‘The Kill Hole’ Director Recalls Casting Chadwick Boseman Before His Meteoric Rise

Modern Master Award Tribute to Christopher Plummer Santa Barbara -Getty- H 2020
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Mischa Webley, Tory Kittles, Billy Zane and Chadwick Boseman

Mischa Webley had already been thinking about Chadwick Boseman.  

Those social media reminders kept popping up this summer on Webley’s timeline to remind the filmmaker what he was doing exactly 10 years ago — making his directorial debut on the indie The Kill Hole. The memories stirred up a lot of love for the craft following a brief hiatus from filmmaking and caused him to stop and consider Boseman who was then a young actor Webley was convinced would go on to great things. And he did.

Boseman played icons like Thurgood Marshall, James Brown and Jackie Robinson before landing the title role in Marvel’s Black Panther, a film that went on to gross more than $1 billion at the global box office and usher in a new era in Black representation on film. But then came the shocking news Aug. 28 that Boseman passed away at the age of 43, succumbing to colon cancer following a private four-year fight.

"He really made it look very possible to achieve anything," Webley explained of watching Boseman soar following their work together. "He taught me, and a lot of people, what it really means to commit to your craft, to maybe even achieve the impossible with your craft. And he did it with grace and he made everyone better at their job. Everyone felt elevated working with him. I think he probably knew the path he was on."

Webley met Boseman in 2010 during a casting call in Los Angeles. Kill Hole casting director Adrienne Stern brought in a few dozen actors for lead roles in the film, which told the story of a troubled Iraq war veteran Lt. Samuel Drake sent on a mission by intelligence agents to find and kill a fellow veteran, Sgt. Devon Carter, whom they believed to be planning a strike against the government. Boseman was among those to pass through their doors and he instantly "blew us away," Webley recalled. At that point, Boseman had been building a resume filled largely with TV gigs on such shows as Persons Unknown, Lincoln Heights, Cold Case, ER and Lie to Me.

"His audition went on longer than anybody else’s. Not only was the performance so good but he thought very deeply about the part and had a lot of ideas," he said. "When he walked away from the audition, my producers and I knew one thing — that he had to be in the film."

Boseman wanted the same. After the auditions wrapped, Webley said that he and his producers, Zach Hagen and Jonny Gillette, received a call from Boseman’s manager who relayed that the actor really wanted to know how he did, a question he fielded as proof of how much Boseman cared. "He just put a lot into it and he cared that much."

So, they gave him the part and found another young actor worthy of going toe-to-toe in the film, casting Tory Kittles who had been building an impressive resume of films like Tigerland, Next and Get Rich or Die Tryin’ and TV shows like Sons of Anarchy.  They filmed in the Portland area and while Boseman and Kittles were the stars of the film, everyone was treated with the same professionalism that trickled down from the top.

"We were an intimate production and everybody got really close. I’ve talked to so many people [after he passed away] from my producer to PAs to grips, and everyone on the film was going through it [emotionally] because he touched a lot of people. He gave 110 percent every day and was completely absorbed in the film and yet managed to be the nicest, most accessible guy. We all knew at the time that he was a special talent and he went on to be that."

Webley said that during filming, Boseman always had his headphones on listening to playlists he created specifically for each workday. Ahead of one scene, he came to set with an idea for an unscripted moment with Kittles that would find the two actors bonding over a Marine Corp. cadence titled "Mama, Mama Can’t You See."

"So, we conceived of this whole scene and it ended up becoming a pivotal moment where they connect. It’s a beautiful part of the film and was not there at all but because he understood his character and the project and it was a brilliant idea and it worked really well. I was watching that scene yesterday and it was really touching. That’s what he brought; he never took a script, read his lines and that was it. He came with ideas."

It was that dedication matched with graceful professionalism that caused Webley and all of his peers to cheer for Boseman after their film came out. "I wanted the best to happen for him because he deserved it. He worked so hard and he was that good but also so kind and generous in the process. You were always rooting for the guy."

That’s part of what makes his death sting so devastating, coupled with the shock that he had been battling cancer over the past four years while churning out so many films and making public appearances. Webley said he wasn't surprised to hear that Boseman kept his illness a secret from and that he worked while receiving treatment. "He’s about the work and has always wanted to work. I lost my dad to cancer pretty young, too, and I think when you find the thing you love, you want to keep doing it as long as you possibly can."