Some biopics slide the uglier parts of a musician’s life under the rug but “Get On Up,” the film that chronicles James Brown’s life and debuts on August 1st, is painfully honest about the more sordid pieces of his past. Jill Scott plays the role of his second wife, Deidre “Dee-Dee” Jenkins, who experienced domestic violence in her relationship with Brown, played by Chadwick Boseman. The film attempts to explore why she stayed with him for 11 years despite the abuse.
Jill spoke with The Huffington Post about the careful way they handled domestic violence: “We had to approach it very gingerly. The family is involved in the film and we didn’t want this to be the highlight of his existence. When we approach the scene where there was spouts of abuse, we were careful about it because we don’t want to taint this man’s image or his legacy. But you feel it. I definitely felt it.”
She notes she had to let go of her personal judgement of Dee-Dee’s choices in order to do her character justice: “It’s hard to play someone who loves someone so deeply and had this abusive relationship. You have to forgive it and not judge. It’s not my life. And eventually, they parted ways. […] To understand someone who would stay, it was very important for me not to judge her and just love the man. Even now, she will tell you that she’s very much in love with James Brown today.”
Jill even tried to replicate the physical pain Dee-Dee suffered to fully immerse herself in the role. As she told The YBF: “I knew [the blow] was going to happen and I prepared with a stunt man just so I could know how to fall and then I decided that knowing wasn’t going to help me that I needed to allow myself to really be afraid and to fall. So we did a kind of smack to the face and then I let it happen. I hit the table pretty hard, and I hit the wall pretty hard. I hurt myself pretty good but I was really proud of it because it made people go [gasps] and that’s what you want. You don’t want it to look prepared because you know Dee Dee wasn’t prepared for that smack. So how could I be prepared for it?”
She also did her best to understand Dee-Dee’s psyche: “But far as the domestic part of it, when I was told by her grandson that she was still in love with James now, that’s all I really needed. That’s how I felt, that that was what I needed to know. The most important thing was that she was absolutely, unequivocally devoted to the man. So this was a bump in the road. This was a bad day, but it wasn’t the end of the world. Dee Dee loves James. Period. He’s a powerful man and he’s someone to love…for many reasons, the talent alone. Then he was actually very loving…at times, and very generous which I’m sure she enjoyed based on the fur and the clothes and the jewels and things of that nature. She enjoyed that, but about 11 years into their marriage she had had enough.”
Do you think the film should have addressed James Brown’s history of domestic violence? What do you think of Jill Scott’s journey to understand a woman who still loves her abuser? Will you see “Get On Up” which also stars Tika Sumpter, Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer when it hits theaters on August 1st?
Check out the trailer: