'Draft Day' Director Ivan Reitman Reflects on Working With Chadwick Boseman: "His Intensity Was Everywhere"

Chadwick Boseman in 'Draft Day'
Summit Entertainment/Photofest

Chadwick Boseman in 'Draft Day.'

The filmmaker recalls directing Boseman in the 2014 film, where they formed a friendship, plus a reunion project that the two were working on up until the star's death from colon cancer Aug. 28.

My first meeting with Chadwick was on FaceTime. He had read our script for Draft Day, and he liked it a lot but didn't think he should be in it. I asked if I could just speak to him; I wanted to see his face and I wanted him to see me. We just had this really lovely, passionate conversation — it's where I first got to know how smart he is, and how charismatic.

His first scene was driving a car and speaking to Kevin Costner, who was also driving a car, and the scene was not really written originally, but they both came up with a very convincing, and both humorous and electrifying, kind of scene. I quickly learned that I could count on him to do something special and to go that extra yard on everything.

His intensity was everywhere in the shooting. We did a day of football scenes using Ohio State football players as playing both the Cleveland Browns and some other team. Everybody wanted him not to play because they were worried that he would get hurt, so I kept holding him off in the sidelines; we had a series of plays that we had choreographed and we were going to do. He didn't like the guy who was playing his stand-in; he didn't think he was intense enough and didn't run the route strong enough. After about two or three takes, he just looked at me and said, “Come on, put me in. I'm not going to get hurt.” And I did and he was great; it's what we used in the film. He didn't get hurt, and he just sort of looked at me and as if to say, “I told you it would be better this way.”

We remained friends. He and [producing partner] Logan Coles, we made a deal with the two of them to write a script based on the Boston Miracle, which is a story of these Boston ministers back in the '90s who worked together and walked the streets of Boston to stop the gun violence of mostly Black kids in the various areas — after a year, that dropped the violence down by 80 percent. I met with Chadwick just before last Christmas, and it was the first time I had seen him in a couple of years. He'd dropped so much weight and I was worried that he wasn't looking well. I remember telling a couple of people that I work with, I said, “I'm worried about Chadwick; he doesn't look healthy.”

During the lockdown I kept writing emails both to him and to Logan to see how he was doing on the draft because we had a very good meeting about the new script and I was hoping to get a draft at any time. I didn't know anything about the cancer that took him a few days ago, and I remember being shocked. His intensity was no less; in fact it seemed even greater, his seriousness about the story and his ideas about it, and why it was an important story to tell.

Doing Draft Day, what really stands out was hanging out with him in downtown Cleveland. He had been just working on the James Brown film [Get On Up], so I remember going to some club and how he danced and his confidence. That film was just a joyful experience — it was really not even the shooting, it was just being with him and being in his presence.