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Actors Recall Chadwick Boseman Learning the Cornet for ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’: ‘He Truly Learned to Play’

Chadwick Boseman was extremely dedicated to his craft. Nowhere was the actor’s commitment more apparent than in his powerful final role in the movie “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.” In a new series of behind-the-scenes interviews that coincided with the film’s Dec. 18 release on Netflix, the cast talked about Boseman going as far as learning to play the cornet for his role as the musician Levee in the movie.

Cast member Glynn Turman remembered hearing Boseman studiously practicing the instrument, and his industriousness about perfecting that aspect of his characterization encouraged Turman to want to do the same.

Chadwick Boseman. (Photo: @chadwickboseman/Instagram)

“We were all staying in the same hotel. It started sounding like a music school,” he recalled. “You get off the elevator and you could hear Chadwick working on it. Made you say, ‘Hey, I don’t want to practice right now, but I better get to start practicing.'”

Co-star Coleman Domingo said that the actor’s commitment to his work was truly infectious, inspiring the others to follow his lead.

He described Boseman as a team player, one who wanted to motivate his coworkers to also go the extra mile for their characters.

“I love that [Chadwick’s] like, ‘Yeah, I’m gonna challenge you. We’re gonna challenge each other,'” he added.

“He truly learned to play,” Domingo said. “I think everyone was like, ‘Oh, that’s what you’re doing, Chad? OK, now I’m gonna learn too.'”

In an interview with “TODAY,” Turman also noted, “Chadwick was playing all the time, going hard in his hands at every moment.”

“You know, when you heard ‘cut,’ you’d still hear Chadwick,” he said.

Boseman, who passed away from colon cancer in August at 43, did not divulge his condition to anyone on the set, and his fellow actors saw no indication of it in his performance or his work ethic.

“When I tell you, not one person saw it,” Domingo said told “TODAY.”

“The man, we all say he always demanded, ‘George, can I get one more? Can I get one more?’ Always wanted to do another take, another take. He was a consummate professional,” he continued.

“And he was having a good time,” said co-star Michael Potts. “And that was, I mean, you had all the superhuman strength, but you had someone who was truly enjoying the process of doing this and being here. It was incredibly important to him.”

Three-time Grammy-winning saxophonist and composer Branford Marsalis wrote the film’s score and produced the tracks that were played in it. He recalled helping out Boseman mimic playing the instrument in the film — some seven different musicians played the actual cornet sounds on the soundtrack — but Marsalis told Vanity Fair he only helped “a little.”

“The good ones are self-contained; they don’t need hand-holding,” Marsalis said. “He asked me for a fingering chart. I hadn’t seen one of them in 30 years, but I wrote it up for him. The trumpet has only has three fingers, so it lends itself to much better choreography than saxophone or piano; fewer keys, fewer options. He had a little coaching from me and from Chuck Findley, who was my old mate on ‘The Tonight Show.’”

Director George C. Wolfe also discussed how he observed Boseman get into character during rehearsals before filming started, according to Den of Geek.

Wolfe said it “was very interesting because I saw him, in terms of that rehearsal period, just sort of begin to peel away — which I think is very true of actors and very true of brilliant actors — whatever layers that existed between him and the role until, by the time we were filming, he had completely located Levee inside of himself and was able to make himself completely and totally available and vulnerable to the character.”

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