That’s why you see my moustache. My hair slicked back. You see me losing weight to find his wiry build at that time. It needed to be Thurgood Marshall poured into my body. This was a much different experience to ‘42’ and ‘Get Up’, where I spoke to the families constantly. With this I found it better to just extract things from what was written, be it the script or the case. I rarely talked to people about him because people weren’t alive when it happened, and they didn’t know this man.”

“Marshall” is released into cinemas on October 13.

 
 
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