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Jill Scott on Playing James Brown’s Abused Wife: ‘She Loved Him Completely’

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Jill Scott Get on Up
Photo Credit: D. Stevens/ Universal Pictures

Behind every good man is a good woman. James Brown, one of the greatest artists of the 20th century, might have agreed. He was, after all, married four times.

In Get on Up, the Brown biopic which hits theaters this Friday, Jill Scott plays his second wife DeeDee, a woman who suffered domestic abuse at the hands of the music icon. Scott describes DeeDee’s devotion to Brown as “that hell or high water kind of love.” The Philly songstress says DeeDee, who she expects to meet very soon, loved him so completely that she “just accepted and understood what it was.”

The marriage, of course, was more than just that. And that’s the thing with James Brown. He was complex. The “hardest working man in show business” was a beam of light on stage but there was darkness and pain behind the curtain.  To fans, however, he was simply “the Godfather of Soul,” the charismatic Mr. Please, Please, Please who could get you on your good foot. And to contemporary soul artists like Jill Scott, he was an inspiration.

ESSENCE.com sat down with Jill Scott to talk about the tragic-turned-triumph-turned tragic again life of James Brown, what attracted her to Get on Up and why the movie is not what fans might expect.

ESSENCE: I heard that you originally auditioned for the role of a background singer?
Jill Scott: I actually auditioned for a role of someone who looked after Mr. Brown, not sure what you would call her. I just wanted to be in this film. I wanted to be around James Brown, in the presence of Tate, Octavia and Viola. I just wanted to be in that room and for me, the best way to learn is by experience so it really didn’t matter about the role. If they would have let me do catering, I would have. Seriously. But Tate and the producers decided to write a character for me which was James’ second wife. She wasn’t in the film originally.

ESSENCE: Was James Brown an artist who you’ve always admired?
Scott: I always loved James Brown. That voice. That passion. As a singer you have to go and look for the greats. And he’s one of the greats. There’s no one who pulls out a note like James Brown. All of that soulful, yelling and preaching in the middle of a song. I fell for him a long time ago and when I found the James Brown jazz record, I was done. It’s amazing.

ESSENCE: In this film fans get a look at James’ childhood. Did you have any idea about his past?
Scott: Initially I just got the sheet, and then the script but it didn’t really come to life until after I saw the film. It was a lot darker than I expected. A lot more in depth. To see someone’s life like that. It wasn’t what I expected and quite frankly, it hurt. To see what he had to go through, to see the perspective from that little boy {young James Brown} that kind of hurt of a child and then to see the grown man making decisions, finding the  light. Amazing. That was probably one of my favorite parts of the movie: That he kept finding the light. He kept going.

ESSENCE: You seemed really comfortable and intimate in the scenes with your co-star Chadwick. Was there something about him that allowed you to be so comfortable?
Scott: It wasn’t Chad. It was James Brown. I got lost. I was the wife. If Chad had on that makeup and that wig anywhere we were, I was his wife. I served him food a few times, made sure he was alright. We got a chance to work with James Brown’s grandson, Jason and he talked to us about his grandmother DeeDee and the kind of relationship they had. And she’s still in love with him, to this day. And that spoke volumes to me about the kind of relationship they had. Hell or high water love. She loved him so completely that she just accepted and understood what it was. That’s another kind of woman. I think it got too bad and she had to go. In the film, that was my husband who was hard and rough at times but he also was such a great man.

ESSENCE: Why should Essence readers see the film?
Scott: Because it’s exactly not what you think. It’s not shiny. It’s a real movie.

Get on Up opens in theaters this Friday.

Filed Under: Celebrity Spotlight
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